The darkness at the end of the tunnel

The line is serpentine. Long and winding. Young and Old. Baking in the cruel sunshine of May. This line rests uneasily on the sides of the concrete whitewashed walls which radiate even more heat. There is no shade to be seen for miles. No water except that which streams down profusely as salty sweat. No respite. No Umbrellas to keep at bay cruel Sol’s infatuation with causing heat strokes. No mobile umbilical cords to family, friends and civilization. Water, Umbrellas and Mobile phones are threats to security, they say. There is frustration in the line. Some Anger. Some desperation. And a lot of resigned acceptance. The end of the line offers succour for some, career threatening disappointment for most, the promise of being united with loved ones for some, the crushing rejection of a request for education for most. Yet they continue to come.  From all parts. To participate in this very public display of humiliation. File folders transform themselves temporarily into umbrellas.  Somebody has a packet of biscuits as insurance against the fickle nature of appointment times. He is forced to tear it open and eat some to rule out the presence of deadly toxins. Security, they say. Madness, we think (and not dare say if we wish to retain any hope of making it to the end of the line – the white man seated behind double-reinforced bullet proof glass). The elderly struggle to make sense of it all. The heat, the confusion, the noise and finally the accent of the white man who passes judgement from behind the plexi-glass window. Somebody’s anger finally gives way. An old man. He screams – “I dont want your visa. I dont need this humiliation. If you wish to let me enter your country, do so with dignity”. The security guards politely request him to repeat his screams at the white man, and not at powerless minions whose job is to maintain a semblance of a queue made up of overeager citizens, all of whom want to get ahead by pushing others behind. The man does not quieten down. Not until he is close to the white man. Then his voice curiously undergoes a metamorphosis to sound like a squirrel. “Yes sir. I am going to visit my son in Sunnyvale. No sir. I am not planning to work in the USA. Yes sir, I am 65 and retired from work. No sir, I dont know any software programming.” The white man takes his passport and grunts indecipherably over the tinny speakers attached to the plexi-glass. The words dont matter. The passport has been taken. It’s my turn next…

8 Comments

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  1. Once upon a time there was this place called USIS. United States Information Service…a fine library, on par with British Council…USIS happened to be in the same complex as the US embessy…and you could walk in without any hassles….not any more…nice write up Krish…

  2. Ah yes. I had the good fortune to have visited the USIS library once upon a time (in the early 90s). I used to be fascinated by their large visually rich atlasses.

  3. Perhaps you should take along one of those portable DVD players and then watch a movie while you’re waiting in the queue. Imagine how annoyed the rest would get!

  4. If any electronics more advanced than a wrist watch is detected, SWAT teams will fly in and take you out. Apache helicopters will descend on Gemini flyover and fully armed marines will use sniper rifles to destroy the dvd player. And you. And the rest of the crowd. And gemini flyover as well. Collateral Damage, its called.

  5. Yeah, they tend to overreact a lot. Once my friend was coming back from Richie street carrying a UPS by himself on his bike. He thought it was slipping and came to a stop near the flyover. He adjusted the UPS and for some reason he pressed the power button. Unfortunately he was right outside the American embassy and didn’t see the guards gesturing wildly at him to move away. When the UPS started beeping (startup sequence) he found guards running towards him with their rifles, the clicks of the safeties being released clearly audible. Beat that.

    Well, anyway, a book should be allowed then. Take the entire WoT series. Should last you a while.

    Hey, you can tell people you weren’t on Indian soil for those few hours.

  6. Just chanced by this post. Yup I was in the queue at the same time of year as you were. Fortunately theres no overnight waiting any more and the officers have some semblence of civility. There’s no getting away from the absolute humiliation of it all. Ugh. Never again I hope.

  7. I have been to US Embassy in both Chennai & in Singapore and the difference is amazing. In Chennai, after spending an entire sleepless night trying to safeguard one’s position in the longish queue, it was a such a great relief to stand for a short while in a short queue in Singapore. Also, they had this white canvas big top kind of a tent installed in front of the embassy (beyond the gates, of course!) for the ones who accompany the applicant. That was also a welcome change.

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