Being Indian

Discussion in 'Members Corner' started by Daredevil, Aug 15, 2009.

  1. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    JITENDER GUPTA

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    Shriman Sam: Sam Miller shows off his hard-won PIO card at his Delhi residence

    BEING INDIAN

    The Papers Are In Order

    Or how I determinedly sized up the careworn Indian system, ran into a brick wall, yet still managed to secure a PIO card for myself
    SAM MILLER

    I am a Person of Indian Origin. I have a slate-grey passport-like document issued by the Indian government that says so. But I’m not really. I was not born or brought up here, and I do not have a single direct ancestor who, as far as I know, ever lived in India. I have become the proud possessor of a Persons of Indian Origin card because I am married to an Indian citizen.
    I had lived in India, on and off, for ten years—and had been married to an Indian citizen for even longer.



    Two men were seated at the edge of the sofa, looking more nervous than me. Shireen was questioning them.


    Previously, my visas were renewed every six months. We now wanted to stay in India indefinitely and make our home in Delhi. I would have preferred dual citizenship—but that wasn’t, and still isn’t, available. PIO would be second best. But the actual card was not easy to come by. It involved a total of 17 visits to three separate ministries and five different offices. It took up at least four full days of my life. I was interviewed twice, the second time at home with my wife, Shireen. The first time was at the offices of the Foreigners Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, in an unventilated, very public room brimming with non-Indians from every continent. I reached the head of the queue after two hours of eavesdropping on other people’s immigration problems. I was asked, among other more prosaic questions, to explain why I had married an Indian woman (“Love,” I said, monosyllabically), and then, with a leer and a twinkle, whether I had had many Indian girlfriends. “N-no”, I stuttered. My hesitant response did not reflect either uncertainty or mendacity on my part, but my surprise and my growing irritation with the questioner. The interview ended abruptly. He wrote “Refer for further enquiry” on my residence permit and said I would receive a home visit. “We need to be sure that marriages to Indian citizens are genuine.”
    Several weeks later, one Friday afternoon around 5 pm, I received a phone call as I was pottering around the streets of central Delhi.



    “He wanted a bribe, you idiot,” my friend said. “You’ll never get your card now; he’d have been happy with Rs 100.”


    The investigators from the Home Ministry would be at my home at 5.30. As I rushed home, images of Mr and Mrs, a television programme of my UK childhood, flashed through my mind. A gormless husband would be placed in a soundproof booth, while his bright-as-a-button wife would stand on the stage. She would be asked semi-intimate questions about their life together: what was the first present she gave him when they were dating? What colour nightclothes was she wearing yesterday? And so on. The husband was then released from the booth, and would invariably get the answers wrong, to his embarrassment and everyone else’s amusement. It was gentle viewing—a mild celebration of female omniscience and male autism. But now I was going to take part in a real-life version of Mr and Mrs, and my precious PIO card, and perhaps my right to stay in India, would depend on it. And, suddenly I could not, for the life of me, remember the colour of Shireen’s toothbrush, or the name of her favourite Hindi movie, or her shoe size. Fifteen years of marriage had been erased from my memory. I was sweating with nerves by the time I reached home.
    Two men were seated on the edge of the sofa, looking even more nervous than me, untouched glasses of water in front of them. Shireen was questioning them about their professional qualifications—which were not very extensive. I gave her a self-conscious kiss on the cheek and sat down. At that point, our children burst in, a dancing duet of carefree excitement.

    “What are these children?” asked the chief investigator.

    “They’re ours.” Shireen responded with a slight chill in her voice.

    “Children of both of you? They are very old.”

    “Yes, both of us. They’re twelve and eleven.”

    “How do you have children if you are just married?” I had not prepared for this baffling line of questioning—and was later reprimanded for just sitting there with my mouth open. Shireen, meanwhile, delivered a crushing blow.

    “Ridiculous (sotto voce).... This is all totally ridiculous (out loud).... We’ve been married for fifteen years.”

    I nodded eagerly.

    The two men looked at each other, aghast, and then started scrabbling through the cardboard file they had brought with them. It became clear that they normally interviewed newly-married couples.

    “Can we see your marriage certificate?” I showed it to them and was asked for a copy. I printed out a copy of the certificate, which was downloaded on my computer. They then got up and left—abruptly ending my brief cameo on Mr and Mrs—having promised a decision within two weeks.

    The following evening, a Saturday, our cook, Pan Singh, said one of the men who had come yesterday was at the gate, asking for a lifafa, the Hindi word for envelope. I asked him to invite the man in. Pan Singh returned, a little sheepish, saying the man refused to come in, but just wanted a lifafa—with our marriage certificate. And so, slightly puzzled, I printed out another copy.

    Later, I told a friend this story. “He wanted a bribe, you idiot. A lifafa is what you put the bribe in. You’ll never get your PIO card now, and he’d have been perfectly happy with 100 rupees.”

    Three weeks later I went to the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office to hear the good news, and the bad. “Your application for a PIO has successfully passed the enquiry stage,” the official informed me without looking up. “But unfortunately, Mr Miller, all your documentation has gone astray and you will need to resubmit.” I looked heavenwards and brought my hand down rather heavily on the table. “I’m sorry. We’re not computerised yet, and some of our agents are a little careless.” It may have been my imagination, but I’m sure I detected the trace of a wink in her left eye. “Probably best to apply next time you’re in London,” she told me cheerfully. I walked away presuming, but unable to prove, that my papers had been deliberately lost.

    I took her advice. Three weeks after putting in my application to the Indian High Commission in London (no interview necessary), I had my precious PIO card—together with a 15-year visa, the right to buy property in India, and, to my amusement, the ability to join the diplomats’ queue at immigration at Delhi airport. This is of no practical use, because I still have to wait just as long for my luggage, but I do get childishly gleeful as I saunter past the first-class passengers.

    (The author, a former BBC correspondent in India, is the author of Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity [Penguin India 2009], from which this article has been adapted.)
     
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  3. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Same Difference

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    An Indian of American origin wages several battles to acquire his cherished citizenship
    JUSTIN MCCARTHY

    A passport is just a piece of paper, isn’t it? Nations are modern constructs, aren’t they? So what if I’m an American who’s taken Indian citizenship, right? Indians all over the planet possess passports of varying hues, don’t they? Same difference.
    So much for rationale. The emotional being I am tells me otherwise. The day I became an Indian citizen was a moving one. Why? Simply because from the moment I landed here way back in 1979, I have never wanted to leave.

    Flashback: Grew up in whiter-than-white Midwestern America. Largish family approximating the American dream, somewhat tainted by a streak of Irish melancholy. Played piano, always. Confused youth. Ran away to California. Saw Bharatanatyam in Golden Gate Park. Flipped. Left for India, to general dismay.

    Landed: Vague, notionless. Fell ill umpteen times. (Hadn’t bothered with vaccines or US embassy travel pamphlets!). Learned Bharatanatyam. Encountered Tamil, started studying. Heard Carnatic music, started singing. Discovered Sanskrit, started reading.

    After several years of student bliss, began teaching piano, assistant teaching dance, teaching dance, performing dance, choreographing and, phoenix rising, recommenced piano recitals after long hiatus.



    There are simple pleasures. Lungis. Hot rice with ghee and namak. Gulab jamuns. Bare feet. Street dogs.


    Update: No thoughts on returning to motherland. Terrified of capricious visa officers at Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office. Decide to go for it. First attempt: wrong office. Given yellowed forms demanding list of properties left behind in Pakistan! Correct office found. Several years of surprisingly pleasant, albeit laborious, visits to countless offices. Loads of forms, verifications, counter-verifications, registrations and character certificates. First scare. Applicant must relinquish original nationality before government of India makes final decision. Terror-stricken. Rendered stateless. Second scare. Required to publish announcement of intent in two newspapers, inviting those with objections to write immediately (and confidentially) to the concerned government office. Paranoia!
    All hurdles eventually crossed. Day of reckoning. Wretched peon at Tis Hazari wants bribe before taking file up to magistrate’s office for swearing-in ceremony. I march straight to aforementioned officer. Complain. Peon hauled up, file brought, oath administered and I emerge in the late morning sun a citizen of India. To this day, still face bewildered, incredulous, wry, bemused, aghast looks at immigration points both local and foreign. Once had Richard Gere queuing behind me at Delhi airport, an official with him imperiously shouting, “VIP! VIP!” Officer attending me looks up, “Hmmph! Vee I P, Shee I P! Chhodo, yaar. Inko dekho!”

    Macroview: Often comfort myself with the following. America and India. Two huge, functioning, relatively free societies. Both with dynastic propensities, what with names like Kennedy, Nehru, Bush, Scindia, Clinton, Karunanidhi.... Both with inspiring moments in the struggle for equality as well as appalling lapses in the area of human rights. Do feel it an honour to participate in voting process of world’s largest democracy. Hear those at the poll booths whispering, “Yahan ke to lagte nahin. Kashmiri ya Afghani honge kya?”

    Microview: This could place me in the fuzzily romantic, exotic, white mughal, orientalist category but, listed much like a celebrity ‘Likes and Don’t Likes’ column on the backpage of a Sunday insert, here are many of the real reasons I live in India, an India that many will argue has largely disappeared, especially from urbanscapes. An ancient civilisation with a vertical timeline stretching back thousands of years, intersected by a horizontal array of diverse peoples all directly related at some point to that timeline. Variety of customs! Array of foods! Spectrum of skin colours, facial features! Stunning multiplicity of art forms!

    Then there are the simpler pleasures. Lungis. Dhotis. Saris. Hot rice with ghee and namak. Washing clothes squatting on the floor. Mugga baths. Gulab jamuns (hot and spherical preferred to cold and oblong). Bare feet. Street dogs. Chai stalls. Small shops bursting with goods. Footpath vendors. Malis. Mochis. Dhobis. Chaprasis. Chowkidars. Sweepers. People everywhere. Rich, poor, educated, local, Dravid, Aryan, Mongol—all piled one on top of the other. News in Sanskrit twice a day. D.K. Pattammal. Hospitality. Atithi Devo Bhava—what a concept! Finally, friends. Friends I grew up with during my second adolescence, as it were. Friends who knew everything about America, had made models of igloos as kids, when I didn’t even know English was spoken in India! Friends who understand multilingual texts, cross-cultural references; can combine veg and non-veg, religious and non-religious, conservative and forward thinking.

    Postscript: Love my family dearly (more so, after living here), but, after telling my brother about a recent sojourn to Shringeri in Karnataka to choreograph a scene from a courtly play as part of a workshop on traditional Sanskrit drama, the reaction was, “Sounds great. Honey, what’s the baseball score?”
     
  4. sky

    sky Regular Member

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    In a year or so when my wifes 5 year visa runs out i will have to go through the same process.i am not looking forward to it one bit,here in britian we dont have to pay bribes but have to deal with incompetent staff at the indian consulate.when india is such a sucsess in taking over bpo of large companies could they not help make getting visas a more easy experience.it costs us 30 pounds for a 6 month visa,everyone i know hates going to the indian consulate,its so hard for any sane person not to lose there rag when having to deal with these people.
     
  5. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Don't you worry man, it is not easy for Indians to get US and UK visas in an efficient manner either. I had to wait for 45 days and had to visit US consulate in chennai two times to get a 'Exchange Visitor Visa'. And we have to pay even more than you guys to visit US/UK.
     
  6. sky

    sky Regular Member

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    i am very sorry to hear about that buddy,it just angers me the process we have to go through just to get a holiday visa.we keep hearing india is thinking of following sri lanka where by we would be able to buy visas at the airport in india when you land.it would then save 2 days of messing around trying to get a visa. you would then only have to book a airline ticket ,fill in your visa form on the plane and pay for it at the airport.makes sense,saves time.net result would be more tourists coming to india,spending money.thats got to be a motivating factor for goi.
     

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