The finer subtleties of immigration

by neo

It takes Neo’s special grasp of the English language to understand that when Mrs. Neo says “Fine!” at the end of an argument, it is neither the end of the argument, nor does it mean that things are “fine”.

Warning stamped onto Indian Passports Issued b...

Image via Wikipedia

It is the same, sophisticated, auto-antonym-grokking intelligence that allows Neo to understand how he can be an “Overseas Citizen of India” without being overseas, or being a citizen of India!

The clearest explanation of this “(not-always-)Overseas (non-)Citizenship of India” comes not from the Indian government, but from the storied makers of the green-card-that-is-not-green, i.e. the US government, which informs us:

“… an American who obtains [the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)] is not a citizen of India and remains a citizen of the United States […] An OCI card in reality is similar to a U.S. “green card” in that a holder can travel to and from India indefinitely […]”

But the Indian Government is remarkably consistent in its desire to make everything sound and look exactly the opposite of what it is, because the physical OCI card looks exactly like a passport, except it’s not a passport.

Now, you might think that carrying around things-that-look-like-passports-but-aren’t is really no big deal, but that’s because you didn’t have to face the Singapore immigration official whose eyes narrowed to the sorts of apertures that are usually associated with a pinhole camera when he saw 6 multi-colored passports tumble out of Neo’s passport pouch – for a family of 3.

But you can’t really blame the Singaporean official – after all, when the newly-OCI-endowed Neo arrived in India (in late 2005), the first reaction from the Indian immigration official who saw Neo’s OCI card was, “Why were you standing in the foreigners line ? You’re an Indian citizen!”.

(On subsequent visits to India this error has been corrected, and now the Indian immigration officials regard Neo with the same surly, if-you-didn’t-visit-so-often-we-wouldn’t-be-so-busy stare, just like all the other  “OMG its our first time to India, Megan stop staring at that man right now or we’re flying back to Baltimore!” foreigners waiting patiently in line.)

And so it is that sometimes words can come to mean the exact opposite of what they mean – last weekend when Neo remarked that his mother-in-law’s rasam was fine, Mrs. Neo stormed out of the room – probably angered more by Neo’s correct use of the word “fine” than the slight to the hallowed rasam.

(No prizes for guessing the last word that came out of Mrs. Neo’s mouth just before she stormed out).

PS: For those of you who are still struggling with the various meanings of the word “fine”, this video is a must-watch (gulp down that coffee first).

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