Kolkata, India – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

Victoria Memorial
Victoria Memorial

At the end of four months in Southeast Asia, we found ourselves being beckoned back to India for further immigration work. Our idea was simple. Our return was supposed to mark the halfway point of our year of travel. We’d have two weeks in Kolkata and then head to the far north of the country till we heard further from immigration. We were excited. We wanted to see family. We wanted to ‘recharge our batteries’ after months of being on the move, being in unfamiliar environments and only eating outside food. This brief time in Kolkata was going to knock off a bunch of items on our checklist all while sharing some laughs with family and before we knew it, we’d be off yet again exploring a part of the region we were yet to see.

Unfortunately, the reality was much more complicated. As enjoyable as it was to experience certain creature comforts and to spend time with family, our plan was overly simplified. We grossly underestimated the challenges we would face with getting one simple document, the bureaucracy behind immigration and how much this whole process would overshadow our stay. Really, our frustrations were nothing but a reflection of the lengthy process of working with government institutions and we count our blessings that Devika’s family was there to help us through our struggles. Sadly instead of being more present, our time and energy were consumed by visits to different government offices and trying to navigate getting a police certificate in India.

The process was just never ending. It was as if we were stuck in a labyrinth of paperwork and lines and despite our best efforts, there never seemed to be an end in sight. We’d stand in one queue after another for hours on end, trying to get the opportunity to have our case heard amongst two thousand other applicants on the same day. Lines would snake down two flights of staircases wrapping around caged elevator shafts in old office buildings and continue out the door for half a block down crowded streets. At some offices, people would start queuing as early as four AM for office doors that didn’t open for another six hours. We would wait in crowds outside of gates in the midday sun, sweating it out, just waiting for someone to let us through. Then, once we finally got to the designated officer with his single rotary fan hovering up above amidst stacks of papers and everything had been filled out properly… some new error in our file would arise. Contradictory information would be provided by different government employees on our file and on the next procedures. We’d be back in the lines again. Weeks would be spent getting approval to have parts of our application revised online with no provisions nor knowledge within the office of how to revise something online. And so it went on… Our hopes would be raised at the beginning of each week just to get dashed by the end… The whole process was just depressing and it pulled us down…

Lines outside of the Regional Passport Office
Lines outside of the Regional Passport Office

For someone with a clean record, the system treated her like a criminal and for someone who just wanted to be moving forward, it made me feel like we were stagnating. This whole process became yet another learning experience for us, particularly because it challenged us in ways that rocked our very foundation. It deconstructed our pillars of love in ways that we never thought imaginable. This one stage of our entire immigration process seemed to dwarf the discomforts and adjustment period of us merging our travel habits and sent us further and further into spirals of even higher highs and lower lows. It seemed to accentuate our differences and lead to more and more conflict and in doing so, it resulted in us blaming each other for how things were going and where we were in our lives. It is fair to say, that for the total of ten weeks that we were back in Kolkata in the end, we had to really work hard to get ourselves out of the negative space that immigration dragged us through.

Traffic police in downtown Kolkata

But there was a silver lining to our time in Kolkata. The beauty of this whole process, was that through these challenges, we came out of it pretty strong. It forced us to be consciously aware of how we handle each others’ coping mechanisms. It made us readdress how we communicate. It forced us to consciously be more optimistic. Not naive nor hopeful, but positive. Instead of feeling worn out and agitated by our second or third four hour wait at a government office, we would start to view them as opportunities to work on that book that had been pending or to enjoy wandering in parts of the city that had yet to be explored. We took courses online. We kept ourselves busy and our bodies active. And most importantly, we stopped blaming each other for where we weren’t and started to appreciate that we were only experiencing these new places because we were in each others’ lives – whether in Southeast Asia or the hidden neighborhoods of Kolkata.

Thankfully, after two months of back and forth we were finally able to get everything sorted. The weight that came off our shoulders felt great. We were exhausted by the process, but we could finally continue traveling on and knowing that the north of India was on the horizon was both exciting and intimidating. Yet another unknown…

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One Comment

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  1. Very well written, Charlie! So much relief that it is all over now 🙂 The Pics were great and captures the changing moods!

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