I’m in India. Now that I’m here I don’t want to leave. Not because I love the masala dosas or because of the number of marriage proposals I constantly get from rickshaw drivers but because I’m worried if I leave, I’ll never be allowed back in.
It took me six months to get a visa to come and perform in India. The first time I rang the visa office in London and asked the woman, “How long will it take to process?”
She said normally it takes three to five working days for a tourist visa, or a business visa can be dispatched within a day.
I said, “Ok great”.
She said, “What’s your name?”
I said, “Shazia Mirza.”
She said, “Oh!”
There was a silence on the phone. I became worried, ‘Had I insulted this woman at one of my gigs? Did she not like my comedy? Was I on the black list for India?’
“You’re Pakistani?” She asked.
“No, I’m British.”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are your parents from?”
“That means you’re Pakistani.”
“No, I’m British, I have a British passport. I love bad weather, queuing and misery, I’m definitely British.
My parents also have British passports and have not lived in Pakistan for 50 years.”
“I’m afraid, Ms Mirza, you are Pakistani and I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a visa. People of Pakistani heritage are not being allowed into the country under the normal procedure. At the moment I have a man who’s been waiting a year to get into India because his parents are of Pakistani origin.”
I reacted calmly and shouted, “You prejudiced bigot. What are you talking about?” Which is not like me at all, normally I would act very British and write a letter of complaint. But I was shocked at the blatant discrimination.
“I’m not coming to your country to set up a training camp; I just want to make your country laugh!”
“I’m sorry but I don’t make the rules, it is the Indian Government that has decided this.”
Imagine if we applied this procedure to other parts of the world. It’s like someone from the British government saying, “I’m sorry Madam, you can’t come in because you parents are French.
“But I’m Mexican, I was born in Mexico.”
“But your parents are French, and they are renowned trouble makers so I’m afraid you’re not allowed in.”
I’m being punished for my parent’s nationality. Haven’t I been punished enough?
My mother was actually born in India before partition, her parents were killed in the war of Independence in 1947 by the Indians – and they’re not letting me in? Maybe they think I’m coming to take revenge and kill people with my obscene jokes.
She said, “What is your occupation?”
“You know, ha ha ha”
She had never heard of the word comedian and was not letting me in because my parents were Pakistani - I’m not sure if India was the place for me.
My first show was in Pune, and when I told the audience about the difficulty in getting a visa, they roared with laughter. They thought it was a joke.
Later that night after the show, I was talking to an Indian woman who had a German husband and was shocked when I told her it had taken me six months to get a visa just because my parents were originally from Pakistan.
She said, “My husband is German and they let him in no problem.”
I explained to her that Hitler was now dead, but people seem to think he has been re-incarnated back as a Pakistani. Germany is not as scary as Pakistan anymore. She said, “Really, are you serious? Is that why they’re not letting any of your people in?”
My people? I don’t own them; I’m not even the leader. I don’t represent anyone, and moreover, I don’t think these people would want me to represent them. I just want to tell some jokes.
The shows have been great, the audiences wonderful. Men, women young, old, middle class, not-so middle class. It’s been everyone, all up for a good laugh, everyone laughing at each other, no one individual group of people being attacked, no one offended. When I told friends I was going to India to perform they said, “You’d better be careful people might be easily offended.”
Why? It’s not like I’m smuggling the entire passport-less population of Pakistan in a cling filmed suitcase with me. The Indian people didn’t treat me any differently because my parents are from Pakistan, they treated me just great.
Let’s not judge a country by its Government, let’s judge it by its people.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Shazia Mirza is an award winning stand-up comedian and writer. She has performed all over the world. A columnist for The Guardian UK, she was named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious PPA Awards. Find out more from her website. Follow her on Twitter @shaziamirza1.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.