To go or not to go? That is the question. Visa officers answered!


Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.

This trip was in the talks for almost 3-4 years. It was meant to happen this year. And how!!

We came up with a mini agenda for the trip that went thus:

  • finalize countries
  • budget the trip
  • decide the possible dates
  • book the tickets
  • book the stay
  • get the visas
  • finalize the itinerary
  • fly

We arrived at the dates that would more or less work for everyone without conflicting with work priorities and on the home front. After analyzing the pricing across different airlines and routes, we picked Emirates, and booked our tickets. Confirmed tickets and stay bookings are a part of the mandatory travel proofs for tourist visa processing. Most sites we researched suggested that we even book the internal travel. We had 2-3 itineraries and didn’t want to risk booking internal tickets and incur cancellation losses. We decided to do it after procuring the visa.

After buying the tickets, we booked our stays in all the intended cities through Booking.com and picked the cheapest ones lest they charge payment to the credit card. Yes, they collect the card information at the time of booking including the cvv number. While airbnb had awesome options for a smaller group, booking.com showed more options for a larger group. All our stays allowed free cancellation until the intended day of check-in barring one where free cancellation was allowed until 4 days before the check-in date. Items 1 to 5 on the agenda- a big tick!

With the air tickets and stay bookings out of the way, we started processing our visas. We assumed this to be just another formality and that it would be a cake walk. A few of us who have traveled abroad on work had until now not encountered any hassles with visa approvals. We however were aware of instances where the visas were delayed and when they finally arrived, it would be too late and the people abandoned the travel plan. We were advised to apply in Italy as France had supposedly upped their scrutiny ever since the terror attacks. Quite understandable. But we didn’t want to apply in Italy because a few colleagues who’d earlier applied there, were summoned to the Mumbai center for a personal interview. Dragging a 11-member battalion to Mumbai would be a trip in itself and the prospect didn’t seem appealing. We decided to apply in Switzerland instead. And we did. And waited. And were quite composed. As we waited, a few of us regrouped every 2 or 3 days or discussed over lunch and finalized the detailed itinerary. And then they came. The visas. In instalments. Over 4 torturous weeks :/ With the first rejection that came within a week of applying, our plans came crashing down and things were in a limbo. Nothing progressed the next 3 weeks and wtih more rejections coming, we abandoned the plan. We were holding back on cancelling the air tickets or stay bookings as the cancellation charges were the same till the last day before the travel date. Hope is a good thing, after all!

Img credit: Google

At this point, our dejection turned into angst directed at the visa process and the officers. The nature of rejections were absolutely random. All had sufficient and more bank balance to show. All had consistent salaries and payslips and ITR returns to prove. We had the necessary leave sanction from the work place and NOCs obtained from the schools for the 3 teenaged children. We had confirmed air tickets and confirmed stay bookings. The reasons of course were either lack of means of subsistence or lack of proof of return! I mean, really?!! All our covering letters had all our names and passport details listed as co-travellers and we explicitly stated that it was a group travel. So instead of giving up without a fight, we thought we should still try and NOT go even if the visas are through the next time 🙂 Watching too many cinemas or soaps can do this to you. You lose the faculty to rationalize that the loss will still be yours if you don’t go. Monetarily, mentally, philosophically 🙂

A lot of discussions on Quora and Tripadvisor weren’t giving any favorable leanings towards re-applying. A few Schengen visa myths we busted:
1. Some suggested we apply in the same country.
2. Yet others suggested applying in a different Schengen state.
3. A few dissuaded from re-applying.
4. A few agents we casually spoke to said that usually rejected visas will be rejected again.
5. A few said that the visas will be granted if we apply after a gap of 6 months.
6. Many suggested doing it ONLY through agents.

None of the above suggestions hold water. It is random free advice.

And then, there were a very few threads that said we can reapply anytime, but with more documentation that supports the reasons cited in the first rejection. This was random good advice. What do they say about you wanting to hear/listen/infer/discern ONLY what you want from what is said or read? Yes, so we scooped out only those countable number of conversations that sounded encouraging. Even otherwise, how will we know if we don’t try, right? Yes, we are unrelenting like that. So after many days of going back and forth and ditching the sour-tour, we gave the process a phoenix-like quality, and decidedly stayed positive. All extra documentations were pooled together and once again appointments were fixed, submitted, and then the next round of waiting began.

In less than 5 days, 5 of the 6 visas came through and again one was rejected on grounds of lack of proof of return. With about two weeks time, we had to give it one more go. We didn’t know what possible risks a third application entailed. We didn’t have it in us to leave one person and go, especially because she was the one instrumental in getting the others to re-apply. She however kept insisting that we should all go ahead without her. Yes, we will, but not without giving it another try and we still had a little over 2 weeks. This time, we gave a covering letter, a collective representation from all the rest of us with visas. And also an additional proof of her return- the marathon registration which I’d mentioned in my previous post. And what do you know! She got it on the 9th day as there were 4 holidays in between! We had exactly 7 days for our flight.

A couple of us did a night-out that Friday. Booked all the internal travels, passes, discount cards. Re-booked some of the stays in an attempt to bring down the stay costs, with better proximity, and with better safety. We ‘travefy-ied our day–by-day itinerary and also Google-trip-ed, offline-ed some maps, and also some tours. Items 6 and 7 on the agenda- another big tick! Our trip was ON!!!!

We have large hearts. We decided to forgive the Schengen Visa officers. We decided to forgive the processes. We forgave the eye-rolling, smirking reactions of the VFS folks. We decided to make a stately visit to the Schengen states. We are not only relentless, but also magnanimous like that!

Next post- Poguma, pogadha? – An eventful start to our journey!

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Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers


I wanted to title this post as, *’Usss appa, Schengen Visa’. But the sis has already blocked/patented that title for a book that she intends to write soon.

Just back from a rocking trip to Europe that covered 3 countries- France, Switzerland, and Italy, with a tiny entry into Germany’s beautiful Black Forest. The sonny would be miffed if he hears me say 3 countries because I’m sure he’s already been telling all and sundry that he visited 5 countries, adding Germany and Vatican to the list!

While there is loads I’d like to share about the trip, the places, the travel, the food, and the great company, I’d first like to offload a big part of the entire project – obtaining Schengen Visa. Clearly, we underestimated the documentation needed. I’ll, in this post, try to give a comprehensive account of what women need to do to obtain the visa.

A little preamble on our travel group
We were a group of 11 of which 8 of us were women and 3 teenagers. Of the 8 women, one falls in the category of ‘working youth’ by virtue of being a twenty-something working woman. The rest of us fall under the more glamorous and fashionable middle-aged group which today ranges from mid thirties to early forties 🙂 One of them is a homemaker. Now, stop doing the math and get to reading what is more important- how to successfully get a schengen visa. No, strike that. The best practices to obtaining a Schengen visa.

Typical reasons for Visa rejections

There are enough and more Schengen visa processing horror stories on the web. And they are true stories. Six from our group were refused visa! But we all have read and stayed inspired by Mohammed Ghazni’s relentless attempts. And it really helped in this case:) The typical grounds for rejections are:

1. Proof of subsistence: A fancy way of saying that there isn’t enough proof of your having the financial means to support your trip expenses- travel, stay, food, all included.
2. Proof of return: Implying, there isn’t enough proof of your return.

The 2nd reason is annoying at one level because while it questions our credibility, it also assumes that we’d not want to return to our homeland because the country we are applying into is so compelling that we’d not want to leave! That said, looks like lot of people abuse tourist visas and illegally settle in these countries.

Who should submit what

1. Woman of any age/social/career status-
A sure-shot way where you or your documents are not subject to too much scrutiny for granting Schengen visa is to have a valid US Visa. It is almost the gateway to schengen visa. So, if you have a valid US visa, you are through. If it is a viable, doable option, get a US visa if an opportunity presents itself 🙂

2. For married, stay-at-home women– If you are married and a home maker, submit enough proofs of your family wanting you back here. As proof of subsistence, submit your,

  • bank statement with a consistent bank balance and regular transactions that show upwards of Rs.1.lac as balance
  • submit your spouse’s bank statements, pay slips, IT returns,
  • property documents, fixed deposits in your name, [or]
  • value estimation of jewels worth, duly attested by an advocate and a notary public.

Note that it might not be necessary all the time. But the grounds for rejection are very frivolous. So, provide as much documented proof of your financial capability to undertake the trip, as possible.

As proof of return, get ‘no-objection’ to your tour letter from everyone on this planet. But of course, I’m exaggerating. Get the NOC letters from your spouse, which explicitly states that you will be returning home on the specified date as you have responsibilities back home- aged parents care, home care, young children needing your care, pets-care et al.

Besides documents that substantiate the above two reasons, enclose all other documents cited in the VFS website. Do not assume that the VFS folks will provide some good advice on what to and what not to submit. Even if they reject and tell you some documents are not required, insist that they submit. You are the one paying the fee. They are only the collection agents and have no clue whatsoever on what works and what doesn’t. They are not advisors. Go ahead and submit even if it is extra documentation and even if those folks look at you askance.

3. Single, young, working woman – You are in the high-probability-of-rejection category. I’m not trying to scare you. Merely stating the facts here. You are a twenty-something, educated, single, high prospects of securing a job in a foreign land, or getting hitched to a foreigner! Here are the docs you must submit:

As proof of subsistence,
1. The usual – bank statement with balance of 1.lac or upwards for the previous 6 months and consistent transactions, pay slips. In addition, you can consider submitting PF statements, FD proofs, receipt of currency exchange purchased for a sizeable amount (at least 50K).
2. Proof of property if you are that enviable 20-something with a property to your name (land or apartment or a bungalow ;))
3. If you have a boyfriend or if you are engaged to be married soon, a letter or a proof of engagement or upcoming wedding to take place after the date of your arrival from the tour 🙂

As proof of return,

1. Besides the mandatory covering letter from the employer for leave sanction, covering letters from you parents, expressing that you’d return back to take care of them.
2. Letter from your brother (if you have one), assuring that you’ll return home to the family of birth and that they have a future planned for you.
3. Letter from others traveling with you, vouching for your return.
4. Letter from your education institution if you are pursuing studies.
5. Fee payment receipt for the subsequent months to an institution where you are pursuing some course, anddddddd, hold your breath,
6. Proof of your having registered for your favorite marathon and also proofs of your participation in similar or same event the previous years!!! That, dear friends, is the additional proof the ‘youth’ in our group submitted the 3rd time in addition to a collective covering letter signed by the rest of the women going on this party, along with our ID proofs!

4. Single mom – The proofs substantiating subsistence are pretty much the same as above. As proof of your return, here are the documents:

1. Covering letter from your aged parents stating that you are their support and that you’d return soon after your tour to take care of them,
2. proof of your kid(s) schooling and the fee paid up, birth certificate of the kids to establish you as the rightful parent

These same rules may apply to single male youth, single middle-aged or old-aged men, married, employed men, or married stay-at-home husbands/dads. Just that I wouldn’t know what other reasons they’ll be scrutinized for 🙂

Summary: While most sites and discussions talk about a minimum of 1lac as bank balance, it is better to show a much bigger balance if you are applying for any visa the first time. For those of us with a valid US visa, a lesser bank balance didn’t get in the way. Those with more than twice that balance, still had the visa rejected. This is where property documents help. In cases where property docs were unavailable, we submitted PF statements. The folks at VFS even rolled their eyes.

Coming to the big question of whether it is really worth walking all this length to get ourselves a visa permit for 2-3 weeks, well, it depends. When 6 in our group got rejected, it took the joy out of the entire plan. From a state where we were all mighty excited about doing a dream Europe trip, we were left angry, fuming, dejected, like deflated balloons. And then we researched a bit more. While we had practically abandoned the trip, we decided to collate more proofs and submit again. Just to see how much we can push and what vague reasons we’d be given again for rejection. So the 6 got everything together. All the documents cited above! Some had property documents in Tamil! The 2nd time, 5 visas came through and one- the youth’s- got rejected again for the same reason of lack of proof of return! But the second time, we had not submitted a collective letter from the rest of the group vouching for her return. We did not know it then. We did not know if that will hold as additional proof of her return. We did it anyway the 3rd time. She also submitted a copy of a marathon she had registered for a few weeks earlier and is to take place a couple of months hence. She also established that she is a regular at this event by submitting proofs of her previous participations. She got the visa the 3rd time! The trip however, made up for all the disappointments we faced during the visa processing, and was worth all that effort!!

So, to conclude:

1.Start your visa processing three months before the actual, intended, journey date. This gives you time to reapply if your visa is rejected.
2. Don’t underestimate the need for documentation.
3. Don’t cook up false documentation as you don’t want a ‘reject’ stamping on your visa.
4. Submit all possible proofs if it can in some way validate your financial capability and also of your return to the county. It can be a cricket or soccer match for which you’ve booked a ticket, another travel plan within the country for which you’ve booked tickets, anything! It might look silly. The collection centers might refuse. While someone’s property document in Tamil was accepted, another’s was rejected at the center!
5. Don’t mind being mocked or laughed at.
6. Make all the covering letters very detailed. Emphasise early in the letter that the purpose is tourism and that you’ll return on the said date. All the covering letters must very clearly and explicitly state these keywords. As a conclusion in the covering letters, split and cite documents as two sets- those that substantiate your subsistence, and those that vouch your return. Use the exact keywords; example- “I vouch for my daughter’s return….”, “We assure you that will return to work after the sanctioned vacation that ends on , “We vouch for our friend/colleague’s return with us on the same day, on the same flight back home. We would be sad and disappointed to go on this trip without ” yada, yada! I’m sure you get the drift.
7. While you can apply through agents, there is no guarantee that the visas will be through. Again, the agents can only provide expert advice on the required documentation. There are several instances where even processing through big names like Thomas Cook, get rejected.

The easiest, safest, bestest (allow the superlative please!) way to get it right the first time is to submit ALL THE DOCUMENTS and possibly a copy of your horoscope, duly attested by a noted astrologer and a notary public! Here’s to happy Schengen visa stories folks! More soon on the actual trip to the phoren-land! And yes, remember to register for a marathon. It does more than substantiate your belief in a cause or good health 😉 Three cheers!

*Usss appa- a deep sigh. No, strike that. It is the deepest sigh!

Part 2- To go or not to go.
Part 3- Poguma, pogadha?

At EIGHT…


… you are still a handful. Your dramas continue. Between your last birthday and this, you’ve bested the art of negotiation. Your aspirations and ambitions are unique and keep changing every birthday! Let me just record your eight-ness here, shall I?:

At the moment, you’ve decided that you want to be a Youtuber! You are convinced that because you know to sing, you need not take up music classes. You discovered Alan Walker through your friend and can sing ‘Where are you now’ to match every note and nuance in there!

You read and pick your books well. But for a mom who has grown up on a generous dose of Enid Blytons, it’s hard to understand your rejection of Famous Fives and Secret Sevens 😦 “Very kiddish”, you say. I agree to disagree!

You have a very weird sense of timing and a weird knack of picking up and throwing vocabulary. Like this once when you said you’ve learnt a new ‘F’ word. Your bro and I almost choked on our dinner and before we could shut your mouth, you uttered ‘FAMISHED’! Priceless moment. You actually seemed to enjoy the suspense and I’m still not sure if you pulled a fast one there.. And very recently, you came to me with a sad face and said that you will not read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ anymore because you were learning a lot of ‘bad words’ and particularly a ‘J’ word. You wanted to know if you are allowed to use it:

img_2817Me: What word is that now?
You: You must not scold me.
Me: I won’t. But I may stop you from using it if it is inappropriate.
You: Alright.’Jerk’.

At this point, I was only hoping you were not watching Silicon Valley!

Me: Okay!
You: Can I use it?
Me: No.
You: Why? What does it mean?
Me: Ummm.. It has several meanings..
You: But in the book, it is ‘name-calling’.
Me: !!! Well, it means.. a cheat?
You: Oh, so I can call anna a jerk when he cheats?
Me: I’d rather you don’t.
You: But he does cheat sometimes. If I get really angry, I’m going to call him a jerk!

Whatever!

In school, you continue to be that disciplined, cooperative, and quiet student. I’m sure there is mistake and re-confirm with the teacher but she stands by her feedback. You have told her about the stories you’ve been scribbling away based on all the weird games you’ve been playing on my mobile! You are not far behind your bro in sharing the love stories from your class. The novelty of every generation thinking that it was the first to discover love at 7 or 8, does not seem to wear off :)) Keep the stories coming da. And tell me about your crushes too, okay?

You are a happy, loving big bro now to your adorable new-born twin cousin sisters. And it is just in the past couple of months that it has dawned on me that my little baby has really grown up! It is an endearing sight to watch you hold your baby sisters gently on your lap one at a time, speak softly in that baby-speak, touch their faces gently, enjoy the feeling of their tiny palms grasping your beeeg fingers, include them in all your shopping plans, generally exercise caution around them and being responsible! You make as awesome an anna as you make the bestest thambi to your bro! Your anna is your rock. Despite all the fights and arguments, you always take his side. You are always quick to defend him when dad or I are having ‘the talk’ with him!

One of the best moments that I think defined you as a boy that understands what it is to be kind, fair, and shun prejudice,

is when you came back home from an after-school activity class and said you don’t want to continue going. The reason you gave was that you did not like the way that aunty treated her help. “She is unnecessarily rude, unkind, and disrespectful to her”, you said. “No one deserves to be treated badly like that”. You are absolutely right, darling!

So baby, continue to be that cuddle-able, naughty, talking nighteen-to-the-dozen, funny, funnily-angry, tactfully-negotiating, kind, lovable, bright and shiny light in our lives! Love you loads!! Wish you a beautiful, happy, healthy 8th!

Fourteen!


Kanna,
I remember wondering how you’d be at 14 when you were 4. And I wonder how you’d be at 24 now. I also imagine myself being a difficult mom at times and a fun mom mostly and also that special person who’ll be privy to some of your secrets 🙂 Who am I kidding!

At 14, you remind me of my teenage self- argumentative, assertive, but mostly fun. You are an awesome big-brother and here is a tiny convo with the little imp that I’d stored on my notes:

Me: Isn’t your bro a makku (meaning – a nutcase) FullSizeRender
Varun: No! Anna is a cool bro!

He is quick to come to your defense these days and for some reason thinks you know better than his parents, no matter what it is about. But there are times when he lets us in on all the TV shows you’ve been watching and he seems to know most of them. Here are some for the record- Jimmy Kimmel Live, Quantico, Mentalist, Shark Tank, Friends, Impractical Jokers, Seinfeld, Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This is the list your little bro rattles off :/ Other than Friends, I have no clue what the rest are and when you watch them. Brats!

It was also your ‘report card’ day in school today. You made us all proud by getting a certificate for good conduct and that comes before any other achievement, academic or otherwise!

On this birthday, there are a couple of things I’d like to reiterate baby, things that I’ve been talking to you about more often the last couple of years. I’d like to say it again:

  • Be that adorable anna your little bro can look up to, and be available for him always.
  • You have an enviable zest for reading, gathering information, and learning (this does not include academics ;)). Keep at it.
  • Nurture that funny bone in you. All your friends like that humorous streak in you 🙂
  • Travel all you can. Reading and travel make for organic learning and teach more than what any school or person can hope to teach. It makes you a more rounded person and heightens your sense of right and wrong. And when you know, please choose what is right.
  • Please understand when someone says, ‘NO’. It doesn’t mean anything other than NO. It could be a girl or a boy you know, a stranger, your family and friends, or someone you dearly love.
  • Just like how you appreciate when someone says NO, you be firm and say NO when you have to.
  • Put the people first, and your ego last. It might mean a compromise. It might mean you are relenting. But then, it also means you are stronger. Because, people are worth putting first, and ego is worthless.
  • Know that you are loved and dear to not only your bro, me, or appa, but the entire extended maternal and paternal family, and that makes you really, really rich 🙂

Live it up my big baby. Have fun on your 14th and all the years to come. May your Manhattan-apartment, Honda job, and several other dreams come true;) Will love you always!

Kids, cars, ads..


Did I tell you that Vyas is into automobiles lately? He is also a beeeeg fan of Honda and has even been defending their recent recall of some cars due to defective inflators. He tells everyone that he is going to become an automobile engineer and will join Honda. You’d think he already has an offer letter from the company! Well, that is some change of plan considering he originally wanted to become a ‘garbage collector’.

Vyas’s favorite magazine now is Autocar India. He doesn’t miss a word, starting from the title to the copyright information at the end of the book, every month. Will never be bored of talking for hours together on the auto-specs to any random person walking this planet. It doesn’t matter even if the listener is not interested.

The big brother’s influence rubs onto the little fella too. Varun though seems to prefer style over substance. His favorite car (he says), is the Lamborghini Murcielago. Next fav. is the Bugatti Veyron. BMW comes third and last is Honda. The other vendors are not in the reckoning at all. He can keep gawking at the various pics of the various sporty cars in the various car mags and books at home!

Car-craze plus commercials does something to kids. Here’s is a sample..

The other day, Varun was watching a BMW ad. He turned to his dad and said,

Varun: “Appa, shall we buy a BMW”

Dad V: “I don’t have the money to buy one”

Varun: “Listen pa. It is easy. Call Quikr. They’ll give more money for our Honda City.”

Mommy/daddy- *facepalm*

Vyas: Hey, Honda is the best. Appa, you retain the Honda. Buy us a BMW.

Dad V: Ok, will check if it available at Connexions tomorrow.

Told you. Vs are like that only!

Goals in the life of a 9 yr old


Aashi, my feisty cherub had scribbled so in a diary:

ashis-goals

What are your goals in life? What do you want to do/be?

My first memories of wishes I thought of is that I should work in a company like (I think it is home). When I went to 1st Std, I decided to be a librarian. This wish of mine continued for a year. Then I went to II std & decided to become a lawyer. When I went to III std, I wanted to become a doctor. Then I realized that I had to study too much, like, for example, how many bones, muscles I have which I don’t even care about. I decided to become a runner. Now, for the first time, I took a strong decision. I want to really become a stunt-woman one day. I am waiting for every second to for that single day.

Introducing another poet..


This is by my dearest Aashi.. Tinkle overdose surely 😉

My wonderful dream..

When I was sleeping late at night
I heard someone call my name
I opened my eyes and saw
Suppandi, sitting on his watch,
Saying” iam on time!”

I looked around, to find
Raghu looking very sad
And Tantri creating a bomb!
Doobdoob and Chamataka
How happy for once, together!

Kaliya, Keechu and Meechu
Were not far behind!
Shambu, standing with his gun
And Shanti, still behind him
Pyarelal and Lajawanthini
Tapping on my head, lightly
Kapish standing with Pinto
And smiling with Singal and Peelu

When I opened my eyes for real
They all whispered goodbye!!!
What a wonderful dream, it was
Will I ever meet them all again???

An encounter with the wild..


The village home with a sprawling backyard is as close to the nature as it can get. A very low wall, just about 2 feet high, made of mud, straw, a few broken plastic buckets and tubs, sand bags, separates us from our wild friends, a tiger or two, spotted cheetahs, a fox, many rabbits and a couple of dogs. A cool dark well
which is the only source of water lies beyond that wall, in the thickets.

My mother-in-law carries a huge straw basket and a bucket on one hand, and walks up to the well wielding a huge stick on the other. The house has two huge doors opening into this backyard and I sit just at the stairs to this entrance and watch Vyas play beyond that wall, near his grandma. He walks a little further into the coppice when I call out to him to signal him about the beast that is watching him from the tree-top only to discern the loss of my voice! There is such a thing as ‘luck’ after all as he, intuitively, retraces his steps and walks back towards the well and I wonder where my M-I-L has disappeared! This time I find my voice and beckon him inside, but he pays no heed and instead takes a diversion, swerves to his right, away from the well and there is that orange-black striped beauty looking up at him annoyed at being woken up from his siesta.

“Vyas, don’t touch him. He is awake, come back in here!”, I bellow. The boy panics and makes a dash towards my outstretched arms only to be overtaken by the spotted beast that was watching him all the while. It stands long and tall between the two of us and am scared to instruct the next action to my boy, for this cheetah understands the language, and again, I struggle to find my voice.. Fear is writ all over his face and I feel hot and flushed…

“Ma, Varun is awake already” Vyas whispered into my years. His eyes, looking extra large and more beautiful without the spectacles, wore that expression of, “whats wrong lady?” and he pointed in the direction of the little warm body lying across my feet, awake, and babbling away.. I took a deep breath and drew my boys closer, felt them, and held on to them… My boys are safe in my arms this time..