Last week I was out of the country. As an international traveller the most important piece of information that I would like to share from my experiences with you is that when you travel abroad you will always do well to remember your name.
This is easier said than done, as you will figure out when you begin filling up the mandatory immigration form.
The form will ask for your given name as well as the surname. But if you, like other normal human beings, have just one official name you will be stumped to understand whether the name that you have with you is your surname or given name.
At this point, it is relevant to clarify what is a given name and what is a surname. The given name, as the dictionary defines it, is the name that usually precedes the surname. To illustrate with my personal example, as per records I am ‘Kuppuswamy Balakumar’. As per definition, only ‘Balakumar’ has anything preceding it. So by official definition my given name is Kuppuswamy, which, as it happens, is the name of my father. If my name is actually my dad’s, then what is the actual name that my dad is supposed to have given me? See this is how complicated international travel is. It will eventually come to a point when you will realise that you really have no name that you can call yours.
The only family that has perhaps cracked this conundrum is George W
Bush’s as the father and son go around with Roman numerals as surnames. It will be mighty helpful in these sensitive times.
Immigration Officer (looking at the papers): Ok, You’re George Bush
Bush: Actually, I am G B II
Immigration Officer (getting suspicious with the numerals in the name): Looks like a new strain of virus. Ok, you’re quarantined.
Talking of virus, these days, in the airport screening for the now dreaded H1N1 is very stringent and is done in the most scientific manner possible, in that each and every individual passenger has to fill a well thought out questionnaire, which asks conceivably the most advanced medical question: ‘Do you suffer from influenza’ (My suggestion to you is to answer ‘yes’ to the question so that it helps you to avoid the dreaded customs and immigration check).
I can’t think of a more mature and foolproof testing than this. The only possibly more advanced method of tackling the swine flu pandemic could be to pointedly ask the dreaded H1N1 virus to surrender itself at the immigration counter. This has not been resorted to probably due to the fact that the virus may not have all the relevant travel documents with it.
Air travel to other countries also involves writing out forms and paper-work the equivalent of a PhD thesis. There are very many details about you that the authorities would want to ascertain. The chief among this happens to be: The name of city where your passport was issued. This apparently is a vital piece of information for the immigration and customs officials to figure out whether you are a terrorist or a smuggler or just a journo out on a junket.
The officials also seem unduly keen to take a look at the x-ray images of your jocks and vests. So it is advisable for you to not keep an erect shoe or chappal under your jocks in the suitcase as when the officials scan your baggage it might ludicrously kinky.
If you are travelling abroad it is also mandatory to remain young and look as you did some 10-15 years ago when you perhaps acquired the passport. The security officials expect, not unreasonably, you to not age and retain the looks of your youthhood so that it matches with the photo on your passport. Rajnikanth, for example, does not travel abroad personally because he now looks like the grandfather of his own self. Rajni, however, lets his computer graphics image participate in shootings abroad. All told, it seems to do a better job than he has ever in his career. Kamal Haasan, on the other hand, has a bigger problem, as he himself will be hard-pressed to remember what his real looks were or are.
Another important thing to contend with on trans-country travels is currency. What monetary unit to convert your home currency into is a conundrum that has stumped almost all travellers since the days of Vasco da Gama. It is a fair guess to say that Columbus strayed into America since he had only dollars and there was no way of converting them into Indian rupees as Western Union was still to be discovered.
Foreign exchange market may seem to be the weirdest thing going on the earth if you take out T Rajendhar’s movies from the equation. But have no fears, forex markets essentially operate on the simplest of rules: You are a fool. Because when you buy a different currency you have to give a higher value. But when the forex operators buy the same currency from you they give you a lesser price.
As an Indian, you will also wonder whether it is good to convert your rupee to dollar or to the currency of the country you are travelling to. My advice on this matter is quite plain: It doesn’t matter, as either way you will find yourself short. Indian rupee is delicately managed in such a way that it isn’t allowed to rise against any of the global currencies. So when you come from a jaunt abroad the only thing affordable to you is a few packs of humble chocolate.
So friends and colleagues, don’t blame me. It’s all the fault of the RBI.