Is there something wrong with my physical appearance, my hairstyle (what hair??) or my unfashionable clothes that I almost always get picked upon by British Indian Immigration Officers when I enter the portals of the UK Border Agency - this time - for the first time - at Birmingham Airport? I'm not colour conscious but this is the sixth time or more, that I have been given an unwarranted strong-arm treatment by a British Indian Immigration Officer.
Normally at Heathrow, I would join the queue for British and EC Passports. Some years ago, I was told I could take this channel as I had a "Settled with Spouse" Visa ( a Permanent Resident status). That was a relief as the queue at the "Other Passports" was usually interminably long. It's similar to Immigration at KLIA where PRs and Malaysian Nationals are accorded the same status.
But not this time. As soon as we approached the queue, the British Indian "Immigration Officer" made a bee line for me ( and the spouse too) and smartly directed the both of us to the line for "Other Passports". We protested (very, very mildly) in English - that Iain was a British Passport holder, a Bumiputera so to speak. He was not an imported Brit!- that of course was not articulated or else accusations of racism would have hit the roof!
He also added that his wife ( the wife bit was strongly stressed) had a "Settled with Spouse" Visa. But no - she pointed us to the same channel. We were exhausted after an almost 24 hour journey from KL and zombie-like we did what we were told. We were not that groggy to remember that one must not question anyone in a Uniform - even a Security Guard at a Shopping Centre.
In the queue, a young Chinese lass next to us asked why we were in that particular channel - that we, especially the spouse who was certainly not an "Other" should go to the other shorter queue? This young lass knocked some sense into our woozy heads and we approached the "Immigration Officer" again. But no - she was adamant that we stay in the channel she had decided for us.
We reluctantly proceeded as directed but by this time the fuggy clouds in the head were beginning to clear and we sought this Immigration Lady again and explained our situation again. In exasperation, she retorted that as she was not an immigration officer(????) - we should ask the Immigration officer at the Desk at the end of the queue. Well, the lady (in impressive uniform) had certainly been taking Immigration matters into her own hands, at a strategic entry point. And with great authority and forcefulness too!
So why didn't she tell us that earlier? Why were other "Asians" or rather British Indians not re-directed or challenged when they funneled into the line for "British Passports"? And even more puzzling, the spouse who looked as native English as 'steak and kidney pie' was even instructed to not go to his country's channel!! Where I'm concerned, that's to be expected - an alien like me??!!! But an elderly man who was clearly a Bumiputera??
So we took up the 'queue' that we deserved. But that was not the end of the story.
This time, the 'as English as bacon butty' Officer began to grill me. But he was not as bolshie and bad-tempered as the Lady British Indian "Immigration" Officer. Rather, he had the panache of a culture that was used to regarding natives as non-persons. My Abah described it as a culture that would "cut off the ground from under your feet and make you thank them for it" - he was describing what the British did to his Tanah Air - the Malay Peninsula.
My SWS (Settled with Spouse) visa was located in an old Passport together with other earlier Student Visas which had of course expired. He flicked through the pages of the Passport several times - took a good look at my visage (what a thankless task) - and to soothe my nerves I try to imagine what he looked like when he's on the loo - in his Uniform.
He mentioned that my visa had 'expired' so I had to ask him to refer (ever so nicely - 'think of him on the loo'- I told myself) to my very official-looking SWS Visa which granted me indefinite stay. But no, he wanted other evidence. "There's nothing here,"he said, "that mentions índefinite stay." Well, that was odd - there was, and the visa had worked for me for nearly thirty years already! I flashed out another old passport which indicated the same SWS Visa - but not quite as attractive as the original visa which was given to me at the British High Commission in Singapore after we got hitched. Another diligent perusal and another vision (for me) of a uniformed man on a loo.
The spouse was by my side to provide significant (?) details like how long we've been married, how I've resided in this country for 30 years and that every few months we leave for Malaysia for medical treatment.
"So when was the last time you left?" I was then asked. After my answer, he added another query. "Did you leave on your own?"
I reckoned I had had enough and sternly asserted, "My husband has cancer. I never travel without him."
And hence the pearly gates opened!!
Not quite broken, we went to pick up our luggage. We looked for a trolley - found some huddled in a row. But sorry matey - you have to pay GBP1 for the privilege. Typically, the system didn't work: one African lady made an official complaint about losing her change, and the spouse managed to extract two trolleys for a quid. How very, very British: they can't even do stinginess with style!
The weather was bright and sunny. The air was cool and bracing. The trees, full of autumn colour, were beginning to lose their leaves. I love this part of my husband's tanah air.
But this country is still Yah, Boo, (and) Sucks!!!