I’m sure all of you have experienced that moment where the palpable tension between two extremes of action gives you the feeling of being the rubber band stretched between outstretched arms. Just such an instant permeated my being at approximately 10am last Friday as I leaned over the “screening table” at the front of the Vancouver branch of the Indian Consular Services while listening to the very well-meaning instructions of a friendly Sikh gentleman examining my, supposedly straight-forward, application for a tourist visa to India. Fortunately for the likelihood of my long-term success in this venture, I opted for the “let me clarify what you’re looking for” approach rather than leaning across and giving his whiskers a good tweak!
You may well wonder what could have brought the otherwise calm, cool & collected (well, mostly) me to this state of emotional upheaval over a couple of pages of documents. So…here’s the thing…
Brita and I had prepped our visa applications depending upon the published requirements for Canadians visiting India. No worries on any count: filled in the application form, stuck on the correct size photo, brought our current Canadian passports…and showed up with smiles on our faces. All things we’d done before with no issues.
Brita breezed through our friendly Sikh pre-check with no problems whatsoever – except the usual type of silliness such as not writing “n/a” in places where items called for it – even though the instructions at the top of the form insisted that’s precisely what one should do. Oh no, insisted our friend, please cross out “n/a” and write “no” or “none”. C’est la vie…minor gripes…
I, too, was cruising through the pre-check with admirable speed until our friend pointed a long, skinny finger at the section on the application form which required you to fill in how you acquired Canadian citizenship. The options were either “by birth” or “naturalized”. Since I was born in India, the obvious answer was “naturalized”. “Aha”, exclaimed my friend, “you must fill in a different form, only…and you must surrender your Indian passport!” I explained to him that I was only a wee fellow when I arrived in Canada and travelled on my mother’s passport – so no passport to surrender! “Oh…no problem, sir,” came the response, you can swear an affidavit telling your story and fill in this form”.
Good God! Putting aside the obvious response that one cannot surrender a passport one has never had…the whole situation is mind-bogglingly ridiculous. Indian law, way back then and now, states that as soon as an Indian citizen acquires the citizenship of another country, his Indian citizenship ceases. The fact that I’ve presented them my Canadian passport (hence, a citizen of that country) since 1982 on my first trip as an adult (ok…pimply teen) to India you’d think they’d have worked out over the course of the subsequent 5 or 6 trips that I’m Canadian, Canadian, Canadian, Canadian…and, perhaps, even if I’d had an Indian passport of my own, that in the intervening 36 years, I may not have it anymore! Even more amusing is that in the affidavit they want me to swear saying that the never-existing Indian passport has been lost, they want me to attach copies of the important pages of that passport as an Exhibit. Hahaha….oh dear! Fortunately, for me, my mother is one of those uber-organized types and scanned the relevant pages of her passport eons ago – and, luckily, before it was consumed in their house fire of 2003.
So, while Brita waited patiently for the next consular officer to take her one step closer to getting on the plane, I beat a hasty, cursing, retreat to my office where I proceeded to draft the afore-mentioned affidavit (actually a Statutory Declaration under the BC Evidence Act…but I didn’t dare try to explain that to the consular types). My mother’s brilliant scan of her passport, plus one of my current one and, finally, a scan of my Canadian citizenship card will be attached as exhibits and sworn black & blue in front of my friend Geoff at precisely 12:40pm on Tuesday afternoon. Oh yeah, and they’d like a $20 money order (thank you very much) for their trouble…
Other than the irony of having someone born in India have to produce vastly more paperwork than someone who wasn’t – purely to visit the place, apparently, they are unable to give me a single-entry tourist visa – it MUST be multiple entry…even though still only for 6 months. I could have asked…but…really….
I wonder – after I’ve submitted all the relevant (and hopefully, approved) documentation tomorrow, will they record the event in some sort of a database or will they ask me to produce & relinquish the same non-existent Indian passport next time I apply for a visa?
I refuse to think about it – begone rubber bands, bring back the zen….