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    Volume 9 Issue 15| April 9, 2010|

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Red Passport, Green Passport

Faruq Hasan

I have a green passport while my friend has a red one. We travel together a lot but have to make separate travel plans. By virtue of my green passport, I get to practise my interview skills at foreign and exotic embassies where locals think they are diplomats and diplomats think they are gods, fill out complex forms which have nuanced questions like whether I have indulged in terrorist activities in the last five years, and of course (my favourite) undergo some really amazing health tests to prove that I am not carrying the latest version of the bubonic plague. Meanwhile, my poor friend sits at home all alone missing out all the fun and adventure, all because she has the wrong coloured passport. There really is no justice in this world.

One day, while waiting in perhaps the longest queue in the world to file my application to visit a neighbouring superpower, I wondered aloud what it would be like to travel without any passport or visa. You and your fantasies, my friend retorted. She had grown bored waiting at home, and had wanted a slice of my visa adventures. That got me thinking. Putting my John Lennon hat on, I started seeing the world as it really is: a world which is already imaginary, with borders drawn by men who felt this is where a country starts and this is where it ends. As my line moved ever so slowly forward, I fantasized about going back in time where hunter-gatherers roamed the earth freely without hiding bombs in their shoes (I don't think they had shoes) or blowing each other up. Maybe the time has come when people go back to the hunter-gatherer times and adopt their way of life. That way, there would be more room for equality and freedom of movement. We could hope for the time when we are not defined by the nationality that our paper passports read or our visas certify.

But of course, reality bites back as the visa officer tells me I have brought the wrong papers (of course!) and I need to come back again. I kowtow to his every demand. I rationalise my acquiescence with the following (circular) logic: without passports, there would be no visas. Without visas, there would be no visa officers. Without visa officers, there would be no way petty people can exercise whatever power they have on people they would normally never interact with. And without egregious abuse of power over the helpless, there would be a lot of unvented frustration in the world. And without venting our frustration, well, you can see where this is going. Hence we really need visas to save the world.

I finally did get my visa, but only after my leave from office had expired and I had to get back to work. My red passport bearing friend went ahead without me and had a blast. She put up all her travel pictures on Facebook, and I lived vicariously through the digital images, munching on imaginary dosas, and visiting museums through her photo gallery. I am waiting to meet the visa officer one of these days. I want to ask him why, unlike the real world, red means to go while green means stop.



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