Hindi Chini bhai-bhai

Hindi Chini bhai-bhai

I triumphantly informed my friend that I got my visa to visit China despite his apprehension that as a retired government official, it would be rejected. Undeterred, he replied that my entry would still be subject to the whims and fancies of the immigration officials. I kept my fingers crossed.

At Shanghai airport immigration, the passport reading machine didn’t read my very long name. But I had been used to such a situation in other countries. The official who had a tough time entering my name in the computer was irritated. When he asked for my fingerprints, the fingerprint recorder went on a strike. Only after several tries, they got recorded. Seeing that the official’s narrow eyes had become buttonholes, I became nervous and felt beads of sweat roll down my back.

When he asked me to look at the camera, I gave a nice smile knowing the wide use of face recognition software in China. His buttonholes became wider and he gruffly told me that I am not posing for a selfie. When he asked my hotel address, I replied that it was in my wife’s handbag and that she had already cleared immigration and offered to get it from her if I am let out. Knotting his thin eyebrows, he called someone on his phone. By now I was certain that I would be refused entry and started worrying as to what would happen to my wife if I were deported by the next flight. I started praying.

God answered fast. Suddenly, I remembered the particulars of my hotel and I blurted it out. He asked me to write it, which I did with my shaking fingers. After what seemed like ages, he stamped my passport and waved me out. I was elated and sent a text message to my friend. “Don’t be certain of your exit. There are cameras everywhere. A little mischief and you will land in prison.” I displayed my best behaviour during my Shanghai stay.

On our journey to Beijing, when I was denied boarding pass, I wondered whether I had waved at any surveillance cameras. But when told that my name on the ticket and the passport didn’t match, I felt relieved. Finding my family and middle names had been shortened in the ticket, I smiled and tried to explain in vain to the English illiterate clerk. Exasperated, I located a bilingual Chinaman and sought his help. When he convinced her, she issued the boarding card warning that if the security refuses me entry, it is not her problem.

The tough policewoman at the security gate, held me back. I ran to the check-in counter and brought an airline official for help. We were asked to see the Police Superintendent. Meanwhile the boarding for my flight was announced and the thoughts of getting stranded loomed large. I began praying to the Chinese god. He came in the shape of the superintendent and allowed my exit.

After my return to India, my friend told me that I was lucky to be back unscathed. He asked me whether I would ever think of going to China again. I said, “Of course, aren’t Hindi-Chini bhai bhais once again? I will get my name shortened in my passport and visit there again and again.”