Why is Sachin Pilot in My Dreams? Or, Three Visas, and No More, to India: Fawzia Naqvi

Guest Post by Fawzia Naqvi

Sachin Pilot was in my dreams last night, with all due apologies to his wife, because I swear, I am not secretly fantasizing at all about India’s youngest cabinet minister. He just showed up. I think it was in Srinagar, though I’ve never been there, I swear. And why Srinagar? Well that’s another matter, requiring numerous sessions of therapy. But the good Minister made a cameo appearance and told me quite categorically that I had already been granted three visas to India and should expect no more. Don’t get me wrong. I like Minister Pilot. I admired the way he handled corporate America when he visited New York to deal with all the whining and complaining about Indian reforms and that pesky CSR Bill. But why is he in my dreams? An Indian friend tells me it’s because I’m constantly nervous about going to India. And herein lies the truth. I observe, analyze, obsess about, pontificate upon, call, email and travel to India more than most Pakistanis, without actually being a spy. Yes. Really. And I resent how easy the spooks have it. I’m guessing they aren’t dreaming about a finger wagging minister, ok Sachin Pilot, telling them they can’t get a visa! But such are the incessant covert and overt anxieties of Pakistanis like me who have careers involving India. And if Sachin Pilot, he of the new generation of Indian leaders is also telling me (in my dreams of course) that I can’t get a visa, then surely the news for Indo-Pak and hence my career, is not good. The twain of course is twinned.

And these days while most other investors are stampeding for the exits, I am rushing to get in, literally. Well luckily for me, that’s my job. But there are sentries standing in my way holding up huge signs saying “HALT.” And it is because of these sentries that I am told “It is your place of birth only madam.” I’ve been told this for seven years by a kindly visa officer at the Indian Consulate in New York. He and I are growing old together like an unhappy grumpy married couple. He’s tired of seeing my application show up every six months demanding a multi-year multi-entry visa, my right or so I presume as an American citizen. And I am tired of being able to complete his sentence, “it is your place of birth only madam”. I laugh or perhaps I snort reminding him that the place of birth of my parents is India! He, however, remains unmoved and bored with this detail, helpfully pointing out it is I who is applying for the visa and my place of birth is Pakistan. Meanwhile my boss keeps popping around for the 20th time, helpfully mind you, inquiring if I’ve got that visa.

Well there is nothing for it then the in-laws are brought in to mediate. Some man or woman of consequence in Delhi who will make that visa magically appear on my passport. “US-PAK” the visa will scream, our very own scarlet letters which make immigration officers in swanky Indian airports scratch their heads and helpfully declare, “But you are American citizen madam, born only in Pakistan. Why this is there?” Good question bhai sahib I say to the man who sits between me and India, me and my luggage, me and that comfortable bed at the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore. “They do this to make sure you are warned that a Pakistani is entering India.” He giggles nervously and says, “No no Madam you are American. We do not let Pakistanis visit.” Do I really want to argue on behalf of my brethren as this man is handing me back my passport and grinning at me so sweetly? Stamp, stamp, stamp, that sound I love the most upon arriving at Indian immigration.

Arrivals: In Hyderabad a stamp without so much as a glance in my direction, its 4am. In Delhi, glance, frown, jiggle a bit in the seat and stamp. Mumbai, well, it’s a conversation even on the outbound, and Bangalore, guess they are still scratching their heads. Stamp, stamp, stamp.
Hello India! For the third time in 6 months. My visa is only valid for six months. And my jet-lagged brain is already calculating whether I can squeeze in the fourth trip before the expiry in two weeks. I snatch my bag off the carousel and scurry for the exit. In case they change their mind about letting me in. The first thing I do when I’m in the car is ping my colleague. “Here,” I write. He’s holding his breath until that moment. And I know he has secretly researched the next flight back to Dubai, you know in case he needs to put me on it right away. “I was nervous,” he says, “Welcome to India. See they let you in.” It’s become a ritual now; we make my arrival seem the greatest achievement. Like children cramming yet another piece of toffee in to their mouths while parents aren’t looking.

Ah! It’s good to be Queen Bee, unless of course you are a Pakistani trying to do your job in India. All meetings are scheduled or cancelled depending on how good the chances are of my getting a visa or its looming expiry. And I am always advised to get out of Dodge at least a week before the expiry, just in case. In case of what exactly? Who knows? Fear drives me to the airport always with a week to spare and a tear in my eye as I wave Delhi; it’s usually Delhi a wistful goodbye. Return not guaranteed Madam. ‘

In many ways just the act of arriving, the stamp, stamp, stamp, the relief of crossing immigration, the slowing down of the heartbeat, is indeed the biggest achievement for a Pakistani or a Pakistani-American on a business trip to India. Followed of course by successfully dodging any hint of Arnab Goswami on my TV screen yelling and barking that India wants to know! Wants to know what? Well, usually why Pakistanis are such horrid, untrustworthy deviant demons forever threatening India’s security? C’est Moi? And thus those who care about me remind me to never switch on the idiot box while resident in their homeland.

Short of Armageddon, all the kerfuffle that could have happened between the two countries has happened these last seven years, usually just ahead of or during my visits. Which lately means all the time, you know in case we begin liking each other, which on rare occasions we tend to do. In such testy times, the attentive waiters at the Sheraton Saket in Delhi helpfully offer me yet another cup of filter coffee made just so, hoping to distract me from the screaming headlines in the morning papers. They eye me sympathetically as I eyeball “Pak Exposed! Another Pakistani terrorist found!” Printed helpfully in red in every newspaper, just in case you missed it the first time. Madam, how are you this morning?

One of my favorite entrepreneurs in Delhi, whose mother was born in Lahore, says to me over a Sri Lankan buffet lunch, “So let me get this straight. You had to go and live in America to be allowed to come to India to work on our economic development?” Yup, that just about sums it up. Mind, we are in spitting distance of Pakistan, as the crow flies. Provided the poor crow isn’t hunted and shot down by the Indian BSF or the Pak Fauj for infiltrating the border.

The handsomest Indian man on earth “tsk tsk tsks” in sympathy hearing about my visa travails. He has suggested we dine somewhere on Lexington Avenue. None of these Frenchie fares for us desi types. I am for some reason incredibly hungry. “You must never now date an Indian man. Way too much drama!” He concludes, helpfully, of course. I am visibly deflating and losing my appetite, I could swear my feet are suddenly dangling off the seat and a bib has appeared around my neck. “Ok.” I manage to squeak out relinquishing the fork and the food. “Awesome!” He pronounces. “Now eat your veggies.” Hello Delhi? I’ve (helpfully) shrunk the Pakistani.

And my colleagues and cohorts in India no longer greet me with a simple “hello,” its, “You got the visa!” You see only some lunatic organization or an eternally optimistic one would make a Pakistani woman in charge of its India investment portfolio.

But there you have it Fawzia Naqvi Pakistani arriving in Bangalore shortly on Emirates, but, “halt right there!” Freeze frame. First the visa and here we must hand it over to Mr. Kafka by way of Messers, Chidambaram and Shinde who in turn have presided over the black hole called the Home Ministry. For the love of Bulleh Shah, Dear Prime Minister, I beseech you sir, give your Mandarins something better to do! They are at best wrecking my career and at worst traumatizing me. And what to say about my love life? And the visa thing? Well it has unhelpfully gotten much worse.
I am now advised Rule number 16 or is it 13 of the visa application states in the finest of prints that Americans of Pakistani origin, parentage or grand parentage or grand grand grand parentage must either produce a valid Pakistani passport or provide a renunciation certificate proving that we have renounced our Pakistani nationality. Now Pakistani Americans before you claim special love know this, the Mandarins in Delhi demand the same of Indian Americans who may for some odd ball reason require an Indian visa on a US passport. There is no quid pro quo by the Pakistanis. Because duh! Everyone knows they are idiots.

Because for us there is no requirement for police reporting, Indians fear that if they start treating us like any other U.S citizen, then too many of us will be free to scurry around India too often, repeatedly, unchecked, un-fingerprinted, and unbeknownst to “them.” The horror of it is too much to bear and then India will want to know and all that. I’ve even repeatedly and a bit desperately requested an Indian equivalent of George Clooney to trail me throughout my travels. But I am finally and courteously informed by return mail that such an equivalent is currently not available, however, they do look forward to receiving my renunciation certificate. David Headly you see was most unhelpful.

And now it turns out due to the enormous volume of requests for visas; I will no longer be able to speak to the kind visa officer. Our relationship it seems is finally over. Nor can I, it turns out even submit an application unless it includes the renunciation certificate or a Pakistani passport. But because I have now had a total meltdown and resorted to crying I am connected to a new, and mind you, helpful female sing song voice. I imagine she is petite and pretty and will be nice to me. “So let me get this straight, I say to Ms. Petite-Pretty at the Indian Consulate. Five visas later you want me to now produce a passport I no longer carry and renounce a nationality I no longer am? “That is correct,” she sings. “It is your place of birth only Madam.”

Sigh! All I can now do is dream about Sachin Pilot, and yet again stubbornly apply for a multi-year, multi-entry business visa while praying for a different outcome. Definition of madness for sure. But what I won’t do is contribute to the mutual hate, nor head for the exits at the first sign of trouble nor turn my back on the wonderful Indian entrepreneurs I have had the privilege to work with. “You got the visa!” is what I hope to hear from them again soon. Why? Because, it is indeed, my place of birth only.

Fawzia Naqvi is a resident of New York City which she hopes will secede from the Union kind of soon. She is currently working on never again dreaming about Sachin Pilot and (helpfully) dedicates this song to her beloved Indian co-conspirators for peace.

18 thoughts on “Why is Sachin Pilot in My Dreams? Or, Three Visas, and No More, to India: Fawzia Naqvi”

  1. Beautifully written !! Simply loved the piece..and i hope fawzia that you succeed in the work (currently working on never again dreaming about Sachin Pilot) you are currently “assigned” by (probably) Ms. Petite-Pretty.. :P

  2. One more Pakistani crying about visa. All that Pakistanis want is a visa to India. And they could get it if they asked their government to stop sending jehadis to bomb Srinagar and Mumbai, but they won’t ask that if their government. They will instead come to India and cry about how Hindus have “kept” Muslims poor. They become only slightly more anti-India and anti-Hindu when they are denied visa. They will then post one extra article on Facebook about how the poor Kashmiris (who are being kept away from Pakistanis let they marry lonely Pakistani women) are being brutalised by the cruel Hindu state. Dare say a word about Taliban, Balochistan, the attacks on Pakistani Shias, Ahmediyas, Christians or Hindus, and you will be labelled a Hindu fundamentalist. If Pakistan doesn’t give visas to Indian nutcases why should India do this favour to Pakistanis? Just because they have the convenience of dual nationality? India doesn’t give dual nationality to its citizens, so they can’t conveniently show their American passports to the Pakistani visa officer and demand a visa to go anywhere, see their demolished temples or visit their abandoned gurudwaras. And if the visa problem is equal from both sides, why do we only hear elite Pakistanis complaining? Only because they can’t walk around Karachi showing their legs? And i am not a RAW agent, I swear! I am not even David Headley’s half-sister.

    1. I praise, adore Sharmila! India is an unique nation, where all the religions of the world stay with full pride and respect. When I was studying in St.Xavier’s, we had one subject to learn world religions

    2. Dear Sharmila Mustafa,

      Thank you for your comments. I am sure you are aware thatIndians trying to go to Pakistan face as difficult and unpleasant an ordeal as Pakistanis, or Pakistanis with additional citizenships anywhere in the world do. In both countries, the IB (in India) or the ISI (in Pakistan) start taking an inordinate and unhealthy interest in most people who undertake to perform the normal and perfectly legal procedure of applying for a visa to visit their neighbours. The regime of ‘police-reporting’ visas, ‘single city’ visas and other obscene restrictions on the freedom of movement are maintained by the idiots who run both governments, and have done so with Kafkaesque aplomb (ever since the visa restrictions came into place). I happen to be a person who has no hesitation in being critical of the Taliban, of the Pakistani state’s atrocious record in Balochistan and former East Pakistan, which mirrors the Indian state’s record in Kashmir and in the North-East. I happen to think that both regimes maintain their grip on power by administering a situation that requires them to be beholden to their military establishments and to the global arms trade.

      I take it that you feel it necessary to announce that you are not David Headley’s half-sister. Congratulations on being so certain about your paternity.

      I think all visas and passports are obscenities, not just the Indian and Pakistani ones. Every encounter with an immigration officer anywhere in the world is a humiliating ritual that demeans both the officer and the person handing over their passport for scrutiny. It goes against the oldest Human protocols of hospitality and kindness towards strangers.

      I guess (given that you think that one’s positions on visas now reveals one’s kinship and bloodline) that probably makes me Ram Mohan Roy’s great great great grandson (he thought so too, and wrote a long letter to Talleyrand, the then French Foreign Minister, saying as much, upon being asked to furnish a passport when he expressed a desire to visit France.) or Rosa Luxemburg’s great grand nephew (who expressed the sentiment that she was perfectly comfortable with changing nationalities as often as she changed shoes, because like shoes, she could hardly ever fine one that felt comfortable with her restless feet).

      regards,

      Shuddha

      1. “I think all visas and passports are obscenities, not just the Indian and Pakistani ones.”

        Notwithstanding my desire to see a more reasonable visa arrangement between all South Asian countries, I find this position quite untenable.

        There are demographic and security realities. The loss of culture by large scale migration is an irreversible phenomenon. In fact, I would actually like to see more restrictions on the free movement of people within the Indian federation. I realize the Constitution gives every Indian the right to move freely across the country, but I think states should be allowed to protect their culture.

        Sharmila has correctly pointed out that a good chunk of the blame for there not being a more open regime of movement between India and Pakistan lies with the Pakistani state. In fact, it is the Pakistani state that is not allowing the free movement of goods between the countries, despite India giving it MFN status. If the Pakistani state has the right to restrict the movement of goods from India in the name of economics, why does the Indian state not have the right to restrict the movement of people in the name of security ?

        The author’s ire would be better directed towards the Pakistani state in this particular case.

  3. Fantastic article. Can relate well to the bit about dealing with the Indian Consulate and having to prove one’s identity even after so many prior trips and documentation has been provided over time. The system is archaic and hostile.

  4. As one of those strange hybrids – a social liberal and a policy hawk – I have only two words to say to Ms. Fawzia Naqvi about her India visa jitters – “David Headley.” Fool me once,shame on you, fool me twice, etc….

    1. Sharmishta: actually Headley precisely illustrates the futility of this sort of gesture: because presumably, the terrorist like Headley, with ISI or other backing, would have no trouble obtaining the renunciation certificate that would enable him to get an Indian visa. It is the American-of-Pakistani-origin WITHOUT such connections who would have the greatest trouble, and is getting stuck!

      1. @Qalandar: wearing my policy hawk hat here: in the case of Pakistan, given the composition and history of its ruling elite (far more authoritarian and much less diverse than the admittedly corrupt Indian ruling classes), it is far, far better to *first* verify, then trust. In the process, a few delays for regular folks will happen. I’d rather that happen, than another David Headley. His handlers should have read that story from our Hindi Class X book about Baba Bharti and Daku Khadag Singh: if you pose as an innocent while committing a crime it makes things tough for genuinely innocent people. But I guess the ISI and the LeT aren’t in the business of self-reflection. On a practical note: the Indian bureaucracy is actually much too *small* for the needs of the contemporary state. India only has 1,622.8 bureaucrats per 100,000 people against the US 7,681. Given that the various wings of the state are already stretched way beyond capacity, delays are inevitable.

  5. Thank you to everyone who has read this piece. Amazing that you have so much time on your hands! Thanks to those who like it to those who hate it and to those who make no sense at all. As for me I’m on a mission to dine again with the non-fictional handsomest Indian man, at least one does exist, and to await the availability of the George Clooney equivalent. A song called “They” by Jem was supposed to be linked at the end of this piece a dedication to my Indian co-conspirators in Peace but the NSA intercepted the link. To the trolls and naysayers give it a rest. We get it. Peace out.

  6. Any of us who like to believe we are liberal, secular, accepting, or any one of those adjectives must also look at those we have ‘othered’ through politics neither one of us alone played but to which we have all succumbed through not taking an open stance whenever the opportunity has presented itself. For example, this instance of a friend wanting to come to visit and even invest in India. That apart, just look at the ease and directness with which the piece is written. Fawzia, I do hope you get a permanent multi-entry Visa and also build this piece into a book. We need more books on dialogues which sectarian divisions seek to prevent.

  7. Fawzia: on the last two paragraphs of your piece, were you finally able to submit an application? You mention that you need a renunciation certificate to do so, were you able to obtain one? Or did the Indian consulate except your business visa application without it? The reason I am curious is that last December a relative of mine from New York obtained a tourist visa, but, because he — like, apparently, you — couldn’t fulfill the renunciation requirements (the Pakistani government has an onerous renunciation process, and requires, absurdly, a valid Pakistani passport) he was required to submit a letter explaining why he couldn’t submit a renunciation certificate, and explaining the extent of his contact with Pakistan. On balance, I think that was a decent resolution, but I don’t know if this was a one-off or not — do update us!

    1. It’s case by case I think. I haven’t applied yet but am going to soon. I think your cousin was very fortunate. But let me say the folks at the Indian Consulate in New York are very responsive and doing their job. I heard a now retired diplomat tell a minister sir we only implement policies you make. And that is true. They do their jobs well and under difficult conditions. And by the way they were justified to have done so at the time but now it’s badly implemented and time to change this this long past. These policies are inhumane and anti-people and as I write absurd and just plain sad. My application is for a multiple entry B visa which complicates approvals for them. Tourist might be easier but since its for work I only apply for a business visa. I’m committed to my work in India and look forward to visiting soon. Peace will win the day!

      1. And let me also state that its not just the Pakistani renunciation process which is onerous its every country’s process. Including India’s. And to make that a requirement for a visa is inhumane. What we hear is that the aged in the US and Canada are forced to do it as they are afraid they will die without seeing their loved ones. For me it’s a job and so I can easily joke about it and sit it out. There are real people and real consequences to this absurdity.

    2. Terribly sorry to the moderators who I keep taxing by writing in spurts, but I keep commenting without my first mug of coffee and then realize I need to say more. As far as whether I will be renouncing anything, the answer is NO. I refuse to contribute to absurdity and inhumanity between the two countries. Moreover, this is akin to saying well ok you are now married but in order to accept your marriage we demand that you renounce your parents. I have no intention of renouncing my former Pakistani nationality nor my current nationality which is American. I made the choice to pledge an allegiance to the United States of America and “renounce all other allegiances.” And tis my home, hearth and passport. My President is Barak Obama (who I am deeply unhappy with) my congressman is Jerry Nadler, whom I shall be calling to oppose the Syria attack, and hopefully my Mayor will be Bill DiBlasio who opposes stop and frisk and wants to get rid of Commissioner Kelly. I am one of the few who actually cried from happiness when summoned for jury duty. And if you must really know I just received my AARP membership card. How much more proof does one need of being American?! I haven’t even mentioned the taxes I pay for the pleasure! No renunciation certificates will be forthcoming, even if it means having to give up the work I love so much. And as for the handsome Indian man. He can take a flight to New York I assume. And if not then “ta ta” to him. Next.

  8. Give it up, ma’am. He can’t fall for you. If he marries a Pakistani, his subjects won’t vote for him. This would be a massive betrayal of the democratic responsibility his dad passed on to him, to remain feudal overlord and keep the Pilots flying.

    1. Please Sir/Madam I think you must give it up. The good Minister is young enough to be my son! I do realize that you take literally the statement “at least one” handsome Indian man, and be that as it may, it is not the good minister.

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