Every time i go home, my mother asks me about the beard. She hates it. She has offered to pay for a shave more than once. To her its almost against her religion. Apparently the beard makes me look like a muslim (didn’t know that was a thing). I have listened to that for a few years now and have learnt how to tune out. I remember the time i came back from Leh after about 5 months on the road my mother wouldn’t let me into the house till i went and had a haircut and a shave. I guess that was one of the times i had to listen. Another time just before we went to Kerala for my wedding my mother refused to come with me or even come to Kerala till i shaved my beard. I did that. When i reached Cochin and met the In-laws my father in law didn’t recognize me. I said hello to him but i guess he didn’t notice me.
We planned to go to Russia and the cheapest ticket to get to Russia was through Thailand. While entering Thailand, there wasn’t a problem. My passport was from 2010 and how i looked had obviously changed. The Thailand immigration official didn’t bother to look at the passport and stamped me in. Now while exiting the country to go to Russia, the lady at the immigration desk at first refused to to believe that i was the same person as shown on the passport. Thankfully Cathy showed them a wedding pic of me without a beard and with her. That convinced them and they stamped me out.
Now for the fun part. We landed in Russia and stood in this long queue at the airport to get stamped in. This is a smaller airport popular with only Russians since all the flights that get to this part of the country have a few travellers who fly in. The most popular arrival point is Moscow. We to save time landed at Irkutsk. Anyways moving on. The guy at the immigration counter scanned through Cathy’s passport and stamped her in, no questions asked. While he was looking at mine another officer walks over to him to find out where we from. As soon as he stamped me in the offer who was watching us earlier came to meet us. Apart from the general question of where i from etc, he wanted to know if i had travelled to Syria or Iran. He told me my beard gave him that impression. He ended the conversation with “No terrorism ok “. I am assuming that was a warning. I guess people with beards are scrutinized more.
A few days later this older gentlemen walks up to me and asks me if i was Muslim. When i told him i wasnt he was disappointed. It showed on his face. This guy was waiting for me to come back to take my seat at a restaurant. He tried to talk to Cathy but she couldn’t understand him. So he waited till i finished ordering and came back to sit down. Another time while walking down the street in Moscow i asked an Imam (maybe he was someone with a Kurta) and after his response he asked me if i was Muslim. I guess the beard did give them the impression. I don’t know what would have happened if i had said Yes.
While leaving Russia the lady at the counter who had to stamp me out looked at my passport a few times. She ran it through the machine that authenticates the passport and after looking at me for the 3rd time, ran it through the machine again. I am sure she wasn’t really convinced that i was who my passport said i was. The moment i landed in India, everything changed. I don’t even think the guy looked at my face, he just stamped me in.
In conclusion maybe i should find a way to update my passport with a more recent photo. I wonder what would happen if i reverse it, which means the passport has a picture of me with a beard and i don’t have a beard. Maybe that is an experiment i can run for the next time.