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Dancing for a visa

July 22, 2003 12:37 IST

Times News Network: A well-known Maharashtrian 'amasha' dancer... was made to dance in front of an American visa official at the US consulate... Confirming the incident, spokesperson for the US consulate Elizabeth Corwin said that it was "standard practice to ask people with special skills to demonstrate before the visa officers ... If an applicant is a cook, the visa officer will test his or her skill by asking the person to cook."

It's tough being a consulate official in Mumbai. There are hordes of people every day wanting visas for the States, and plenty of them claim they have special skills. Testing all of them is real tiresome.

Let me tell you about what happened recently. There was this lady who called herself Tarla Dalal. She said she was a hot-shot cook, so I took her to the consulate kitchen. She seemed to do the cooking all right, expertly putting in the spices and mixing the stuff, and it wasn't long before she invited me to try out the dish she'd cooked.

And guess what -- one spoonful and my mouth was on fire, it was so darn hot, that woman had stuffed a bucketful of chillies in the dish.

Obviously she didn't know the first thing about cooking. She said that she'd cooked something called vindaloo, and that vindaloo is meant to be very hot, but I lost no time in seeing through that flimsy excuse. She didn't get a visa of course, God knows she may have been part of a gang of international poisoners.

Then there was this guy who said he was a musician, Bismillah Khan, I believe. Well that Khan bit made me suspicious right from the start. So when he said he was a famous musician, I merely curled my lip a bit and told him to start playing. I know something about the music scene, you know, I watch MTV, you can't fool me when it comes to music.

And guess what, this guy takes a kinda tube thing out of an attaché case and starts playing -- I mean he calls it playing -- the darn thing wails like nothing on earth, I've never heard a sound like that before. Call that music, indeed. The guy said it's an ancient Indian instrument called the Shehnai or some such thing. Didn't get a visa, of course.

You know, whenever anybody here tries to fool you, they try that 'ancient Indian' trick. The other day there was this guy, called himself Birju Maharaj, said he was a great dancer. Well, I told him I wasn't so bad myself, having shaken a leg at the local disco for as long as I can remember.

So when I asked him to show me his stuff, he started going round and round in circles, waving his arms all the while. Some dance, that. He tries to con me by pretending it was an ancient Indian dance called Kathak. Stuff and nonsense -- I told him to boogie and he had no clue. No visa for this guy.

Now don't get the impression I reject all the visa applications. The genuine guys all get through. Take the case of the guy from Churchgate station who had this special skill of shining my shoes just right. No problem getting a visa for him. Ditto for my barber -- he can even do a spike in the front and dye it blue, a talent much in demand these days.

Or take the case of two guys who came in yesterday, very shy types, not talking much. I asked them what their special skills were and they said it was shooting. I was really interested in that, I'm something of a gun fan you know, and back in the States I had quite an armoury.

Well, I took these guys to the shed at the back and asked them to shoot at a picture of the President from twenty paces. These men were real eager to please, I tell you. The one with the moustache said it would be a pleasure, and lodged a bullet right in the centre of the President's forehead.

The bearded one said he'd be delighted and shot him in one eye. I was hugely impressed, of course, and told them they had real talent. The guy with the beard said his preferred weapon was the Stinger missile, but he also used aeroplanes as missiles, while the other guy pointed out the merits of the rocket-propelled grenade.

Gee, that's great, I said, but I hope none of you is called Khan? Nope, the bearded one was a Mr OB Laden, while the one with the moustache said he was Mr S Hussain. Those guys really had professional skills. They got their ten-year visas on the spot, of course.

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Manas Chakravarty