So I’m in Frankfurt Airport, after the long continental puddle hop from California, and I’m weary. I can’t see so well, because my eyes are a bit sore. I’m on my way to Spain to attend the Open Source in Mobile conference in Madrid, and I have my Indian Passport and a few sundry papers of visitation clutched tenuously in my hand. I’m merely transiting through Germany, and I’m trying to find the line where I can get my stamp, since I possess a valid visa to go to my next port of call.
Now look —errare humanum est, right? Especially after a transatlantic flight, when you’re really, really tired and groggy? A sea of humans goes and stands in line behind various immigration counters, and I flow with them. I can’t really read the signs, since people are blocking the path ahead. And the lines are long.
As I near the counter, when I’m four people away from the end of the line, I notice that the sign on top of that particular counter says “EU Nationals Only.” And I glance a few lines to my right, and see a very long line of non-EU nationals, behind a counter that says “Non EU Nationals.” Whoops. I’m not an EU national — I have an Indian passport. What to do? I’m in some haste, since I don’t want to miss the connecting flight. Should I have gone to the back of the non-EU line, or waited to see what would happen at the end of the “EU Nationals Only” line? I wasn’t sure. I reasoned on the spot that the German official behind the “EU Only” line would perhaps stamp me through, but point out that I was in the wrong line. There was a chance that he would make me go to the back of the other line, but I was willing to take it.
It’s finally my turn, and I give him my passport.
“Wrong line, Mr. Gandhi” he says, and throws my passport back at me.
“Gandhi?” I say stupidly?
“Yes, Mr. Gandhi. It’s zat line over zere. You go zere.”
I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Gandhi?” I ask again. But now, I’m stung. I’m feeling the helpless sting of racism, and it feels really bad.
“Go ZERE. To ZAT line.”
Don’t get me wrong — there are worse things than being called Mr. Gandhi. I mean, the movie won a lot of Oscars, the guy liberated a nation through non-violence, and his face is on money and stuff. But, shouldn’t an official of the German government not say things like that? Or was this all humorous, with me being a bad sport?
So I went to the back of the line, choosing to ignore the urge to grin ruefully and say “Thanks for the pointer, Mr. Sauerkraut.” Because at that very instant, I couldn’t think of a positive historical figure from Germany that was around at the same time as Gandhi was, so that’s the best I could come up with.