The Passport Dilemma

I’ve just discovered that my passport has expired, but after much deliberation, I’ve decided not to renew it. I already have more “citizenship” documents than I can handle in my advancing years – Aadhar card, EPIC, Domicile certificate, Driving licence, CGHS card, I.D. card, CSOI card, PAN card, Pension Life Certificate – and most of them require periodic renewals. I refuse to spend the rest of my life standing in queues, repeating my father’s name and date of birth ad nauseam, giving my fingerprints and iris scans that never match the previous set and can therefore transport me to Tihar jail before you can say “anti-national”. It’s time to lighten my KYC burden. But there are other reasons too for giving the passport a pass.

I’m terrified of the possibility that the MEA may decide to affix Mr. Modi’s photo next to mine on the passport. Now that all Covid vaccination certificates will have been issued by December, the Ministry is already looking around for new docs on which to paste his saintly visage. And what better way to enhance his global visibility than to put his benign visage on 65 million passports? I’ve no problem with his photo per se, but where does this end? Will it be Yogi Adityanath in 2024? Or Kejriwal in 2029? Or Kangana Ranaut in 2034? I mean, for the sake of God, is it a passport or a rogues’ gallery, or an INDIA TODAY ad for wannabe Prime Ministers? Not that I mind being next to the Raging Ranaut (it’s the closest I’ll ever get to the diva), but I’ll probably not be around by then, so why should I have to share print space with these other sorry specimens? You get the point, hopefully.

I’ve done my share of globetrotting and am the poorer for it, I don’t think I can afford it anymore. It’s not the price of the airline ticket I’m worried about, but my moveable property (no, this does not include my wife: anyone who knows her will tell you that Neerja is as moveable as a grand piano with Pavarotti sitting cross-legged on it). It’s my registered baggage I’m talking about, folks: I and my suitcases are never destined to meet at the same destination. I’ve lost more registered baggage than I’ve declared in my Annual Moveable Property returns to the government; some of it is probably now floating around in the stratosphere as space debris. I’ve sued the airlines but somehow always lose the cases along with the suitcases. But I can no longer afford to lose or misplace my remaining trousers and toothbrushes: I subsist on a pension now, and what with the denial of 18 months’ DA arrears by the lady-who-doesn’t-eat-onions, I now live from one “Quick Wash” to another. Any break in this cycle and I’ll be looking for fig leaves to cover my very modest modesty.

And now, with this pandemic, our passports are as useful as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition. Then there’s this god-almighty confusion about Covid tests on departure and quarantine on arrival. Factoring in all this, it takes almost as long to travel from Mumbai to London as it did on a P+O liner in the days when people travelled by ship. It’s also very dangerous: a recent article shows how, in pure law of averages terms, someone on a plane has an 80 % chance of testing positive on arrival. No wonder there are fewer couples walking down the aisle of planes today than the aisles of churches. And then of course there’s the issue of the middle seat: the gals at the check-in counters invariably have one look at me and allot me the middle seat, in which I feel a bit like Yogi Adityanath sitting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah- hemmed in, you know, usually by a large lady on the left and a hyperactive kid on the right. And since both are protected by misguided laws, there’s very little I can do except – like Yogi Adityanath – remember my “abbajan” and wish I was never born.

And now there’s Afghanistan, which has completely changed the geopolitics of the Hindutva brigade, giving it a strategic depth which Pakistan would be envious of. Till now, if you fell foul of these nationalists, you were advised to move to Pakistan. Now, this invitation can also be extended to relocate in Afghanistan. This doesn’t appeal to me at all: no Shukla has ever made it beyond the Khyber pass (with good reason) and I do not intend to be the first one to do so. If I have a passport I could be put on the next flight to Kabul or Kandahar and dispatched forthwith amid the chanting of Jai Shri Rams. However, this may be more difficult to do if I don’t have one, since even the Taliban now insist on one if anybody is stupid enough to want to go to this benighted country. It’s safer therefore not to have a passport these days. As the punster said: don’t travel, stay Indore and watch your savings Dublin.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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