Murphy’s Law at work- What can go wrong, will!

Murphy's lawIt was that time of the year, when I had to apply for a visa for the daughter’s annual team building trip from school. This time around it was to go to the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Having lived in the vicinity of the Royal Thai Embassy for two and a half years now, I knew where to head for the visa processing. The school authorities had helpfully shared soft copies of the visa application, the tickets to and from Chiang Mai and an authorization letter addressed to the embassy on the school letterhead. I carefully filled out all the details on the printed application, pasted a profile picture as needed. When I thought I had all the documents I needed printed and filled out, I headed one morning last week to take matters head on with the embassy concerned. I predicted it to be a half an hour job inclusive of the bus ride to and from the embassy. I had noticed that the applications were accepted only between 930 and 1130 in the morning and so I left at 10am.

I hopped off the bus and merrily walked up to the embassy’s front gates. The place looked deserted and other than a guard who was showing his back to the gate and was in deep conversation with someone who looked like the gardener in his huge oversized overalls and mud covered boots, there was not a soul in sight. I checked the time on my watch again. For a minute I thought I probably came in a little too early even before the embassy began to function! It was 20 minutes past 10. I interrupted what seemed like a serious discussion and politely asked to be let in. The guard looked like a spell had just been broken while the gardener looked at me and shook his head sympathetically. When I told him that I had to submit papers for a visa, he pointed to a direction that I had to take. That is when my eyes caught a little blue notice that announced that the access to the Royal Thai Embassy had moved to a street behind. The notice was dated mid of August and it was already the first week of October and I had not known. How would I know too? No one I knew had travelled to Thailand from mid August to first week of October. Even if they had, they did not deem it important to let me know that the access gate now is not from where it used to be. The husband who travels to Thailand every second month, gets his visa on arrival at the Kingdom of Thailand. The only source that could have foreseen this dilemma was the school authorities and they had not warned the parents of the change.

As I had already told you, I had a small window of opportunity to complete the transaction before they closed accepting forms for the day. So, time was at a premium. I marched the 1.5km distance (I kept track on Run Keeper) , with the sun slowly and definitely creeping towards it’s pinnacle position for noon. The guard on duty insisted on finding out the purpose of my visit. He asked for an identity proof and took his time handing out a visitor tag in return.

I stepped into the compound and saw a placard that said ‘Toilets this way’. I could see why that was important. But I was looking for a ‘Visa applications this way ‘sign and did not find one. Instead I saw a bunch of men sitting on benches that had visa application forms and glue sticks, furiously writing. With half a smirk, and a cocky nod of my head and the confidence of someone who had filled out the forms beforehand, I approached another uniformed person asking him to show me the way to the visa processing queue. Right behind the way to the toilet was a hidden passage that led to one level down to where the visa applications were being submitted.

I stepped into the air-conditioned confines of the room and was grateful for the reprieve from the heat of the day.  I checked my watch and saw I had made it with half an hour before close time. I did a happy jig in my mind and pulled out the file from my bag. There was another officer, checking if the visa applicants had filled out all the forms without missing any detail, and if we carried all the documents we needed, before we approached the counter.

I knew I would be asked why the applicant was not there and I had a valid excuse for her being away at school and the fact that she was still a minor allowed me to represent her interests and also sign the application form, that I conveniently forgotten getting signed by her. With a bright smile, I approached the sulky looking lady officer, who looked at me from above her spectacles. I briefly told her why I was there that hot morning and she asked me if I had all the papers I needed.

I showed her the passport, the printed letter head from school, the ticket proof and the filled out application form with the pasted profile picture. The aircon was delightful and I had begun to feel comfortable. I was shaken back to reality when the officer asked for ‘the other forms ‘. I looked at her incredulously and checked if I had heard her right. She repeated what she wanted to see – The other two copies of the application form, with photo identity. She then added to my benefit, that I was Indian and Indians needed to submit three copies of the application form. How am I supposed to know that?  No Indian I knew had travelled to Thailand before now. Even if they had, they did not deem it important to let me know that the visa application form was to be submitted in triplicate. The only source that could have foreseen this dilemma was the school authorities and they had not warned the Indian parents of the requirement.

I was beginning to feel restless.  I had already told you, I had a small window of opportunity to complete the transaction before they closed accepting forms for the day. So, time was at a premium.

I checked if she would accept photocopies of the filled out form and she said she would as long as I had individual photos to accompany the form. I thanked my foresight to carry the extra photos and rushed to find the closest photo copier. As it turned out, the access to a photocopier was two buildings away, 500m in distance, 34 degrees and rising in temperature and 25 minutes to closing time. I made the most important decision of the morning in a blink. Instead of walking in the hot sun looking for the photocopier, I decided to sit on those benches in the shade and fill out two extra forms by hand. I grabbed a chair, two forms and dug into my bag for a pen.

I always carry a pen or two in my bag because I know and understand that there are occasions when you need a pen and you have no access to one. However, that day, when a pen was all that I needed to qualify submitting the form before the time ran out, it was missing! As luck would have it, one of the chaps, that I had smirked at when I had entered, had filled out his form and was leaving to submit when I requested him for his pen.  He helpfully parted with his pen and asked me to leave it on the desk when I was done. I was hot and sweaty after the brief reprieve in the air-conditioned room and I was dying for a swig from the water bottle I always carried in my bag when I stepped out. But not today! In my hurry to make it in time to the embassy and the fact that I would be back home in no time, I had forgotten to carry my bottle of water. I had to satisfy my thirst by licking my dry lips and wiped the sweat off my brow and face with my hanky (that I had thankfully not forgotten to carry with me).

The realization I made when I was furiously filling out the triplicate copies of the application form was that it took longer to fill out addresses than any other detail in any form! I glued in the photos on the copies and walked right back to show the lady officer, my handiwork, in 15 minutes flat. I expected a pat on my back but she soon burst my bubble. She asked for a copy of the dependent pass. I should have foreseen that!  I had the original and had not taken a photocopy of it to submit along with the passport. I almost broke down to cry. Why couldn’t she have asked me for it when she checked for the triplicates? What was wrong with my day! Damn, Murphy!

I finally had to step out to find the photo copier service, two buildings away and jogged back in the hot sun five minutes before closing time, after the guard at the embassy gate assured me that he would let me in even if I was late.

This time around the lady officer smiled at me, appreciatively. There was another applicant who was arguing with her about some missing forms that she had pointed out and I realized why!

When it was my turn to submit the forms, the process went smoothly. Take that, Murphy! I emerged victorious soon after and did not even mind the blazing heat of the mid morning as I blithely walked towards the bus stop for my ride back home. I checked the bus arrival time and was disappointed that I had to wait 13 more minutes for the next bus. I quickly checked the time for another bus number that left from the next bus stop and saw that I could save 5 minutes if I briskly walked up to the next bus stop to board . Since I was feeling lighter, after the job accomplished, I headed towards the next bus stop which was a few meters away.

What I did not realize then was that there was an underpass that I had to maneuver to reach the next bus boarding point. This underpass leads to a gazillion options one of which was the target bus stop.  As Murphy would appreciate, I chose the wrong option and ended up in the target bus stop 3 minutes after the bus had left. At the end I had to wait for an extra 15 minutes for the next bus to arrive.

And Murphy won.

So what if you are not an entrepreneur?

The book I am reading now, “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” is a collection of 25 success stories of IIM A graduates who turned entrepreneurs. I have read a few of these stories and have picked a few underlying themes that these successful people talked about, for this blog post.

I have looked at these themes from my perspective and how these apply to my life.

 Networks are important.

I belong to a generation that completed Grade 12 before we had internet. Many years later, we had dedicated Yahoo groups for every batch at school and a few of us who had managed to stay in touch even without the internet traced a few people and got together on the groups.

Today it is easier to network socially. When I go to my daughter’s school for a social event, I meet parents of children who attend the same grade as my daughter. We exchange phone numbers and meet each other outside school if we hit it off. Networking with new people helps you connect with others especially when you are in a new city.

Social networks have helped me connect with people I have gone to school and university with, colleagues from your my job, subsequent jobs, people I have travelled with, neighbours, people whom I have met during business meetings, conferences, training programs, and social gatherings.

Contacts and connections open up opportunities and can be a source of information and education. Keeping my network well oiled, has paid off when I want to assist someone in job search, relocation, business proposals, reference, appointments or interviews. Of course, what it also means is others should see you as a person with a reputation of being sincere, efficient, and conscientious.

Timing is everything.

I want to do so much in life. With just 24 hours a day, how much can I achieve? So I have to prioritize. That way I make time for the things I enjoy doing the most. On days I don’t read a few chapters of a book, I play my guitar or listen to music. When I don’t make time for gym or a walk, I play with my dog.

I choose different routes to go for my walks. Two evenings back I was pleasantly surprised to see an array of light installations on my way. Perfect timing!

Negotiations and bargains are time bound too. I cannot tell you the number of times I have agreed on a price earlier in the negotiation and then left with a feeling that I probably paid more than what I should have!

Ask my husband and he will tell you he knows the right time to say something and when to keep quiet! Whether it is to admonish or praise my child, if I don’t get the timing right, the cause is lost.

There are no shortcuts!

I love experimental cooking. When I browse the Internet for recipes I find several recipes for a dish that I want to try; some are elaborate and require a lot of pre preparations and some are quick fix methods. Which of the two recipes do you think turns out making the dish taste better?

When I look at my daughter working on math, I recall how we were never allowed to use calculators at school. I have blamed many of my math woes to that fact alone! Today, the only qualification you have to have to own a scientific calculator is that you have cleared primary school.  I had to work out each step of every sum I solved. The teacher allotted marks for every step that was right even if you got the final answer wrong. Today’s kids don’t work out steps in math. They have aids like calculators to help. Kids don’t care how they arrive at the answers so long as they got it right. Yet, shouldn’t math teachers insist that they show the working out?

I know of last minute crammers at school and college. I wonder if they have ever regretted not taking academics seriously throughout the year and always left it for last minute cramming.

Passion and Emotion

Have you heard of the saying – When you love what you do, there is not a day you have to go to work? I wake up every morning, thinking up new ways to have fun with what I do. My latent desire to work with English as my core expertise area makes my mother wonder aloud why I chose to complete a post graduate program in Food science instead of English Literature!

Be it a house I had to move or a city, a job or a function, when I am emotional about it, it only makes me miserable. I know of some people who will forever crib about a city they moved to.  It makes me want to ask them why they had to move! Go back to where you belong!

I have lived in different towns and cities all my life and I love bits and pieces of all the places I have lived in. I love the small town ambience of Trichy, the affluence at Coimbatore, the smells of bakeries in Bangalore, the busy life in Chennai, the every-one-belongs attitude of Mumbai, the cleanliness in Singapore…

Believe in yourself

When I began writing my first blog nine years back (Trust me, it has been that long!), I imagined writing my blogs till my daughter turned 16. I painstakingly recorded my conversations with my then 4 year old daughter and had decided that the blog would make a wonderful gift to any child wanting to find out about herself, when she has grown up. My husband, who has seen me “throw ideas out the window’ (in his own words) wrote it off as just one of my ideas that will go the same way.  Nine years hence, I am still blogging.

These five lessons from the book tell me that these underlying principles apply to everyone and not just to successful entrepreneurs.