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Go Where You Wanna Go

You gotta go where you wanna go
Do what you wanna do
With whoever you wanna do it with

You gotta go where you wanna go
Do what you wanna do
With whoever you wanna do it with

The Mamas and The Papas, Go Where You Wanna Go (John Phillips, 1966)

MamasAndPapasIfYouCan

[Incidentally, I’ve never seen an earlier example of the marauding apostrophe. Not just errant and extant but hunting in pairs. I am told that the group became grammatically correct after their first album. They had to become politically correct even earlier: the toilet on the album cover had to be covered over, apparently. Read all about their cover shenanigans at the Dunhill site.]

I have an Indian passport. That in itself is not surprising, given that I was born and brought up in India. But I left there 33 years ago, and have lived in the UK since.

When I left the country, my mother asked me not to change my nationality; she was concerned that with the then political climate, I may find it hard to visit India at short notice if I changed nationality. So when I qualified for UK citizenship, I didn’t do anything about it. Which may not be a big deal for most people. But for a regular traveller like me, it adds capsaicin to the merest of journeys across borders. Take a look at the visa differences shown below, courtesy of the fantastic site VisaMapper.

If you’re a UK citizen, this is how the world looks in terms of visas:

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 14.42.51

If you’re a US citizen, things are about the same, except for Brazil. Dilma Rousseff is less than happy about being spied on by her neighbours.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 14.44.59But if you’re Indian, many of the leaves that are green turn to brown. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard Simon and Garfunkel perform that song, just click and enjoy.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 14.47.40

I love travelling, and have been privileged to work in jobs that require regular travel. And, given the brownness of the Indian visa situation, I’ve had to get a lot of visas. [I was a stamp collector as a child. I never thought I’d continue to be one this long ….. using a passport rather than a traditional stamp album].

Over the years that’s led to a number of interesting situations:

In 1981 I was snowbound in Russia, managed to barter my duty-frees and escape from Sheremetyevo’s transit area — I couldn’t bear to think of being cooped up there for perhaps six days. I made it to Red Square, along with a couple of Swedes who were heading back home from Thailand and who’d seen what I was up to. But we were apprehended there (while sampling the country’s vodka, of course) and were very closely scrutinised back at the airport till our plane left. Very closely indeed.

In 1985 I had one day to get a Greek visa prior to going to Spetses on vacation. I’d left it late. The guy at the Embassy was very helpful, but couldn’t help me. My passport was four months out of date, and I hadn’t noticed. Which meant getting a new passport of an evening in order to give me even the smallest chance of joining my wife in Spetses. To make matters a little more interesting, I was due to fly out of Belfast. [Long story]. We made the flight.

In 1998 I turned up at Frankfurt airport duly visa-ed, but with a minor problem. I planned to go there on day X, and later had to change my plans to arrive there on day X-1. An early meeting had been added to my schedule. Tough. Because my visa didn’t actually start till the next day. So I had to spend an hour at the airport cooling my heels with only the security staff for company. But once Cinderella time came around, I was let in.

There have been many shenanigans since, many close shaves. Part of the spice of life. At least one of them involved going to the Mexican visa official’s home one late evening in Austin, Texas, so that I could get to the Yucatan with my family. Another involved being let in to the Irish Republic on an emergency visa given at the airport, once the officer had heard me refer to my daughter as Orla. [Which is not surprising, given that’s her name].

But I came close to utter disaster a few weeks ago. One of the challenges of having so many stamps in your passport is that you run out of pages very quickly. You collect additional booklets like political donors collect awards. And each of those booklets has valid visas, for different countries. So my right to enter the UK indefinitely is in one passport, my 3 year Schengen is in another, and my 10 year US, my 5 year Japanese and 2 year Irish, for example, are in a third, the “current” one.

As life would have it, I’d been travelling so much that I forgot my “Schengen-visa-holding-but-otherwise-full-while-valid” passport en route Munich. Turned up there. Patted my pockets, my carry-on bag. Nothing. Nada. Left at home. UK visa? Check. US visa? Check. Schengen? Oops.

The border guard was very nice. No Visa? No Entry. I tried to explain. Have Visa. Just Not With Me. He smiled, agreed. And repeated what he’d said earlier. No Visa. No Entry. Brainwave time. Since I “had” the visa, except it was at home, on my desk, would he let me in if I got someone to take a photo of that visa and email it to me? Then I would Have Visa. And Enter.

He hummed. But he didn’t haw. He actually agreed with my proposal, on one condition. The photo would have to be emailed to him directly, not via me. So I got my daughter to put her iPhone to use. And I was let in that morning. That really exemplifies Germany for me, a culture that is far more about spirit than about letter when it comes to stuff like this.

Worse was to come. Just before Christmas, we decided to take a short break in Dubai. I’ve taken them before, and the hotel has always been able to sort my visa out in short order.

Not this time. Days passed and no visa. Nobody understood why. I pulled every string I could, and in the end managed to fly there visa-less. And when I got there, I found out why. Someone with a name vaguely similar to mine (not close, not close at all) was on a security blacklist; no one could decide what to do. So I was in limbo. Until I presented myself, they saw me and my family, and all was well.

Go where you wanna go? Chance would be a fine thing. There is something very broken with the visa system, especially when you see the crazinesses and anomalies something like VisaMapper shows up. So bizarre that it must be true.

When Greece won the European Championship a decade or so ago, Otto Rehhagel, the coach, is rumoured to have been given a truly wonderful bonus. The right to park anywhere in Athens, anytime.

People hanker after many things. Fame, fortune, good looks, talent, whatever.

Me? I’m a simple man. All I want is an instrument that lets me enter 200 countries at will on short visits. Have visa will travel. [And sometimes, usually inadvertently, but at least once advertently, have no visa will travel anyway].

Posted in Four pillars .


4 Responses

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  1. P. Venkatraman says

    Lovely…there is a business opportunity for a global visa mastercard. Not to be confused with the credit card :-)

    Love the aspect that you adhered to your mother’s dictum of not changing the Indian passport. Respect.

  2. JP says

    @pVenkatraman she’s given me permission to change now. I would so much prefer to have a global right to enter/exit; no long-term stays, no employment rights, these are separate. just the right to pass

  3. Simon Griffiths says

    Just checked what VisaMapper says about South African passport holders – not much better than India

  4. JP says

    @Simon how accurate was it? My sense is that VisaMapper will only get better as people feed back the errors and improvements needed



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