Alien troubles
M. Rajivlochan

The Death of a Passport
by Iqbal Ramoowalia. Ajanta, Delhi. Pages 239. Rs 150.

The Death of a PassportPunjabis never went in search of El Dorado, the famous land which the 16th century Spaniards thought existed in South America. For good reason too: they knew that the land of immense wealth and opportunity did not exist in South America. It existed in the north and included both USA and Canada. Ever since the Punjabis determined its location they have spared no efforts to obtain a share of that wealth and partake of its opportunities.

Realising that there was much demand for their land, the Americans began to place a lot of legal restrictions on those who wanted to come in. Obligations and constraints imposed by law, however, have seldom been enough to stop Punjabis from doing what they think is right. That often resulted in immense difficulties for those who circumvent the law in order to reach America.

Difficulties never did deter a good Punjabi. But there are some who think that even those who are willing to face difficulties ought to take them on with wisdom. One such person is Iqbal Ramoowalia, a noted poet from Punjab, currently based in Canada, who has sought to apprise fellow Punjabis of the problems that await them should they reach Canada without proper authorisation. His chosen medium for this purpose is a small, easily read novel The Death of a Passport.

It recounts the travails of a girl Seema, who is abandoned in Canada by her husband of brief standing. The husband retains her only child, leaving her all alone to cope. The option of returning to India is closed. So she has to somehow make it in Canada. This takes her through a series of unfortunate adventures. There are enough opportunities of earning a decent livelihood.

In the absence of valid authorisation, however, she cannot use these opportunities. Fortunately, she bumps into men, Punjabis all, who are willing to help her and give her work without caring for the legalities. In return they ask for sexual favours. When their businesses go through a difficult patch, then the first to be discharged, without any further security, is Seema. For, she is the only one who does not have protection of the law. In the end, having tried desperately to acquire legitimate status in Canada, she destroys the passport that would have allowed her to remain. The only option left for her is deportation.

Iqbal Ramoowalia tells the story in a simple and unpretentious way. Those who read stories for their word play may not enjoy the simplicity and starkness of Ramoowalia’s narrative.