A visit to the regional passport office makes you realise how desperate we north Indians are to go abroad, be it for a fortnight or, preferably, a lifetime. Having been there thrice in one week (I mean the office, not abroad), I can't help sharing my observations.
Seeing the rush inside/outside the RPO, I wondered whether India was an overpopulated Titanic whose passengers were dying to jump off in a bid to save themselves. Of course, the visa comes (or doesn't) much later, but it's the dark-blue booklet that first raises your hopes of escaping the Republic of India.
Another thing struck me: a majority of the applicants were of the paindu' kind (ruralites, to put it politely). They had dreams of Kanayda, Amrika and New Jeeland in their eyes, and polythene 'lifafas' in their hands with words like 'Mitran di dukaan' and 'Johny-Jippy di hatti' (or was it Jippy-Johny?).
I found these sons and daughters of the soil amusing, but I knew they were going to have the last laugh. I have seen many of my rural relatives take the quantum leap from CB (Chak Bilga) to BC (British Columbia) despite their monosyllabic English and Jat-boot lifestyle. Once they used to bathe in the 'bumbi' (tubewell); now they can't do without the sauna. From 'pehle tod di ruri-marka' (home-brewn liquor), they have graduated to Scotch and cognac. 'Hattis' are history for them - now they share great chemistry with swanky malls. They do visit us every year or two, just to check how we poor fellows are surviving against all odds.
Ironically, the outsourced passport seva kendra, with its plush premises and ultra-professional staff, gave me the impression that all is not lost for Mother India. The seasonal patriot in me woke up from slumber. I often get into the 'Rang De Basanti' mood near I-Day, when I spot the Tricolour all around and feel like watching Sunny Deol's Border and Gadar back-to-back - in the fast-forward mode. I remembered my resolve to live and die at my birthplace, or any place within a radius of 150 km. I felt like telling my fellow applicants: "Don't lose hope. Things are improving. Yes, there's poverty, slums, stray dogs, but still India is on course to become a superpower. Why marry a 'gori' or 'kali' thrice your age just for the sake of a PR? You can go to Phuket or Bali for a holiday, but do come back and settle down in your motherland's lap. Don't worry, I'll find jobs for you…"
But I kept mum. I feared that my Manoj Kumar-style speech would be misunderstood by these people as a fit of lunacy or hypocrisy. After all, wasn't I in the queue too? What's worse, their 'quit India' look reminded me of Gurpreet Ghuggi's lines in Chak De Phatte, where he mulls suicide as the last resort to go West: "Eh koi nehar-nuhr nahin jandi Amrika-Kanayda wal nu? Main sochda haan yaar uss nehar ch hi dub ke mar janwan. Kharey meri laash hi tar ke paunch jaye Kanayda..."
Well, for better or worse, hope floats.