Before going through Customs at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, Shashwati had to stop and fill out an “embarkation” form to give to customs. (I had already filled out the “disembarkation form for foreign nationals” when we had arrived, and it remained stapled to my passport.) While she was filling this form out, three men in scruffy clothes surrounded us, standing very close and looking over our shoulders. My first reaction was to tighten my grip on our luggage and make sure our passports were safe. But, after a while, one of the men pointed at the form Shashwati was filling out, and then pointed at his own form. We quickly realized what the problem was. These men were Telugu speakers from Andhra Pradesh, who spoke neither Hindi or English.
Andhara Pradesh became a separate state in 1953, largely over linguistic differences. In 1956, the state of Hyderabad was divided up and the largely Urdu speaking city of Hyderabad became the capital of Andhara Pradesh. Although India has eighteen official or Scheduled Languages, it does not seem to translate official documents into all eighteen languages, as I believe South Africa and the European Union do. Not only that, the incompetent Airport staff had given these men, who, according to a letter stapled to their passports, were masons going to work in Abu Dhabi, the wrong forms. They had been given the “disembarkation form for foreign nationals” rather than the “embarkation” form for Indian citizens. Since we had gotten to the airport early, we helped all three men get the correct forms and then filled them out for them. As we were doing so we saw the name of their home town: Karimnagar, which roughly translates as “Kerim-ville.”