An aunt and uncle of mine have this magical visa in their passport, the most amazing visa you have ever seen. Some of you might have heard of it, like tales of woodland serial killers in German fairy tales; a lucky few among you may even have actually seen one, like the swish and flick of a unicorn’s tail. It is the Hope Diamond of international documents, the black AmEx card of regional travel, the shooting star of domestic mini-breaks. I refer to the all-you-can-access, multiple-entry, stay-if-you-feel-like-it, no-police-reporting, you-might-as-well-live-here Indian visit visa.
[quote]It takes longer to get to Peeru’s Café and back than it does to see the Golden Temple in Amritsar[/quote]
India’s has always been the most elusive visa for Pakistani nationals. Passports that have the trifecta of EU, US and UK visas are routinely turned away from the Indian High Commission not because the holders are bad people, but because both our countries have issues. Most people don’t even bother applying. The same works the other way; I know of only three Indians who can travel in and out of Pakistan with some measure of freedom. The best part about the visa is that, if used properly, it does away with the Partition, as if it never happened. Observe: my aunt and uncle have taken to making whimsical trips across the Wagah border in the morning, having a lunch of thaalis and veggie dishes in Amritsar, and then returning by 3 pm. In real terms, it takes longer to get to Peeru’s Café and back than it does to see the Golden Temple in Amritsar. My jealousy of that visa is as deep as it is dark. I want it so bad.
Which reminds me that, strictly between you and me, I have some news. A few weeks ago I was asked by some very nice people in Mumbai (I want to say Bombay but fear it’s not PC) to come and stay at their arts institution for a few weeks. I am to be given a flat and a workspace in an as-yet-unknown part of Mumbai for free, and in return I have to simply exist and occasionally think. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’ve been to India lots before, but I’ve never spent more than a few weeks in any one city and definitely not had to interact with an institution. Usually I’d be tagging along with my family, avoiding shopping malls and looking at street food with suspicion and at toilets with existential dread.
[quote]Already I am practicing my namaskars and fortifying my digestive track[/quote]
But I am excited. I sent in my visa application several weeks ago, complete with all the letters, supporting documents and curated prayers. Believe me when I say I really tried to get the “all-you-can-eat” visa of my relatives; I sent in as many phone numbers as I could think of, made bookings in all the cities I thought I could possibly visit in my free time, and generally made myself out to be far more organized than I have a right to be. Sadly, I did not get the golden visa, which was devastating but totally expected. But I got my visit visa anyway, and for that I am beyond grateful because that means I’ll be spending almost a month in Mumbai! Already I am practicing my namaskars and fortifying my digestive track while debating if I should take any shalwar kameezes since it’s the most obvious indicator you’re from here, but maybe I’m just being paranoid. I can’t shake the hope – the expectation, really – that at some point or another I will break out in spectacular style all over Bollywood. I’m a crap actor (or ‘craptor’), so I’m not yet sure in what capacity, but it seems a waste to go to Bollywood and not be at least movie-star adjacent.
Speaking of, you will never believe what I heard happened to Shabana Azmi on her way back from the Sindh Film Festival. Apparently there is a new law (it’s like a minute old) that requires anyone coming from Pakistan to India to have had recent polio drops, and provide extensive documentation that they have done so. This is, in a sense, understandable. We are the caretakers for a vast proportion of the world’s poliovirus reserve. In contrast, India is celebrating its third year without polio so I get their caution. It is also untenable, since everyone who had drops had them as infants and is unlikely to be able to produce the docs. Thing is, Shabana Azmi, who had stayed in Karachi for less than three days, was kept from boarding her plane back to India until she had proven she’d had polio shots. Shabana Azmi! At the end they had to send a polio team to the airport gate to give her two drops before the plane scooted off.
Can you imagine? Well, you don’t have to. Now if you want to go to India from this place you’ll have to do the same (what the point is of polio drops in adulthood I’m not sure, but I’m just going with it). I had mine in December, demonstrating a searingly prophetic vision that this would turn into a travel issue. The point is: it’s started. Sooner rather than later the polio problem will make our travels (to India, UAE, Europe, Anywhere) more cumbersome and difficult, if not downright impossible. Our passports will not only become synonymous with terrorism, as they are, but also with pandemics.
Since we’re so fond of talking, someone please tell me how we are going to “negotiate” our way out of that when it happens, and with whom?
If you need me, I’ll be practicing shaking my head in Mumbai only…
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