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|Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 ||
The Price of Wanderlust
Aasha Mehreen Amin
From the time our hairy ancestors decided to take a look at the next cave, the love for travel has evolved into human DNA. We humans are curious creatures and are always eager to know what's on the other side - whether it is our next door neighbour or the lands beyond our borders.
The incorrigible wanderlust of people has given rise to the tourism industry all over the world and is generally booming in most parts, even bursting at the seams in some. There are places where the Creator has blessed with paradise-like environs - white sand, coral reefs, luscious greenery. There are also lands that have manmade attractions - shopping malls, bungee jumping, Disneyland and naughty places for 'grown up entertainment'. These places are heavily dependent on foreigners coming in and spending money, thereby boosting their economy.
Sometimes the high quality of medical facilities, along with shopping malls and ahem, other attractions, lure people from all over the world, from deserts especially, for what is trendily called 'medical holiday'. This is when you can get your tumour out in 5-star hotel-like conditions where they even have Starbucks and a concierge, and after a few days of recuperating you can shop till you drop (not medically speaking of course).
But such wanderlust comes at a cost. It means in this age of globalisation, filling out visa application forms and in some cases, trying to write your autobiography in a nutshell. The questions asked in these forms indicate an unhealthy nosiness that would normally elicit responses such as "Are you serious?", "None of your business" or "Go to Hell." Of course, our need/desire to travel forces us to gulp all the indignity with as much dignity we can muster.
If you are a citizen from the South Asian region things become even more complicated. Take the question "What was your nationality at birth?" For a Bangladeshi who was born before '71 the most authentic answer would be 'Pakistani' as the country was then called East Pakistan. The 'P' word as we now know is not good news at most visa consulates because it is automatically associated with religious terrorism of all kinds. If you were born before '47, then the most logical answer would be 'British Indian' but that will create an uproar at the consulate in today's context if you have a Bangladeshi passport.
The bigger the country (in terms of power) the more intense will be the interrogation:
List all the countries you have visited in the last 20 years. Obviously these people think we are geniuses with photographic memory. If you are well travelled, you may need a few weeks of recalling all the countries you visited in the 80s. This is when you will hugely regret going to Lahore to attend your second cousin's third marriage to a half Iranian-half Pakistani woman brought up in the US, because you thought it would be a lark. You can pretty much say goodbye to future visits to any country in the Western Hemisphere.
Other questions are there just to tease you or test you to see if you are a terrorist or drug smuggler possessing a brain the size of a single-celled organism:
Have you ever been part of a terrorist organisation? Have you ever been denied a visa for carrying narcotics or contraband items?
Have you ever(now think carefully)smuggled gold/Euros/ancient artifacts/plutonium/food that will not last in a 21-hour journey like say, 'shorshe ilish' or 'dharosh bhaji'?
Sometimes the application process will further test your memory. List all the names and dates of all educational institutes you have attended. This becomes trickier the older you are. You may have gone to pre-school in Calcutta, school and college in Karachi and finally ended up getting a degree in English Literature from Dhaka University. Such a diverse educational background that traverses India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is surely a sign of suspicious movement.
You can try attaching a separate piece of paper with a brief history of the British Raj and how it disintegrated giving birth to three sovereign countries, but chances are this will be the first thing they will crumple up and throw away.