When Borders Keep Us Apart

Spring in Paris

Last April was a joyful time for our family. We spent a few days in Paris with Appa‘s parents and my whole French family. The occasion was the marathon that a few of us had signed up for. I did not get to complete it because of a training stress fracture but Appa, my brother, and my cousin all crossed the finish line.

The morning of the marathon was crisp and bright. Paris looked especially lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed starting the race with Appa on Champs Elysées and running the first eight kilometers I had allowed myself to cover. Cheering our runners along the Seine with the kids was also exhilarating. Later that day we strolled in the Tuileries park where Minette asked me to take the picture above.

But there was a shadow in our happiness. Appa’s sister and her husband and son had booked their tickets to join us from England, where they live, but they had eventually had to cancel their trip. My nephew’s Indian passport renewal had taken longer than expected and, by the time he had received it, it was too late to get him a Schengen visa in due time. We explored all express options available to no avail.

Not getting together was not a tragedy, of course. Nothing at all compared to what migrant families can go through when they are denied the right to cross a border. But it was sad and disappointing all the same. It would have been the first time Appa’s sister and her family met my folks so it really did matter to us all. It doubly mattered to Thatha and Aachi who had not seen their daughter and grandson for a year, though they did not complain about that.

This incident got me thinking about the fact that the members of our family are citizens of different countries (India, France, Britain, and the USA), which has implications. Because these countries are not all part of the same political ensemble we are not entirely free to be together whenever we are so inclined.

We may belong to the same family, be just a few hundreds miles away, have booked our tickets, and still not be able to get together because some paperwork got stuck in an inaccessible pipe and no one cares to take that into account. What we experienced was just a glitch but it still left a bad taste in my mouth : the taste of almighty bureaucracy and how it can constrain and affect families like ours — a taste reminiscent of some of our previous visa stories.

Fortunately, Appa’s sister has decided to make it up and will visit with her husband and son when we stay at my parents’ later this summer — yes, this time the paperwork is all done and stamped. They will get to meet Grand-Père, Grand-Mère, and Minette’s French cousins for the first time, which we look forward to. Our April disappointment will surely fade away after we reach this milestone. Still, I hope we will retain some of it, as a sliver of understanding of much more daunting obstacles met by other trans-national families now and in the past…

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