Packing your bags for India?
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Seeking spirituality and a Visa
The author Evald Flisar, on his arduous journey from Slovenia to India
‘Down my road’ has meant many things in my varied and busy life, but recently it has become “down the road to getting an Indian visa”. I first came to this astonishing country in 1974, during an overland journey from Australia to England that lasted almost a year. Needless to say, I fell in love with what I found and have since been back 16 times for longer or shorter periods. I would come as a backpacker, a student of Buddhism and Hinduism, a spiritual seeker, and for the last 12 years to attend the Indian productions of my stage plays (seven produced so far) or the inaugurations of the Indian editions of my books (12 published so far!).
Some people say that I am half Indian by now. That may be true, but I still need an Indian visa. It has never been difficult to obtain one, but recently it has turned into a nightmare. To get one from the consular section of the Indian Embassy in Slovenia, you have to turn up in person with a filled-in application form, two square (2×2) recent photographs with a white background, bank statements for the last six months to prove that during your stay in India you can support yourself, with your fingers intact because you will be finger-printed, a passport of course, and with 193 EURO in cash to pay for the visa (no credit cards!). It is somewhat easier and cheaper to get an e-visa from the comfort of your home, but even there you can only narrowly avoid a fit of rage when you discover that in Slovenia nobody makes square passport photos with a white background, and that for uploading the photo (once you manage to get one with the help of at least four clever friends) the JPEG has to be more than 10 KB and less than 100 KB, and that a PDF of the passport must not exceed 300 KB or be less than 20 KB.
And then the real trouble starts down your road to India. Filling in the application form. They want to know which places you want to visit, and why, which countries you have visited in the last 10 years, and all about your mother, father, wife and employer, education and the sort of work you do or have done in the past, and quite a few things besides, including the address of your stay in India. You may intend to visit seven different places, but under “address in India” the form will allow you to enter only one (for example, Ashok Hotel, New Delhi). You may be retired, but the form insists on entering the name and address of your employer, even their phone number! What to do? There is a list of countries that you may click for place of birth and nationality for yourself, your wife, your father and your mother, but my father and mother were born before the First World War in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there is no such country on the list! So you have to improvise and click Yugoslavia, which also no longer exists, but is at least on the list, and clickable. And then, after giving your credit card details to god knows who, you are promised to receive your e-visa within 72 hours. Something unexpected happens: the visa arrives by e-mail within three hours! And you can visit India for the 17th time! Even though, while filling in the form, you were forced to lie, and not only once.
Evald Flisar, the most widely translated Slovenian author, has so far visited 98 countries.
Footnote: Hampi beckons: