February 22, 2020
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Latitude Nowhere

Latitude Nowhere
Whenever I suggest a Diary column from outside the country, the editor says, "Give it an Indian angle." Well, the Indian angle to this column is that there is no Indian angle. Let me explain. When Werner Fornos, an old friend and winner of the prestigious United Nations Population Award, invited me to a conference at Moldova, my response was, "Where the hell is Moldova?" Moldova has neither an embassy, nor a consulate, not even an honorary consul, in India. So, how to get a visa? I received the not-very-helpful response that the closest Moldovan embassy was in Beijing. Luckily, a flight from New Delhi to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, was via Vienna, where Moldova did have an embassy.

Which is where I found myself at 7.45 am one morning, nervously waiting for it to open. To my surprise and delight, I got my visa within a few minutes. But when I arrived in Chisinau, the lady at the immigration counter scrutinised my passport for a good five minutes. Through the glass partition, I saw her hand it to her colleagues who took turns in examining it, while gesticulating animatedly. After about half a hour, long after all the other passengers had been cleared, she returned and asked me in broken English, "You come from Istanbul, no?" When I replied, "New Delhi, not Istanbul," she looked confused. Two things became clear. One, she suspected me of being a Turk trying to get into Moldova illegally. And, secondly, she had never heard of New Delhi because her next question was, "When you return Istanbul?" Unless somebody challenges me to the contrary, I lay claim to being the first non-diplomat Indian to have entered Moldova since it broke away from the Soviet Union and became an independent republic in 1991.

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