My Story

That wrench­ing feel­ing of sign­ing your na­tion­al­ity away

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - BY Rima Datta Rima Datta di­vides her time be­tween Goa and Ger­many. She loves na­ture and is sad­dened by the pace of ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Rima also en­joys writ­ing po­etry.

It was a hot day in May 2010 when I stopped be­ing an In­dian. Of­fi­cially. It hap­pened in a musty lit­tle of­fice of the im­mi­gra­tion and nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion au­thor­ity in the Ger­man city that had come to be my home.

I was early for my 3pm ap­point­ment with the of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for Ein­bürgerung (nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion). As I waited to go in, I felt weighed down by the enor­mity of what was about to hap­pen.

It had been a long road that had brought me to this door: a childhood and youth in India, through univer­sity and a 14-year stay in the US and fi­nally to a life of 25 years in Ger­many. I’d been rooted and up­rooted sev­eral times, but this is where I’d lived the long­est – where I’d strug­gled to master a for­eign lan­guage; where I’d found work and made new friends; where I’d brought up my son, largely on my own; and learnt to be truly in­de­pen­dent.

Yet, in all those years, I’d hung on to my In­dian cit­i­zen­ship, am­biva­lent about giv­ing it up in spite of the dif­fi­cul­ties I faced be­cause of it – the in­abil­ity to vote and the prob­lems with in­ter­na­tional travel be­ing the most im­por­tant ones.

Now, ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment, I re­alised I’d like to spend more time in India, where I also have a house, fam­ily and friends. I was afraid, though, that an ab­sence of more than six months could re­sult in a loss of my res­i­dent sta­tus in Ger­many, which over the years had come to be my home. Am­biva­lent though I was,

I knew I couldn’t af­ford to let this door to Ger­many close for­ever and, given that dual cit­i­zen­ship was not per­mit­ted, I knew of no other way of keep­ing it open.

At 3pm I knocked gen­tly on the door and went in. The of­fi­cial, an un­smil­ing mid­dle-aged wo­man with grey­ing hair and a raspy smoker’s voice, asked me to take a seat while she got my file out. I felt un­ac­count­ably tense as if I were there to be as­sessed once again. The manda­tory writ­ten test was be­hind me, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have to pass some sort of in­spec­tion to prove my­self wor­thy of the cit­i­zen­ship that was about to be con­ferred upon me. I wor­ried that I would fail. To con­trol my nerves, I forced my­self to look around the of­fice. There were a few small plants and non­de­script art prints. The only pic­ture that stood out was a face, round as a ball, by avant-garde artist Paul Klee called Marked Man, which is di­vided into var­i­ously coloured sec­tions. How ap­pro­pri­ate, I thought! A sec­tioned face, sym­bolic of the im­mi­grants who sit in this chair, their souls bro­ken into the colours of the cul­tures they come from, their mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties, their di­vided hearts.

I was sur­prised by her first ques­tion. “Have you brought your last salary state­ment?”

“No, I thought the salary state­ments from last year were enough.”

“Well, that was four months ago!” she said with a dis­ap­prov­ing look, and I knew that I’d al­ready failed, that I’d been found want­ing.

“Should I come back some other day?” I asked quickly.

“No, no, that’s all right,” she said grudg­ingly, want­ing to get the whole thing over with. “We can go on. Just make sure you bring it to me later.”

So, on we went.

She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to read it out loud. It was a half-page of text in Ger­man. I started read­ing it, but she in­ter­rupted me, say­ing, “Please read it all … in­clud­ing the place and date.” So I started again, stum­bling in­ex­pli­ca­bly over words I knew well. It was an oath I was read­ing, swear­ing to be loyal to this country and to ob­serve all the du­ties of a cit­i­zen.

Then, hand­ing me her pen, she said, “Sign here,” tap­ping on the bot­tom of the page I’d just read.

And so, with one stroke of her pen, I signed my old na­tion­al­ity away.

My eyes were too full of tears to read the cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cate she handed me. We shook hands to seal the deal. That was all the cer­e­mony there was to it. No pho­to­graph, no fan­fare – just a dry hand­shake. Try­ing to ex­plain my tears I said, it was a huge schritt (step) in my life and, at the same time, a ter­ri­ble schnitt (cut).

The lady looked sur­prised at that, but agreed that it was a very im­por­tant step. “You must be will­ing to give some­thing up to get some­thing else,” she said sanc­ti­mo­niously.

I watched sadly as she took my old In­dian pass­port away and slipped it into a plastic en­ve­lope to be sent to the In­dian con­sulate in Mu­nich.

“Can I get it back af­ter it’s been can­celled?” I asked.

“That’s some­thing you’ll have to ask the In­dian con­sulate,” she said. “It’s their prop­erty, not ours. And cer­tainly not yours!” This last bit was said with a cer­tain amount of ve­he­mence.

Ear­lier, I had taken my In­dian pass­port out of my bag one last time and run my fin­gers over the golden em­blem em­bossed on the dark blue cover and flipped through the much-stamped pages, curl­ing slightly at the edges. All the coun­tries I’d been to – the US, Switzer­land, South Africa, Le­sotho, Bhutan, Mex­ico – all with their own visas, en­try and depar­ture stamps in dif­fer­ent colours.

This pass­port had con­firmed my iden­tity as an In­dian na­tional. It’s what I’d held in my hands when I’d stood in var­i­ous con­sulate lines to get visas, in lines at air­ports, while Ger­mans, Amer­i­cans, Bri­tish cit­i­zens, just walked through with the breezy con­fi­dence of ‘first-world’ cit­i­zens.

There would be none of that any­more, now that I had joined their ranks. Like them, I could live in Ger­many in­def­i­nitely, vote, go in and out of Eu­rope and travel to most coun­tries around the world with­out need­ing a visa. I, too, had be­come a first-world cit­i­zen!

Why then, in­stead of re­joic­ing, did I feel so sad?

Do you have a tale to tell? We’ll pay cash for any orig­i­nal and un­pub­lished story we print. See page 8 for de­tails on how to con­trib­ute.

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