Readers of a certain vintage will remember E.R. Braithwaite’s novel ‘To Sir with Love”, subsequently made into a movie with Lulu singing the title song which topped the pop charts for months. In 1973 the author visited South Africa which was under apartheid rule. To permit him to move around freely, (pass unmolested through ‘whites only’ areas) the Verwoerd Government gave him “honorary white” status. The term was inspired by the Nazis who designated the Japanese as “honorary Aryans” when they joined hands over WW2. When Japan decided to buy $250 million dollars of South African pig iron, the apartheid regime practically fell over themselves in their haste to grant them “white” status. But I digress.
Braithwaite was sufficiently moved by the experience of being a zebra, a black man with temporary white status in a racist regime, to write a book titled “Honorary White.” The term has since fallen into disuse but is particularly apt to describe Indians employed by foreign embassies. Besides having an attitude problem, for sheer obstructionism and bloody- mindedness, they are hard to match.
These pathetic creatures glory in designations like Visa section Head and the ones in the French embassy take the baguette; cake was eaten only in Marie Antoinette’s time. Aloof and detached in their air-conditioned cubicles, they bark instructions to visa aspirants through glass windows. They have this annoying habit of breaking into French or mysteriously highlighting random columns of a visa application with a yellow magic marker. Questions, even sensible ones, are met with a glare and a loud rebuke. How dare we mere mortals have the audacity to invade the holy of holies (a 6x4 cubicle) without prostrating ourselves?
Of course we endure similar humiliation in an RTO or Sub-registrar’s office but at least we enter these modern-day torture chambers armed with the knowledge of what to expect. What we don’t expect is a fellow brownie behaving like Caligula. What is even more annoying is that this attitude is reserved exclusively for hapless desis. When it’s a white guy, the bully mutates into a bootlicker.
Most of us silently swallow these indignities. On one occasion, I was sufficiently ‘Frenched’ to entertain myself with thoughts of lifting Msieu Muttonhead bodily and hurling him from the balcony. I thought of making him eat the French-English dictionary page by moth-eaten page. On sober reflection this seems inadequate punishment for his malevolent puffery.
My uncle in the oleo resin business is not the shy, retiring sort, so when he had a close encounter of the third kind with a Mexican official, it went something like this:
Uncle: I say, you seriously want me to come all the way to Delhi for a personal interview for a Mexican visa?
MO: I’m afraid that’s our policy.
Uncle: You’d better be afraid. Listen, I run a multi-million dollar business and I have a five-year multiple entry US visa. Do you seriously consider me an immigration risk? Do you really think I’m going to chuck it up and start making tacos in Tijuana?
MO: That is our policy for ‘C’ category countries.
Uncle: What do you mean ‘C’? India is ‘C’? What are you, an Indian?
MO: The answer to both those questions is yes. But you still have to come for a visa interview.
Uncle: I say, tell me what category do you think Mexico is in - G-7? I don’t believe this. Compared to you, we’re first world. The US Border Patrol is there only to keep the Mexicans out. I’m going to Mexico for a wedding.
MO: Oh, why didn’t you say so, sir? If you’re marrying a Mexican national, there is a different set of forms.
Uncle: You *#%, it’s not my wedding…my business associate’s son is getting married. Look here, are you giving me the visa or not?
MO: What part of a personal interview did you not understand?
Uncle: Know what, to hell with you and Mexico. And you’d better start looking for a job. I’m going to talk to your Ambassador.
The story has a happy ending since Uncle met a random diplomat in California who issued him a ‘visa exceptional’ since the bridegroom’s father was related to El Presidente. Not merely have Mexican visa regulations been relaxed, but there is a sea change in the attitude of the staff since they never know who will get truly pissed off and say, ‘Shall I tell the President?’
Now if only I could persuade Uncle to take a trip to Paris…