My mother, daughter and I are set to travel to India in two weeks, but only the 9-year-old has the proper paperwork stamped, approved and ready to go.
Lily jokes, “I’ll be flying to India by myself.”
Apparently I’m raising a brave, determined girl. You know what? So did my mother.
One way or another, all three of us will get to Bangalore this summer despite the mountainous paperwork and seemingly arbitrary rules my mom and I are either too inexperienced, too earnest, or too American to easily negotiate.
My dad is a semi-retired civil engineer and construction manager who is spending this year building IT campuses in Southern India. I am a recently divorced mom, journalist and optimistic spirit learning to maneuver everything from power tools to tequila as a newly single lady. My daughter is at a tender age: old enough for hormones to propel inexplicable outbursts, young enough to listen when I explain the neurochemistry behind her moods.
My mother – an elementary school principal whose staff has endured more than its share of tragedy this year – is spearheading a girls’ trip to visit Dad for two weeks.
Think Steel Magnolias meets Eat Pray Love.
Or, at least, that is the intention.
My mom and I are novices at international travel and have underestimated the bureaucracy involved in traveling to a country like India. Mom’s visa has been rejected twice because her stated reasons for travel raised suspicions. “To tour India and to visit my husband,” she wrote. Honest and accurate, but perhaps too much detail. When she reapplied, she then answered “yes” to the question: “Have you ever been rejected for an Indian visa?” After she was rejected for having been rejected once before, more experienced friends told her to lie.
That did the trick.
Knowing this, I was extra cautious with mine and my daughter’s applications, and I paid what I considered to be exorbitant fees to expedite the process should I encounter a similar predicament. I was particularly concerned with Lily’s paperwork, since the consulate seemed not to understand why a child would be traveling with just one parent, why mother and daughter would not have the same last name, why both parents would not have passports, etc.
But Lily’s visa (mostly) sailed through. There was one moment of panic when the embassy called to say they needed an extra letter from her father, giving his permission for her to leave the country. Fortunately, he’s cool with this trip and the only problem was finding a scanner at 5 p.m. on a Friday.
At the moment, though, my visa application seems like a real problem.
India says I need a journalism visa instead of a tourism visa, even though my travel purpose is the latter.
Even though I assumed “journalist” would raise red flags and intentionally wrote “editor” in the required field for “occupation”.
Even though my job at The Tennessean involves running the website, not writing stories.
Even though The Tennessean, while indeed a media source, employs all manner of employees – including accountants and maintenance guys.
We are set to leave in two weeks and have non-refundable, non-transferable tickets to Bangalore.
Fine. If India wants me to say I’m traveling as a journalist, I may as well write. (At least here.)
I’ll start by pointing out the irony of having my visa rejected on these work-related grounds during a time in my life when I’m ceasing to define myself so much by what I do and instead by who I am.
We’ll see what happens.
I have a feeling I’ll be on that plane.