Thirty five year old Maya Rao sits on a worn out sofa in a small flat on the eighth floor of a towering concrete block of council flats in Bethnal Green, the face gaunt with the stress and anxiety of the past two weeks. A request for visa moved on behalf of her two children at the British Consulate Office in Prague has been turned down once again.
Eight months ago, Maya, a young widow with two school going children, Rishma, 8 and Ravi, 11 was a Lecturer at a College in Delhi, leading a normal middle class life. 'Life was not easy as a single mother,' she says, 'with two children to look after, but my parents lived close by and they were a big support.'
It was then that Juri K entered her life. She met this middle aged, successful Czech businessman at a Conference for Export Orient Industries in a Five Star hotel in New Delhi, who was immediately taken up with Maya's good looks and sharp mind. There followed a whirlwind courtship, and after only three weeks of persuasion Maya agreed to marry Juri and follow him with her children to what she anticipated would be a new life of comfort and conjugal bliss in Prague.
'With my two children, it would have been difficult to find a good Indian husband,' she says in a quiet, sad voice. 'And for Juri, the children were not an issue at all. He seemed to like them and both Rishma and Ravi were quite taken up with him. For my part I couldn't believe why a good looking, extremely rich Czech businessman would have any interest in marrying me and being a father to my children, but I finally fell under his charm.'
When she finally reached Prague after a honeymoon in Nepal, paid for by her parents, she was shocked to find out that Juri lived in a small poky little studio flat barely big enough to hold her and her two children. She also found out that Juri had a number of court proceedings pending against him charging him with fraud and not paying his debts. Juri had had to seek refuge in being officially declared to be bankrupt!
'There was no money, even for food and vegetables,' she says, her eyes widening in distress at the recollection of the shocking disclosure. 'I had to sell of my jewelry given to me at the time of my wedding for us to manage for a few weeks and then I took up a job with an International NGO.'
Maya's job came unstuck when her employers found out that she had a PhD in Public Finance. 'It was a temporary job of an Accounts Clerk that I was doing,' she explains, 'and I though I could get something better so I confided in some of the staff. The result was that I was sacked. They couldnï¿½t give me a better job because I couldn't speak Czech, and once they found out I was a PhD they couldn't have me working as an Accounts Clerk. It would reflect badly on the organization.'
Maya had made up her mind to cut her losses and go back to India with her children, when some friend suggested that she do her ACCA, an advanced degree in practical accountancy.
'An ACCA qualification is in great demand,' she explains, 'and I want so much to secure a good future for my children. I thought that rather than go back to India with my tail between my legs it would be better for me to do this course. I know I can get the qualification in eighteen months, so itï¿½s only a matter of some time.'
The Counselor at the British Embassy in Prague told her if she paid her fees there would be no problem in granting her a student visa. As a student she would also be permitted to do a part time job. Her children would be granted a visa once she could demonstrate that she had secured part time employment in England. Maya decided to take the gamble and paid the fees out of her past savings in India and money loaned to her by her parents.
Today, Maya is two months into the course. She has managed to sort out many of her affairs. Her classes are going well, she has found a small flat for herself and her children, and she has applied for their admission in the local school and most importantly through her persistent efforts she has managed to get employment as a part time lecturer teaching public finance at an institute in London.
'I was overjoyed when I got this job offer,' she says, 'because I cannot bear to be away from my children.'
The Embassy was then approached with a request for visas for her children. Maya did not anticipate any problems having been given an assurance by the counselor himself. But now, there was a new person, and they wanted to see more proof of property and financial assets. They wanted to know how much property Juri owned.
'The visa is for my children,' Maya exclaims, 'and how can Juri show any proof of assets. He is officially declared to be bankrupt.'
It appears that there is no noting on the file which could prove to the Embassy that Maya had indeed been promised visas for her children once she secured some kind of gainful employment.
But surely it is only a matter of a few months and there should be a way around this problem, her new friends in London console her.
'I cannot trust that Juri will know how to look after them,' she nearly screams. 'Rishma is diabetic and Iï¿½m so anxious and worried on her account.'
Does she have a plan? Will she go back to India or the Czech Republic?
'I am trying to find out the name of the Counselor who was there at the time I applied for the Visa,' she says, 'and once I know that I can find out where he is posted and I will call him and tell him to tell the new official that this is what he promised. The Embassy should honor their word.'
Her desperation, resolve and near panic are all too apparent.
'Rishma was crying last night,' she says, 'when I spoke to her on the phone. 'I want to be with you, Mummy,' she was saying. I simply cannot bear this situation any more.' And saying this, she bursts into tears herself
A while later, she has recovered and is making phone calls to try and speak to a 'contact' in the Home Office.
What about Juri? Will she accept him?
'He has been taking care of the children,' she acknowledges, 'but I can never forget or forgive him for the way he has cheated me.' She grits her teeth at the memory.' Let's see.'
(The names of the persons and locations have all been changed to protect their identity)