Round one: my passport wins

I’ve written before about my complex relationship with my passport, growing up traveling as I did between countries on school holidays meant I’d either hate the fact that holding a third world passport with a weak soft currency means high barriers to cross with each trip or of late, the sentimentality that lifelong affection brings.

Sitting in a park in the sunshine thinking about this sentimental attachment to my passport -oh how I wept when they changed the lovely hardcover one over to the soft booklet, you couldn’t use it anymore to fill out landing documents – I realized what it all meant. Like d’oh! My struggles with my passport were but the tangible manifestation of my internal struggles with identity.

Shri Amartya Sen writes recently on Identity and the Indian, he’s written about it in the book The Argumentative Indian, and while its bad enough within in India – as Neelakantan or anyone else will testify – to live in.. say New Delhi and to be Tamil speaking, like our gentle neighbours over in Yamuna Apartments who have been capturing and reusing rainwater since 1992 – or in Bangalore or Chennai and be Hindi speaking, was the equivalent of a) experiencing being a linguistic, some cultural and a lot of cuisinary minority and b) required complex answers to the question "Where are you from?". A desi will recognize the beginning of my answer "I was born in Calcutta but I’m not Bengali… ".

No wonder I’m always misguided and confused – I grew up in Malaysia but as an expat, not an immigrant, permanent resident or citizen for 16 years. Imagine getting a temporary work permit renewed for 16 years [until the age of 21, I was eligible to be my father’s dependent on his working visa] so for us kids, we were permanently temporary. I mean, I had my own passport at age 6, with a health booklet from the WHO – I needed tetanus, cholera and polio shots to visit Calcutta in December 1972. I travelled alone from Kuala Lumpur, clutching my passport, with the careful admonishments not to lose it.

I think that attachment and sense of the importance of this document began then. Its been a long relationship 35 years and I think I’ll keep it with me for now, thanks.

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