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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Me and my stupid sentimentality

Sometimes I can be a sentimental fool.

Some will knit their brows at this, insisting on a rather charitable use of the adverb “sometimes” but, with the arrogance that comes with the realization that this is my blog and I can say what I like, I will choose to ignore them completely.

So I often lose myself in Shamshad Begum and Mohammad Rafi’s songs of the 1940s/1950s, totally losing track of time. It is my firm belief that 3.00 a.m is not particularly late when you are listening to “suhani raat dhal chuki” or “leke pehla pehla pyar”.

And I can repeatedly watch Bogey and Bergman in Casablanca without getting bored. Just watching them together and yet not together has to pull at the strains of even the hardest of hearts.

But, other than these concessions I make to sentimentality, I would like to think that I am above such signs of mental weakness.

Or am I ?

I will admit that the story is a bit dated. It goes back about three months – a period that I have, for a variety of reasons, stayed away from blogging. But, now that I am back, it is still fresh enough in my mind for a reasonably accurate narrative.

I was at the Indian Embassy at The Hague for some work.

Now, I have always had interesting experiences at the Embassy. Sometimes not very positive - but always interesting. I like being there – it is my small piece of India here in Holland. And not just that – there are different types of situations that develop in the Embassy.

If it were not for a bad feeling that my car is probably getting a parking ticket any minute, I would love to just spend a lot more time at the Embassy than I end up spending. The area near the Embassy is a traffic cop’s delight – there is practically no parking available, so you end up either parking a fair distance away – even then not sure it is in an acceptable parking area – or just next to the Embassy, put on the hazard lights and hope your work gets done in five minutes. Yeah, right ! – like that’s going to happen !

Of course even the hazard lights do not legitimize your parking (many mistakenly believe otherwise), so you are more likely than not to get a ticket. Over the years I have paid plenty of 50 euro fines for parking and have just shrugged them off, taking them as part of the experience of visiting little India in Holland.

Or maybe there is some parking area in the vicinity but I have just been too lazy to find out. Anyway this is not about parking so I better get to the point.

The point is – here I was at the Embassy, on a rather busy day. After quite some time I managed to get to second in the queue, with just one lady in front of me. Unfortunately it is a rather cramped place, so there is not much privacy for each individual. For some reason, this does not seem to be a problem at all for the Embassy.

But this meant that I could listen in on the conversation that was taking place at that moment. Yes, I know I should not have but it was rather difficult not to listen in, given the physical proximity of various persons lined up in the queue.

The lady in front of me looked Indian. Punjabi or Kashmiri. She was very fair with very sharp features. She had a very cute-looking baby in a pram next to her. Sparkling eyes. The baby’s, I mean. Must have been not more than a year old. I smiled at the baby and I swear she smiled back at me.

The mother was completely oblivious to all this as she was busy at the counter.

“I need a visa for India.”

“Can I see your passport please ?”

“I don’t have it with me at the moment”.

“And you are…”

“A Pakistani national”.

The lady behind the counter winced. She may not have wanted it to appear too obvious but even to an eye of not particularly high discerning ability such as yours truly possesses, the grimace was visible, the twitch, even if momentary, was inescapable - yes, there was wincing all right.

The lady (now established as a Pakistani national) continued, sensing that further explanation was required.

“My husband works for <a well-known multinational> and is travelling to India on business. I want to just go with him as a tourist. With my child of course”.

The lady behind the counter continued to look uncomfortable. She did not make eye-contact but seemed a bit fidgety.

The Pakistani lady continued “He will get the required letters and papers from his company”.

“And your husband is…..Dutch ?”

“No, he is also Pakistani”. Was it a genuinely soft tone or was I imagining things ?

That seemed to be enough.

The definitiveness of the reaction was as startling as it was emphatic.

“Sorry Madam, we cannot issue visa for you”.

“But I just want to visit as tourist. I can get all the papers you need”.

“Sorry Madam…”

“But…”

There was a movement. The lady at the counter next to the one where this conversation was taking place suddenly stood up. I remember seeing her at the embassy for years. She now chose to impose her authority on the situation.

Taking charge, she arrived on the spot and, in a booming voice, underlining the definitiveness of the judgment, said : “You heard her. We have a policy not to issue visas to Pakistani nationals”.

The Pakistani lady’s face fell. She had already been steadily losing hope as the conversation had been progressing (if that is the right word) but now she knew, in no uncertain terms. that the door was being slammed in her face.

I looked at her – and looked away quickly. I am not sure but I think I must have felt some guilt.

I looked at the baby – and she continued to smile at me.

She wheeled her baby out of the embassy. That was the last I saw of her.

I finished my work in a few minutes and headed back to my car. No parking ticket this time. All the way back I kept thinking about her and her baby.

All she had wanted was to visit India as a tourist. India – which, once upon a time, must have been home for her ancestors. Why had it become so difficult ?

But then, was the Embassy wrong ? Not really, I reasoned. If they were just following the rules, they could hardly be blamed.

So nobody was in the wrong, right ? . And yet somehow it just did not feel right.

I kept thinking about it. For days. The picture of that smiling sweet baby kept appearing in front of my eyes. And that of her mother’s pained face.

It kept bothering me. Finally I managed to shrug it off. Collateral damage, that’s what they would have called it in political parlance. And that’s all it was.

Me and my stupid sentimentality.