You speak Arabic don’t you?

Thursday 23rd July 2015

Landed. Much of what happens when I travel seems to play itself over as variations on a theme.

Immigration. Two Arab officials chatting very animatedly to each other in Arabic.

Like a practised dance he checks my passport and then spots my birth place – Kerala.

‘Do you speak Malayalam?’ he says to me in my mother tongue.  It is not his first language but he speaks it almost fluently.

For anyone not familiar with Malayalam, the rolling of the tongue, its water like properties, they are fairly difficult to mimick.

He tries again – ‘Where have you come from today?’  This time I lend him a hand with the correct vocabulary.

He delights in practising phrase after phrase, recalls his story of living in Calicut for 3 years during his BCom.  Tells me, ‘You speak Arabic don’t you?’

I report in the negative, he looks at me in confusion.  ‘But your surname is Basheer, it is Muslim, from the Holy Book’.  I confess I do not know the origins of my surname though I of course know it links me to my religion.  Just like my Christian name betrays me as, well, Christian.
He looks again at my passport, confused.  It is not the first (nor I suspect the last) time this confusion takes place.

In Kerala many moons ago, a similarly curious immigration official takes note of my name and asks if my parents are from two different religions.  I look at him utterly perplexed- is this guy for real?!  How exactly does this decide whether I can enter my homeland?

It transpires it does not.  He was curious, nosy others might say, and clearly thought me some love child of a hostile and hidden marriage.  Alas, I am not.  Just a regular Joe, born in regular conditions with very regular parents.

Still, I smile.  Connections- they are everywhere.  And once again I am reminded of that fundamental truth- really, we are all the same.

I’ll Amen to that.

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