There has been much fuss this week over the issue of travel documents. According to news reports, leaked emails suggest that Sushma Swaraj pulled some strings with British politician Keith Vaz, and he in turn requested the UK Immigration department to give Lalit Modi travel documents (on “humanitarian grounds”), even though his passport had been impounded at the time, because cricket stuff, and this made Arnab Goswami really angry at Sushma Swaraj, and all other journalists really angry at Arnab Goswami. TL;DR: An Indian lagaaoed jack to get something done faster, and politics stuff. I’m not sure what to make of the issue, but let he who has never asked his connected friend to put him on the guest-list cast the first stone.
What I am sure of is that getting “travel documents” is a pain in the pothole if you’re not Lalit Modi. Or Narendra Modi. First you have to fill visa forms. I’m not saying visa forms ask for a lot of information, but as soon as I started travelling extensively, I stopped forgetting my parents’ birthdays. And then come the cripplingly judgmental questions; how much money do you make? Have you ever been to jail? Are you of good character? Have you ever been stopped from going anywhere else before? Do you like bhindi? What?!
HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE BHINDI?! WHAT SORT OF PERSON HATES BHINDI WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU WHO HURT YOU?! NEXT YOU’LL SAY YOU HATE BREAKING BAOOOHHHH MY GOD ROHAN JUST, I CAN’T EVEN LOOK AT YOU RIGHT NOW. JUST GO.
Then you have to go get passport photographs, which are basically mug-shots for people who haven’t committed crimes yet. Your passport photograph must show 80 per cent of your ears, 84 per cent of your nose, 97.2 per cent of your eyes and must contain two numeric characters and an emoji. And yes, every country wants them in a different size. Not that it would matter if the sizes were standardized. Even though you print eight in the hope that you’ll use them in the future, they’re eaten by passport-photo gremlins in the time between your travels.
And then, all forms filled, you book an appointment at the application centre. On the allotted day, you wake up at 3 am for your 10 am appointment. Then you gather together more photocopies than an engineering college on exam day. Then you wear a shirt, because all good people wear shirts. And then you wait in line outside the application center, with your family hovering around you wearing the same expression they wore while you gave your board exams. When you go in, you have the good fortune of being shunted around by other Indians who have this weird smug superiority in their manner, like they’re suddenly citizens of the country you’re seeking the visa to. And you can’t take your wallet in with you because you may launch a dastardly terror attack, using it to buy someone lunch.
Your actual “interview” lasts 14 seconds, and when you leave you have to go through the agony of analysing it in your head like a bad date. “Did I smile too much? Should I have said that? He didn’t look at the IT returns. That’s good. Or is it? Why did he ask that? Do they think I don’t make enough money? Oh god why couldn’t I just like bhindi? They’re not going to give me a visa. They’ll never give me a visa. In fact, they’ve probably put me on an Interpol watchlist. I’ll never get a visa for anywhere ever. Does anyone have Sushma Swaraj’s email ID?”
If your family is considering going on vacation and you’re afraid you’ll spend too much money on it, fret not. Promise them the vacation, but ask them all to fill out their own visa applications. Problem solved. Trust me, they’ll LOVE Lonavla.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi