Sometimes, opportunities knock at your door and if you do not make an extra effort to grab them, they go back. One such opportunity came my way 16 years ago. I was posted in the civil hospital of a small town and residing there with my family. One day, while I was reading the newspaper, I saw a message by the World Children's Fund India office about a study tour to Europe for children aged 8-12 years. My daughter had just turned eight and was a bright student with an extrovert personality. I immediately filled the form, attached proof of her extra-curricular activities and posted it, never thinking that she would be selected.
After 10 days, I got a call from the organisation's office that my daughter had been picked for the tour. They asked me to send her passport and other documents as they were applying for a group visa in the next 10 days. I was surprised as well as shocked. I told them that though I would like my daughter to be part of this group, she didn't have a passport. They said, "Then get it made, we can wait for eight days for all your documents; otherwise, we will give this opportunity to the next person on the list."
Night was approaching fast. Our sleepy town downed its shutters by 8 pm. I called up the man I knew who handled passport forms at the documentation centre. He agreed to open his shop at that time and prepared the complete file for passport application. I had decided to go in the morning to the regional passport office, Chandigarh, though I had little hope that I could get this work done in such a short time.
When I reached the office, I explained to the regional passport officer the whole position. He said, "I shall also feel sorry if your daughter loses this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is one way to fast-track the process. If you get the character verification of your daughter done by the local SDM (subdivisional magistrate), then we can bypass police verification. You bring that to me tomorrow, I shall try to deliver the passport to you in seven days."
Next morning, I went to meet the SDM. He was a fresh IAS officer. Being the medical officer in the local civil hospital helped in breaking the ice. He, too, listened to me patiently and immediately agreed to do the verification. With papers in my hand, I rushed to Chandigarh and also called the organisation office to wait for seven days for our documents.
To my pleasant surprise, the passport was delivered to me on the seventh day. I sent the documents in time and heaved a sigh of relief.
On the announced day, I, along with my family, went to the New Delhi office of the organisation to drop my daughter. There was an orientation session going on for the children. I was astonished to see that all other children were 11-12 years old. My daughter was the only one who was eight years old.
I asked the organiser how they were going to manage these young children abroad. He said two selected teachers, a male and a female, were going with the group, "so you shouldn't worry as they will take good care of every child."
When she got back from the tour, she told us that the teachers who had gone with them were in fact lovers and spent the whole time enjoying. However, as she was the youngest, she became the darling of the group and all other girls tried to help her in whichever way they could.
She enjoyed the trip very much and learnt a lot in the six countries she visited. This trip changed her outlook. Sometimes, I think this golden opportunity would have been lost if we had not made the extra effort to grab it.