[Column] The hesitant Hollander

Vishal Onkhar is on the way to becoming a Dutch citizen. A journey to a huge and permanent destination.

“I grew from a bright and hopeful MSc student to a tired and somewhat jaded PhD candidate in the final stretch of his endeavour.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

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Recently, I received a letter from the Government. I expected it was yet another overlong missive that conveyed some trifling detail I was either already aware of or did not care about. I also imagined it contained the customary reassuring text that I need take no action regarding said petty matter (as if I was ever going to). Additionally, I anticipated an elaborate section on the numerous ways of contacting the authorities with questions that utterly belied the quality of their customer service.


As it turned out, I was greeted instead by a provisional approval of my application for Dutch citizenship. This was a refreshing change from the usual contents of such letters, especially since it bore good tidings concerning one of my long-term goals. But aside from breathing a small sigh (of relief?), I felt … nothing. No elation, no sense of triumph, just an impatience to get on with the next item on that day’s agenda. And it wasn’t even a particularly hectic day. Which got me pondering – was this a sign I was turning into a jaded and disillusioned adult like so many people out there, simply a case of cold feet now that this game of passport swap was actually underway, or nagging doubts about my life’s choices lurking beneath the surface?



I typically respond that my identity isn’t tied to which little pocketbook I carry



Whatever it was, this supposed transfer of loyalties certainly appears to have piqued the curiosity of my Dutch (and other European) friends, to whom it seems the idea of relinquishing their nationality in favour of another is unthinkable. For, once this subject is broached, I am often inundated with well-meaning enquiries into whether I would need to renounce my Indian status (I would; India does not permit dual citizenship) and if that sacrifice would not bother me. Some acquaintances even cheekily suggest there might be legal loopholes I could exploit to keep both passports. To such inquiries, I typically respond that my identity isn’t tied to which little pocketbook I carry, that I wouldn’t automatically become any less Indian or any more Dutch as a result of this transition, that it is mostly for the sake of convenient worldwide travel that I make the switch, and that I am not inclined to spend my first days as a Nederlander in the confines of a prison cell.


Jokes aside, I’ve expressed mixed feelings about this whole inburgering business in the past. And since my last column on the issue, I have completed additional Dutch lessons at TU Delft, passed the infamous inburgeringsexamens (which, incidentally, have also captured the collective imagination of the Dutch populace for their alleged difficulty and reportedly eccentric questions), and applied for and been granted permanent residency in the Netherlands. And each time, a little voice in my head has soothingly whispered, “This is but a tiny and wholly reversible step along this journey”, tempting the mechanical engineer in me to liken it to a thermodynamic process. All well and good, until that fateful day when the voice didn’t turn up, and I, looking back in silence, realised all those tiny reversible steps had added up to something truly huge and permanent.


Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD on self-driving cars at TU Delft. He is an avid museum goer and chess player, but also harbours a soft spot in his heart for dancing and petting cats. He doesn’t drink coffee, but good books, music, and film have the same effect on him.


Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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