We dutifully registered for the book fair well in time and booked ourselves a stand in Hall 3.0 where the children’s publishers usually are. It’s a lively, cheerful hall, one of the old favourites at the messe, and we knew that was where we wanted to be. We got our paperwork together and completed all formalities and our stand was confirmed.
Then, on 9 September 2011, we began to apply for our visas.
Day 1: Having got all the necessary papers together, I arrived at the VFS in Chennai to apply for a visa. It was around 11 in the morning and my mind was already preoccupied with thoughts of our chaiwallah, who usually turns up at the office around this time. When I finally presented our papers around an hour later, I was informed that the earliest interview date available was 12 October (by which time the fair would have already begun in Frankfurt!). Upon further enquiry, I was told that the reason for this was that the embassy was restricting the number of applications this year. I then investigated the possibility of a visa without an interview for my colleague (since she is a holder of two Schengen visas in the past year). I was told that the VFS was accepting only 2 non-interview cases per day due to the aforementioned restrictions and since I did not arrive early enough, I was not among those two. Disappointed, but not hopeless, I went away.
Day 2: Since the VFS opens at 8 in the morning, I decided to arrive at 7:30 and attempt to be one of the early applicants. When I arrived, I was the twelfth person in line. Apparently, eleven others had had the same idea.
Day 3: I was sure today was going to be the day. I set my alarm clock for 5:30 in the morning and was at the VFS by 6. I was the eighth in line. “What time did you get here?” I asked the sleepy gentleman in front of me. “5 am,” he said. I resolved to wake up even earlier.
Day 4: True to my word, I set ten different alarm clocks to make sure that I would wake up in time and managed to drag myself to VFS by 5 in the morning, a time when late night partiers with more active social lives than me were probably dragging themselves home. “Why are you going so early?” my grandmother asked. “Auspicious time,” I replied, “The visa gods won’t grant visas unless I go at the auspicious time.” She nodded wisely. “The gods are like that sometimes.” I contemplated carrying a yoga mat there and performing the surya namaskar (which, of course, I don’t know how to perform, but how hard can it be?). I walked up to the VFS at 5 am and there were already four others in the queue. This queue, mind you, was out on the street and not on the actual premises of the VFS. By now, I was a familiar face on the street. Joggers and pakoda sellers waved good morning. The guard at the VFS smiled at me sympathetically. Once again, I turned and returned home forlornly.
Day 5: Foolish as it seemed, I decided to try one last time. This time, I took precautionary measures. I asked a colleague to take a 3 am shift and I arrived to relieve him at 6 am. This time, we were successful – I was the second person in line (some hapless soul had taken the trouble to spend the night there!). I finally managed to make the application. Exhausted but victorious, I left VFS, hoping I’d never have to come back.
Day 6: No such luck. Since I was only able to make my colleague’s application as a non-interview case, I had to return to make my own, of course. By this time, the earliest available interview date was 16 October, which happened to be the last date of the fair. But I had a few tricks up my sleeve. We had somehow managed to pull a few strings with the embassy and, through some rather diabolical means that I will not currently elaborate on, I was able to get myself an interview date on 4 October. Yes, I am that well-connected.
Of course, the interview went well and I received a one-month multiple entry visa, although my colleague somehow ended up with a 7-day visa (for the exact duration of the book fair) and could not extend her trip even if she wished to. Later, a fellow publisher told us that his visa was rejected because his hotel booking was “not close enough to the messe grounds”.
After many, many sleepless nights, we did finally make it to Frankfurt – and as a gorgeous bonus we managed to get bumped up to first class on our way there! And the book fair was wonderful as always, although every now and then we would smile at each other, knowing how close we were to not being there at all.
p.s. Don’t worry, a more detailed report with photos etc. will follow!