Close encounters of the third-world kind

Assume you are a Bengaluru-based IT worker (you could even be a senior manager) in the employ of a Silicon Valley–based US company. Since the normal working hours in the US are between 8 am and 5 pm, and accounting for the twelve-and-a-half-hour time difference between Silicon Valley and Bengaluru, it means that while you are working, your bosses are asleep, and vice versa. However, simply because they are the bosses, they would like you to work while they are also working, if only to supervise you. To accommodate them, you have to forgo your normal sleeping pattern. A night-and-day seismic shift for you, none for them. Don’t you wish it could be the other way around? Dream on. You come cheap but, hey, you need to feed your family. Your ego has been stroked. After all, you do work for an American company, don’t you?

Perchance you were provided an opportunity to visit Silicon Valley to meet your bosses. Your first encounter with American officialdom is at the US Consulate where, after being needlessly harassed and treated with considerable contempt, you are granted a visa. You are happy, no doubt, but don’t get carried away, since possession of a valid US visa is no guarantee that you will be allowed into the country.

That decision is made by the immigration officer at the port of entry. This individual, masquerading as a human being, has been given total discretion in deciding whether you should be allowed in. If he or she does not like the way you look, or dress, or smile, you can just as easily be deported. On the spot, with no right of appeal, in a law-and-order society. Only in the land of the free and the brave. Free to let you in or not. The holstered gun attests to the bravery. You just met God. The one you met at the Consulate was merely a pretender.

You are now flying home. What are the chances you will be landing in Bengaluru at a decent hour? Zilch. In case you weren’t aware, a majority of the flights from the US and Europe land at Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) in the wee hours of the morning. You might also not be aware that almost no airport in the US and Europe permits commercial airlines to either land or take off between 11 pm and 5 am. Please understand that their citizens do need to get a good night’s sleep without being subject to noise and light pollution. You, however, don’t merit the same consideration since you are from a third-world country. Should you get upset by the unfairness of it all, do bear in mind that you willingly changed your sleep patterns to accommodate your bosses.

It is now your turn to go through passport control at KIA. Lo and behold, since you forgot to obtain and fill out the landing form, the immigration officer asks you to get the form, fill it out and re-join the long queue of people waiting to be processed. You notice that the American woman who sat next to you on the plane is being processed at the next counter servicing foreigners. She, too, had forgotten to pick up the form. The officer hands her a blank form, waits for her to fill it out, and then processes her passport.

In one of his previous postings, I assume this officer must have been deputed to the Wagah border, the principal India-Pakistan overland entry point for travellers. Just a few miles from Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, the Wagah border is noted for the daily occurrence of the colourful ‘Beating Retreat’ ceremony. If you have ever been there, you would not have failed to notice that the few hundred foreign tourists, almost all white, are dutifully led to a cordoned-off VIP section, while the several thousand Indian spectators, along with Sri Lankans and Tamil Singaporeans, are herded on to the bleachers like cattle.

Cheer, led by a seven-foot jawan, periodic screams of ‘Bharat zindabad, Pakistan murdabad’ punctuate the military pageant. At the end of the ceremony, the Indians are held back by the military police until the foreign tourists have left the area. I was there in 2013 and, unless things have changed dramatically, I suppose the same protocol continues to this day. If bowing and scraping were an Olympics team sport, India would win the gold medal every time.

The colonialists and their supplicants will never set you free. You will have to free yourself.

(The author is a computer scientist, a newly minted Luddite, and a cynic)


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