HYDERABAD: Having finished the crucial task of filing my complaint at the police station, we moved on to the more vital next step: getting an emergency certificate (a temporary passport that would enable one to go back to the home country, valid just for one journey) from the Indian Consulate in Hamburg. The traveller in me was eager to see one more city, despite the existing situation.
As we reached Bremen Hauptbahnhof (train station), the icy winds chilled my bones. The previous evening I clicked many pictures in the small but glittering Christmas market in front of the imposing building (1847). My eyes started looking for the two criminals (they bought many train tickets using my debit card, obviously to sell them later). Then I wondered why the police officer didn’t quite comply when I suggested that we inspect the footage from the cameras installed in the train station. Paul said don’t insist on it, police won’t like anyone doing ‘their’ job.
In the train, Paul sat across the table, next to a pleasant, friendly lady who was knitting. When he started talking to her with much familiarity, joking and laughing, the lady responded with equal warmth and wit. I thought they knew each other before. No, but in small towns, I think people don’t mind connecting with strangers easily. A journey of an hour and a half went on smoothly, as she generously shared her knitting techniques. She said she knits continuously, for her four children and husband (maybe that’s how she knits her family together!). Her son’s girlfriend, too, is happy to receive knitted gifts from her.
The Indian Consulate in Hamburg is located in a quiet, upmarket neighbourhood. Familiar Indian faces welcomed us with a reassuring nod (they are quite used to Indians coming to them in desolation). It was lunchtime. The ambiance filled with Indian art, and the familiar ‘khana’ sounds and smells coming from the adjoining wing, made me feel at home. We waited patiently for the right person to come and do the right things to put my life on the right track again.
As I narrated my sad tale, it was received with “Oh! It’s so common these days, happens all the time, you’re not alone,” etc., gave me the reassurance that I badly required. Paul felt a bit left out, as he was not much needed (we were talking mostly in Hindi and Indian English).
After the lunch hour, everyone plunged into action-forms filled, Xeroxed, calls made, confirmed and I kept producing proof after proof and the ‘process’ began. In between, each would talk to me, feeding my curiosity about the Indian diaspora living in Germany. Menezes has been working at the consulate for the last 38 years and hails from Udupi. His children settled down in Germany. Is he happy here? He says, “Yes, except for the cold!” Rajat Sarkar was here last 22 years and another man from Pondicherry was here for almost a decade. They all like Germany. The process was going on at a good pace, thanks to the helpful staff.
Paul and I stepped out into the freezing outdoors to take my pictures in the nearby photo studio (owners from Karolbagh -Delhi, who migrated to Germany to do pizza business, settled down and diversified into various trades).
Their son specialised in visa photos, the show window had some flashy wedding gowns for sale. His young wife took 13 shots; none of them right, the young man stepped in and finished the job with one perfect shot. Only that morning I dropped my golden earring (adding further to my woes). The picture, of course, looked odd with just one ear adorned and the other, plain: it was time to drop my vanity and get on with the mission.
Rajat Sarkar, the main person accelerated things, in between stressing how important and crucial was the task on hand, warning me every time to realise the severity of the situation – all the while telling us how the Indian Consulate receives many such applications every day from people whose passports are “stolen”, not “lost”.
Meanwhile, Paul walked back again, to pick up our food (from a Thai restaurant that was two streets away) where we ordered to save time.
Sitting in the Indian Consulate, on German soil, I ate the best Thai meal of my life. It’s a small world after all, with huge gastronomic pleasures!
Sarkar handed me my emergency certificate with multiple instructions of how to show it everywhere, but never to part with it. The final warning being, “Never argue with the government”. I remembered the episode of a girl whose passport was torn at the Tibetan- Chinese border by an irate immigration official. Midnight phone calls and intervention released the stranded victim. I nodded obediently - of course, I wouldn’t even open my mouth; will be meek as a mouse and shall put up my best behaviour.
On the way back, I clicked pictures of the well decked up Hamburg train station. That night, we joined the group at Osnabrück - they all welcomed me with warm hugs. My journey continued with Osnabrück, Münster and Soest - I left behind the bad episode and fully enjoyed rest of the trip.
The tremendous help, strength and moral support that I received from Paul (Germany), Birgitte and Line (Denmark), Damjana (Croatia), Patricia (Brazil) and other teammates touched me deeply. They all did their best to keep me cheerful and brave all through my crisis.
Back home, I applied for a passport, the police enquiry was done in a day, and my passport was delivered in five days. My Schengen visa, too, was reissued in flat three days time. I am all set to venture into the world again!
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; blogs at www.vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.