My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
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Friday, December 07, 2007

Bureaucracy, Immigration forms and Mother

Making fun of bureaucracy is as common as having food. On one hand even people with an IQ below 10 participate in discussions damning government procedures and their proponents. On the other hand some people have made a career or even got Nobel prizes for condemning bureaucracies. Czech dissident and former president Vaclav Havel made his reputation in America with his play “The Memorandum” about a new official language that is perfectly logical yet completely incomprehensible. Nobel prize winner Dario Fo started his career with his play “Archangels don’t play pinball” where government workers manning a row of counters play a game of hide and seek with people who have queued up for service.

Conditioned by this popular perception, I was filling up an immigration form with the usual disdain. But suddenly I noticed that there is something subtle about these bureaucratic procedures; that there is a certain feeling of genuine warmth, care and concern behind them. For example, there is something very motherly about all immigration forms, irrespective of the country, a universal characteristic just as motherly sentiments are. Consider this: instead of the usual cold and unconcerned greeting of “How are you?”, the immigration form goes on to ask whether you have had yellow fever, diarrhea, cough or even a headache over the last six months!!! I am sure the immigration officials give a head massage and free medicine to those who tick “yes” to that earnest question. Like a mother, the form shows concern about your financial well being, asking if you are bringing in enough cash, do you have enough jewelry, and do you have enough alcohol for the stay. I am sure the customs people would show genuine happiness at your prosperity if you were to click “yes” to that. Unlike any other form you would fill in your life, it asks you whether you have friends in this foreign country and if you would be staying with them? I am sure the immigration official would give you a hug if you were to say “No” to that. And like mothers, the form is nagging in nature and keeps asking you the same question several times: your name, passport number, citizenship, etc. (I had to write it thrice in the same form)

If you find immigration forms charming, do consider the Visa application forms. For example, the Visa application form for the UK asks verbatim, "Have you ever been involved in, supported, or encouraged terrorist activities in any country?", and best of all "Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?" Wonderful isn’t it? Where else do you find such motherly innocence; that too in a world where you can live successfully just by saying two words “How much?”

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