Identity is a strange thing. When you’re born, you’re given a name, and for a long while – that is your identity. You respond to being called, variants of your name develop. It’s how people know you – and it’s what you hold closest to you, metaphorically. In reality, it’s probably a plush toy of some kind (mine was a dog) – that is held closest. But identity is wicked. As you grow older and do different things, travel various places, and experience different experiences – your identity becomes so much more than your name.
Society gives you one, you possess and own one yourself. Sometimes the two overlap, sometimes they don’t. For example, sometimes society chooses to define your identity through an incident, “that guy who cried because he got low marks”, but you identify yourself as “dude who doesn’t like doing poorly on tests”. Classical case of non-overlap. How you deal with that ends up being your personal trauma. Why? I’m not sure. But deep down I think we derive some form of security in knowing that our identity – and how we self-identify, is how society and the public sees us as well. I think that’s important to us. It’s what has sparked off gender and sexuality debates around the world, and has led to some form of social progress. But at the crux of it lies individuality and identity – something that makes the Earth such a wonderful planet.
I’m one of these people to. I hold my identity really dear to me. Adjectives that describe me are ones I’m acutely aware of – and where they don’t overlap with how I see myself, I work toward changing that, as best as I can. Sometimes I give up – and sometimes I get enraged. But I’m working on that too. One of these adjectives, has been “Indian”.
Now it’s funny. I’ve never seen being Indian as being one of the first things that pops into my head when I view myself. I think it’s just something I won some birth lottery into – as with a lot of who I am. I’ve got loving parents, a great family, and an Indian citizenship. But it’s not stuff of my active choosing. I’m just born into an Indian family.
It did, however, drive a lot of my identity as a child. I studied at a British (yes, the colonizers!) school in the UAE, and our class had several Indians, several Pakistanis, some Sri Lankans, some locals, and a few Bangladeshis and Nepalis. We tried having adequate ASEAN representation, basically – of some kind (at the least). And while we all got along, the rivalry when it came to cricket was bloody intense. It was so intense that the day after a series between India and Pakistan, the sports field would literally be a mini India v. Pakistan matchup. Why? Because of some loyalty we felt toward our nations of heritage.
The rivalry was also super intense around when the IPL was established. Damn that was something. A lot of classmates who weren’t Indians chose to support sides that had their favourite national team players. So I had enough people to support me through a lot of miserable RCB seasons.
My fealty to my country actually disappeared for a while after I moved to India. I’ve spoken about this publicly before – but for about 2 years, I didn’t really identify as Indian. I was always an NRI stuck in India. Spoilt. Brattish. Outer-city limits. That kind of kid. That changed when I moved schools – and I’m so grateful I did. However, I was always abysmally unaware about my surroundings – till the 11th. CLAT changed that a little.
But I chose to stay in India after the 12th so I could better understand what India represented. And who I was as an Indian. Apart from the perks that qualifying as a Lawyer in India would give me – I really really wanted to know what India was like, and what it meant to so many others.
University has given me that so far. I’ve traveled a fair amount in India, met a lot of people from places I hadn’t heard of before, and engaged with Indian writing a lot more.
So it’s strange – that on this path of self-development, I still needed a document to feel validated as an Indian.
It’s odd. But the gist of the story is basically this. After leaving for the airport in Bombay, I was refused boarding to Dubai because my passport is expiring within 6 months. We tried, but the visa regulations are quite strict. I tried applying for a fresh passport on Tatkal in Bombay and met with the regional passport officer. To get it on priority. That didn’t work out. Because hey – I’m an NRI who hasn’t had police verification done before and I was a minor on all my earlier passports. The next day, Friday, I flew to Bangalore. My mother landed here early on Saturday morning. (what a blessing she is – she literally ran around with me through this entire saga)
Tried getting a passport appointment in Bangalore. Didn’t work out. Got one in Mangalore which falls within Bangalore’s RPO jurisdiction. Went to Mangalore where they said they’ll give an ECR passport because of some stuff regarding my 10th and 12th marks card. I said “please no”, they said cool. Come in two days with marks card stuff. I went back to Bangalore and took a bus back to Mangalore the same night. Did my stuff. Got it sorted. Then cleared police verification.
Essentially spent my first three days of 2019 on a sleeper bus to and from Mangalore. And eating ghee roast and ice-cream. It’s been good fun.
But I was thinking about it – and it was a really really weird feeling to be trapped in my own country – and not being able to fly out to Dubai to meet my parents. It did wreck me a little, because I realized very quickly that I needed to definitely go through one Government check here for them to verify I’m a real human being. I’m glad they have the process in place, but I wouldn’t wish for people to be trapped the way I was.
There are worse circumstances I could be in – and I’m very grateful my parents could afford so much travel and I had the means to spend some time with family.
Worse circumstances are being confused about your identity. Being trapped in a place you can’t call home. Feeling helpless. Feeling anguish. And no Government agency in sight being able to help you.
I know a passport is just a document. I never doubted that I was Indian. But I did, for 10 minutes, imagine that I wasn’t. That I could never get a passport, and I could never go home.
That I was just trapped in a terminal I didn’t want to be in.
Donate to the UNHCR – help people who are entrapped in situations not self-created: https://donate.unhcr.org/int/general/~my-donation
(P.S.: A large note of love to my father – a man who I fight with almost on a daily basis, but a man who, through this entire process, was at home (in Dubai) and couldn’t travel back to India because of a similar saga. Through all the flights and buses and fights – I learnt more about what it means to be away from your family. Sometimes I don’t quite show it – but I do understand. I’ll see you soon.)