[From a lightweight column I do for Metro Now. This week they used a dummy name and photo instead of mine, which was annoying, but it’s okay, I’ve been on the other side of these goof-ups too – most notably in a famous incident many years ago when I released a page with the dummy headline “Give head, give head”]
New security measures were recently put in place at various airports around the country, but who's going to save us from the Crybaby Indian Passenger? A typical specimen of this creature comes equipped not with the usual paraphernalia of terrorism but with a perpetual willingness to be offended and to shrilly proclaim it to the world. I was returning from Dubai on Air-India a few weeks ago and everything went smoothly until the very last step of the process – the boarding counter – where, after a couple of hurried consultations between the officials, it was decided that everyone would have to go through a second security check. Handbags open. Shoes off.
Going by the strained looks on the faces of the airport staff, and the general briskness on view, this wasn't a routine drill – it was clear that something serious (an anonymous tip-off?) had happened. Now agreed, being tickled all over by stern-faced security officers can be a trying experience at 1 AM when all you want to do is grab a quick nap mid-flight or maybe slur "whishky, shoda and lotsh of aish" at the nearest air-hostess. But surely a little inconvenience is nothing when weighed against security? Especially when you're about to spend a few hours 30,000 feet above the ground, hurtling through space at 600 miles/hour. Yes, that's what I thought too. But this mattered little to the wailing passengers who treated each extra precaution as a personal slight, a welcome pretext to take offence.
"Joote utaarne ko keh rahe hain!" shrieked a lady with the general air of Draupadi being undraped in the Kuru sabha. Elderly gents gasped when asked to raise their arms, as if they were being asked to participate in a beef-eating competition. Some of the bolder youngsters started picking brawls. "This is racist behaviour! They only do this to us because we are Indian and don't say anything," snarled one man, who had, ironically, not been silent for more than three seconds at a stretch.
A brief pause, and then someone who had been quiet thus far went up to an officer and asked conversationally, "So what happened, was there a terrorism threat?" Now there are some phrases you simply don't utter within earshot of people who are about to get into an aircraft. "Terrorism threat" is high up on this list, along with "bombs", "technical problems" and "we're out of Black Label". Predictably, pandemonium ensued. But it wasn't the frightened, "we're all going to die!" sort of pandemonium I had anticipated. "Now they will accuse us of being terrorist?" a lady asked, her lips quivering like a Bedouin in the tundra. The angst was so palpable you could reach out and wring its neck.
I skipped the in-flight movie. Nothing could have lived up to the drama that had gone before.