Current play “Airport Insecurity” written and directed by Vikas Dhurka is NAATAK company’s (www.naatak.org, Twitter @naatak) 56th production and features a comedic yet horrifying tale of an Indian immigrant on work visa, who loses his passport, wallet, and mobile phone at the airport, in a foreign, unfamiliar country, while in transit.
No one wants to be stuck in an indefinite limbo in transit, but Vijay (Varun Dua) has especially urgent need to return home to the US where his wife Priya (Devika Ashok) is about to deliver in what is turning out to be a high risk pregnancy. Vijay gets caught in a complex bureaucratic labyrinth where he cannot travel anywhere without a passport, US is not responsible for his “situation” since he is not a US passport holder, Germany will not allow him entry since he does not have a passport on which a temporary visa can be stamped, and his home country India requires that he travel to India where a new passport can be issued to him. In order to travel to India without a passport, he has to jump through multitude of forms and submit to background checks that can take upwards of 30 days or more, while spending days in Lufthansa lounge at the airport and spending nights in the airport travel area.
As Vijay makes several calls to the Consulate General of India offices in various cities and while he encounters usual tactics of evasiveness, comments regarding inconvenient timing, Vijay then encounters a kindly Indian official from the CGI who meets Vijay at the airport and explains to him, “here are some forms to fill out; most of them are necessary but not important”. India has inherited such a stupendous bureaucratic procedural system, a legacy of the British rule, that navigating one’s way through the system can be a nightmare but also creates a comedy of errors and that regaled the audience. Indeed, India has made a huge progress but we still have ways to go. I will describe my own experience of losing my passport below.
Meanwhile, Vijay also meets kindness and compassion along the way. In the end, the solution comes from his own ingenuity and from a country that relies on fairness and swift solutions, where you don’t need to know someone important to get a resolution, where compassion is built into the system, where no one needs to suffer endlessly without reason. I may have misspoken — err solution came from a country that was all that and more but in its quest to make itself “great”, it may lose the status of being the best; a country where an Indian immigrant techie caught in the current hate rhetoric is now more likely to lose his life in a little bar in Kansas, and incredulous Indian parents may be less likely to enable their children to go a country where struggle may not be about climbing the ladder of success but about staying alive and finding tolerance.
This comedic tragic tale is also relevant in the context of what happened to many hundreds of people caught in wake of the current administration travel ban. Caught off guard, caught in transit, caught at airports that denied them entry after draining long journeys, many people encountered a surreal situation of being neither here nor there, of not belonging, unable to hug and find comfort and solace with their loved ones. Nation that evoked and inspired the best, left splintered families in a state of “airport insecurity” limbo. NPR has discussed this not-to -miss play, relevant in the current context. See link https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/02/24/silicon-valley-theatre-scene-bristles-with-political-edge-in-the-age-of-trump/
Great kudos to playwright and director Dhurka for showing one man’s incredible and true story with an appropriate dose of humor; kudos also to producer, Gopi Rangan and to NAATAK company for bringing 56 incredible plays relevant to the South East Asian community in the bay area. Over 60,000 attendees have enjoyed their shows, performed by over 850 artists. Get your season passes at www.naatak.org . See below my own short story of loss of passport.
The time when I lost my passport in India
I had meant to write a blog but it never happened. Here is a short saga of my own loss of passport. I had my passport and my purse stolen while traveling in India. It is a great blessing to be an American citizen, if this were to happen to you. I traveled overnight to Mumbai and as I entered the American consulate, I stepped into an incredibly efficient and welcoming zone. I told them I wanted quickly a temporary passport that would enable me to travel back home. They issued a passport within 2 hours, while I waited in their comfy room. They also handed me a letter addressed to the Indian commissioner of Police stating that I had lost my visa with my passport and that India should immediately grant me a visa to leave the country and beseeched them to “extend all cooperation for speedy permit to enable this American citizen to return home”.
That is where my saga begins. I was informed by the Indian office of police that they needed to do background check and it could take up to 30 days. I had to fill in all the forms online and then go to the office with forms printed in triplicate and wait for hours to get an appointment. When I asked why they needed forms online and in print and whether they followed automated system or manual system then I was informed that they followed “automated manual system).
I was asked to first go to the police station in the locality where theft happened. When they said there was no one who can write a report, I requested that they give me the typewriter and I offered to write it up on their behalf and they allowed me to do that. Then I had to go the local police office in the area where I resided for 15 days as a tourist. Local office asked me to produce electricity bill where I resided. I had to request that from the owner of the property who took his own time to produce it. When I was asked to pay Rs. 3,000 in cash, I handed over a big bunch of Rs. 100 notes. They brought out a foolscap sheet of paper and asked me to write down the number of each note before standing in a line where they received payment. It took 7 days of going back and forth between police stations and offices before I was issued a small note that said it was okay for me to leave the country. Later at the airport, I noticed that the validity of this little document was expiring that very day. If for any reason I were to miss my flight or weather or technical or some other delay would occur than that little note obtained after such hard work would be invalid.
But then there were two things in my favor. I was an American citizen (brown skinned or not) at a time when America was still the best AND I wasn’t in transit, but rather in my home country, a country that I love and am proud that every day it is progressing in its quest to be better, more efficient, and more compassionate.