Passports are a hateful token of the politicisation of a fractured world, symbolising the elevation of petty national sovereignty above universalism that explains Brexit. There’s a sense of utter finality, too, about the booklet I have just collected from India House in London for it will in all probability be my last passport. I said so casually to the cheerfully scruffy but very helpful consular assistant who was horrified. “You mustn’t say such things!” he exclaimed in Hindi, “and during the puja too in Kolkata!”
My old passport, which has now been cancelled although it could have run to mid-November, was also issued in London. India’s deputy high commissioner in Singapore was responsible for the one before. I had forgotten the man until half-way through a diplomatic occasion in another part of the world it suddenly dawned on me that he had once been my benefactor. Unusual for an Indian bureaucrat, he had been too polite to mention the debt. I say debt because in the bad old days before Maneka Gandhi’s plea established a citizen’s right to a passport, successive passport officers in India made one feel like a grovelling applicant for illicit favours. One incumbent hinted that a reciprocal gesture would not be amiss.
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First Published: Fri, October 11 2019. 20:21 IST