A few weeks before my trip to Pakistan in 1991, I suddenly realized that my Pakistani passport was going to expire. I had two choices, either to get a tourist visa for Pakistan on my Canadian passport, or renew my Pakistani passport and enter Pakistan as a Pakistani national. I liked the idea of having a dual citizenship as it made me feel like the citizen of the world, so I renewed my Pakistani passport.

I bought the Pakistan International Airlines ticket and boarded the plane for Pakistan. In the past I had traveled through other airlines but then I had to stop for a day in Europe. PIA had started a direct flight from Toronto to Lahore. I did not realize that the direct flight was 26 hours long and had to touch New York, Damascus and Karachi. The flight was so long, that my feet became swollen, by sitting in one place. I arrived at Karachi airport with nearly three hundred passengers at 2am. We had to clear the customs and immigration before we could fly to Lahore. My connecting flight was at 6am.

There were two lines at the airport, one line for Pakistani nationals and the other for foreigners. Since I was entering Pakistan as a Pakistani national, I joined the first line. Everybody was yawning and feeling tired. After an hour or so of waiting I came close to the Immigration Officer. The gentleman ahead of me gave him his passport and I overheard their dialogue,

Officer: This is your new passport?

Traveler: Yes, Sir.

Officer: When did you get it?

Traveler: Last month.

Officer: Where is your old one?

Traveler: I left it in Texas

Officer: Why is that?

Traveler: I thought I did not need it since I get a new one.

Officer: But you cannot enter the country on a new one until you have the old one.

Traveler: I did not know that. But why is that?

Officer: Because you are supposed to carry your old passport for two years. We would   like to know when you last left the country. These rules are written in your passport. You are supposed to read them carefully.

Traveler: I am sorry sir. I have not visited Pakistan in a long time.

I was listening to that conversation and asking myself what would I tell him. I was exactly in the same circumstances because I had also left my old passport in Toronto. I did not think I needed it. I stood there anxiously waiting for the outcome.

The officer thought for a while and then said, “ I will let you enter Pakistan this time but you should be careful in the future.” Hearing the verdict I felt relieved and hopeful. But before he stamped the passport the immigration officer from the other line called for help and the officer serving us got up and left before my turn came. It could not be any more unfortunate than that. In a few seconds the whole situation had changed and I knew I was in trouble.

The new officer looked reserved and serious even angry. He showed no compassion. He told me that my entry in the country was illegal and I could not be let in without my old passport. He handed me over to his supervisor, who also had a dictatorial attitude. Without asking me any questions, he ordered me in a stern voice to pick up my bags and wait in a special waiting room. He told me that I had to appear in front of the Special Immigration Court and present my case. I tried to explain but he walked away. I felt insulted and humiliated but he did not care. He had the attitude of an executioner.

I picked up my bags from the conveyor belt and went to the special waiting room. There were two other men sitting in the waiting room. One looked angry the other sad. I took out my book from my bag and started reading it as I knew I had to wait there for a couple of hours.

One of the passengers, who looked angry, got up and started pacing back and forth like a restless lion in a cage. He could see his family from a distance waving, not knowing, what trouble he was in. When a security officer passed by, this young restless man could not resist asking a question. I could not hear the question but I overheard the loud answer, “ If you had offered the officer a gift of twenty American dollars, you might not have been held.” I chuckled when I heard a bribe being called a gift. “It is an art to bribe.” I thought,  “Even after living in Pakistan for the first twenty four years of my life, I could not learn the art, I had not even tried to learn it. That was one reason I never felt at home in the social environment of Pakistan.”

After a few minutes one of the supervisors passed by. The restless young man approached him also. The supervisor, who was in a foul mood said, “Go and sit down quietly. You have to appear in the Special Immigration Court. You should cooperate with them and if you showed any attitude they have the authority to put you in jail for two weeks.” The young man looked scared and quickly sat down imagining the worst outcome.

After a couple of hours, when all the passengers had left, the immigration officers got together in a room to start the proceedings of the Special Immigration Court and invited the problem cases one by one. There were two people called ahead of me. They did not come back so there was no way for me to find out if they were released, sent to jail or asked to go back to where they came from.

When my name was called, I quietly got up, put my book in my bag and walked towards the Immigration Court. I was not sure whether I should be apologetic or play tough. For some mysterious reason, I decided to talk in English. When I entered the office, I saw one officer sitting behind the table and the other four sitting on the side. The atmosphere in the room felt indifferent.

The officer sitting behind the table picked up my passport from the pile and asked me, “What is your problem?”

I responded in a gentle tone, “ I have been living in Canada for thirteen years. I am a Canadian citizen. When I decided to visit Pakistan I felt nostalgic. I thought it would be better to renew my passport and visit as a Pakistani rather than come as a tourist on a Canadian passport. I did not know I had to carry my old passport as well. In Canada when we have a new passport we do not carry our old passport.”

The officer was silent for a few seconds. He seemed impressed by my English.

“What do you do in Canada?” he seemed curious.

“I am a psychiatrist”

Suddenly he jumped in his chair with excitement. His eyes lit up.

“Psychiatrist” he mumbled “Do you know palmistry?” What a strange question I thought. The only thing he could associate with psychiatry was palmistry.

“Yes, I do.” I decided to play the game.

I remembered the last occasion when I had chosen to play the game and acted as a palmist for the hospital festival to collect donations for the charity. I had seen twenty palms of twenty charming women and collected nearly two hundred dollars as a donation for the Women’s Shelter that looked after the abused women.

The officer put my passport on the table and extended his arm towards me. I held his hand, stared at his palm for a few seconds, scratched my head and said, “You have a very interesting palm. You are a lucky person. I see good health and a long life. There are two interesting things.”

“What are they?” The officer could not resist. I could feel that he was emotionally engaged in the process.

“The first thing is that you are due for a promotion. But I can see a problem.”

“What is the problem?”

“One of your colleagues is very jealous and does not want you to get promoted.”

The officer looked at the other officers, winked and then said, “ That Jabbar, son of a bitch. He hates my guts.” And they all laughed loud. I could feel the tension in the room disappearing and I felt relaxed. I was being successful in wiggling my way out of a difficult situation.

“What is the other thing?” The officer asked.

“I am not sure whether I should say it. It is personal.” I wanted to test waters.

“Go, ahead, doctor. You are among friends.” I felt reassured.

“There is a young charming woman who likes you but she is too shy to express her feelings. You have to discover her yourself.”

“Is that Sophia, your cousin?” One of the officers asked.

“Or Sameera, your sister-in-law?” the other hinted.

“Wonderful, wonderful” The officer shouted in euphoria. “You are a wonderful psychiatrist. You can have your passport.”

I was so happy to have charmed the officer. I got up, picked up my passport and started walking to go out. But before I reached the door, one of the other officers who was sitting on the side, came forward and slammed the door in front of me. For a few seconds I felt scared. I wondered if I was in trouble again. When the officer turned he had a devilish smile on his face, “You cannot go out doctor, until you see our palms too.” And we both laughed. I was there for another twenty minutes telling the officers sweet nothings while there were still some passengers waiting in the waiting room wondering how the Special Immigration Court was operating and whether I was sent to jail.

When I came out of the office, I rushed to the terminal. The flight was ready to leave. If I were a few minutes late, I would have missed the connecting flight to Lahore.


Dr. K. Sohail