Let me tell you a funny story. Maybe it will make you cry.
I am 27 years old. Until September last year, I didn’t have a passport. A variety of exclusively Indian naming connotations prevented me from being just one person in the eyes of the law.
I did everything in my power to get a passport, though. I applied and failed. I changed my name, applied and failed- this time because the notary who signed my name change affidavit was a phony. So I applied again, or appealed rather, this time with one single, final name, to the passport office on Twitter.
Then, when it seemed like I would be living forever within the national borders of India, I got my passport.
Why is this important?
You see, I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see what lay right outside the borders of what was my country. I wanted to meet new people, see what their lives looked like, maybe even live a bit of it myself. But without a passport, I would only ever see exotic cooking shows on Fox Life, or watch a travel program online.
At one point in time, I believed strongly that I would never visit any place outside of India in this lifetime. Hell, I accepted it and was even beginning to make peace with it. Foreign dreams were for other people who quit their steady jobs to find meaning in life. For a twenty seven year old mother of one who had to change her surname to suit the law, it was just an impossible dream.
Right after my passport, the UK Visa arrived. If I had to compare that moment to anything else in life, I would compare it to the day I gave birth to my daughter. To me, the Visa symbolized every single possibility in the world. If the UK had granted me a Visa, other countries gladly would.
It showed me that I did indeed have wings, and that I would fly very soon. This one piece of stamped paper was testimony to the fact that I had had dreams, and that I could make them come true.
An urban, educated Indian woman being so desperate for a passport and a Visa! Sounds funny, I know.
A trip to London did happen in February this year, and it was everything and more than I had hoped it would be. I didnt mind the cold sandwiches and the colder climate one bit. When my ears hurt, I just rubbed them vigorously. On public transport, people offered me and my kid a seat, disproving all the urban legends we have about Londoners being impersonal. Sainsbury and M&S Food coexisted with the Fat Duck and The Taj and I was happy to gape at them to my heart’s content. For the first time in my life, I tasted Halloumi cheese, and Kale chips. Five pounds didn’t seem too steep for a cup of strawberries and cream.
How I wish this was just a happy travel memoir. But the story has only just begun.
In late March, a terror attack in Westminster killed six people, one of whom was a public servant. In the same slew of senselessness, a vehicle rammed into innocent bystanders on a bridge over theThames.
I felt terrible that day, because less than two months ago, I was on that bridge. My child was on that bridge. My family, my hopes, my dreams, my longing, were all on that bridge.
I said to myself, “This is a senseless attack, but it won’t happen again! I’m sure people are better than that.”
But we aren’t, are we?
Another attack, this time on people just wanting to have a good time at a concert, has just happened. It is perhaps one of the worst massacres in recent times, both in the number of casualties and the sheer depravity of the focused attack on children and young adults.
This time, I don’t have a justification to give. I can’t tell myself that humanity is better than that. Sure, as the attack happened, the victims were sheltered and provided food nearby. But when triggered, which way will we go?
It isn’t so much about immigration or the propagation of a certain ideology, as it is about the environment and the circumstances that are fostering such an ideology to grow.
Can we, for once, put aside our smartphones and our differences, look another person in the eye and ask them if they’re alright?
Can we spot a terrorist before they become one, and can we give them the help they need to not wreck the eventual havoc they will?
Can we get out of the mundanity of our lives, so carefully Instagrammed, and look into the neighbour’s house to see how they’re doing?
None of these acts are heroic, but in hindsight, they will be.
And maybe then, we can truly be free as birds, and we can visit wherever we wish to go, because people will not be afraid of people anymore.