Freedom has always been one of my favourite words. The word I have loved to associate myself with, tried to associate myself with on any occasion I get. Free spirit, free soul, man of my own will et-cetera, et-cetera… On occasions though I wonder if I really am a free soul, free spirit, man of my own will – I wonder if I really have “freedom”, for on every walk of life there are restrictions I face, restrictions I have to adhere to. While I write this, I am on a train heading towards Hull. I am going to a Dutch consulate to apply for a visa – a short term visa that I need to attend a workshop and a conference over a week in May, paid for by a good host I must add. Without a visa, I won’t be able to travel to the Netherlands, and will be unable to present my paper at the conference. Its strange though as I am in the UK, a member of EU and have a valid UK visa for at least one more year – yet I have to go through this whole process of visa application to enter into another EU country. This is a strange country UK – member of EU but without free movement to and from other EU states unless you hold an EU passport, valid visa won’t do! A member of EU that still holds on to its own currency GBP and not take up Euro. A member of EU that likes to associate itself more with the US than to other EU countries when it comes to its foreign policy – just look at the war in Iraq! Anyway, now I need to get a visa even to attend a week’s conference in mainland Europe even though I hold UK visa valid for at least another year! When I reach the Dutch consulate, I am tied with more restrictions. To prepare the current visa application, I had simply used my earlier visa application for the Netherlands and changed dates and some minor details. My earlier application was for identical purpose a year ago and I did get a visa and had travelled to the Netherlands. But now the lady in the consulate goes over my application and asks me to change “Multiple entries” to “Single entry” and 30 days visa period to 7 days citing that I am returning after 7 days. What if I have my flight delayed for a day or two when returning? Will I be charged with an “overstay” and deported? I wonder to myself. Anyway, what I have learnt over the course of 6 or so years of stay in these foreign lands is never to argue with immigration officials…apparently, they are always right…Talk about being a free spirit!!
When I was a child – about 9-10 years old I think – I used to dream of travelling all over the world. Even then I thought of being a “global citizen”, little knowing what that meant and how I could be one. Once, I even had plans to run away from home – go to India first, travel all the way to a port and get on a ship for a voyage that would take me to a faraway land. I had by then already read Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels you see. Although I was more like the Lilliputs than Gulliver, my plans were nonetheless as big as the latter. However, the person I really wanted to be was Crusoe. I wanted to arrive on a faraway island where I could be all by myself – a free spirit, a free soul – with no one to impose restrictions on what I can/cannot do, no restrictions to adhere to. In those days, I used to think I should learn to do everything myself – from cooking to sewing – in case I really did run away and had to live on my own! Of course that didn’t happen – I couldn’t muster enough courage to run away when I was 10. Tried once or twice to walk away from my parents’ home – once east all the way to Phulchowki and once south to Tikabhairab – only to return home by dusk. I still remember being restless within the confines of my parent’s home, my school and society I grew up in. I just wanted to get away from the day I knew what “getting away” meant. Of course if wasn’t easy to “get away” – those social structures not only made you restless BUT also tied you strongly within their confines. Setting oneself free from those social knots would be a big task even for a grown up person, so for a 10-year old it was virtually impossible. This meant I had to wait another 9 years before I was able to fly away from those confines – to set myself free OR so I thought. I fulfilled my dream of getting to a faraway island – I arrived in the UK, where Crusoe’s journey had begun. But of course there were more restrictions waiting for me: social, economic, legal and all sorts of limitations – waiting for me to get into their confines once again. Like the one I mentioned earlier – having to apply for visa over and over again whenever I wanted to travel to the mainland Europe. What can I say – I am a free spirit BUT for these restrictions!!!