Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Security men I have known

Does anyone else feel sceptical about the little “bomb-checks” that take place outside the parking lots of movie theatres, malls and hotels? The ones where a bored-looking security guard positions a stick with a tiny mirror at its end under your car and pretends to study it from a couple of angles before waving you on?

Apart from being such a soporific process, it has to be commended for its pointlessness.
What is the sense of looking for detonating devices only on the underside of vehicles, and that too a small portion of the underside (determined strictly by the starting position and convenience of the lethargic security man who happens to be doing the checking)? What about inside the tank? Living as we are in a time when simply visiting a crowded public place has become a nerve-wracking affair, I demand that each car be disassembled in its entirety before it is allowed inside a parking lot. (Hypothetically, if they forgot to reassemble the vehicles, it could only improve Delhi’s traffic situation.)

Once, outside the Select mall, I encountered a marginally more creative security man who asked me to open the car’s trunk. But having gone this far in dauntless pursuit of excellence in his duty, he contented himself with giving a friendly squeeze to the spare tyre lying inside, while completely neglecting the heavy cloth bag on the side. Exactly what parameters are these people using? The randomness of it worries me.

My one experience of a security-checker who took his job very seriously was at the Siri Fort Auditorium parking lot a few years ago. I was late for a film screening, but this man was in no mood to let me pass. For starters, he was unimpressed by the press sticker on my car. “Half the vehicles in this city have those,” he snorted. “Any competent terrorist would be sure to get one.” In fact, he was more suspicious now. “Kaun se newspaper ke liye kaam karte ho – Times of India ya Hindustan Times?” he asked, reciting the only two paper names that non-journalists in Delhi know about. When I told him I was a freelancer and wrote for various publications, he laughed like Gulshan Grover: “Hum bhi alag kisam ki gaadiyon ko check karte hain. Shaayad hum bhi ‘freelancer’ hi honge.” (“I check different types of cars as well. Maybe that makes me a freelancer too.”)

After mocking me in this way he circled the car, glanced into the back-seat and asked me to take out the packaged review copy of a stout new book I had just picked up from the Penguin India office. “Itni badi kitaab aap padhoge?” he asked shrewdly, “ya iske andar kuch chipaaya hua hai?” He tapped the thing a few times to check for signs of hollowness before handing it back. Then he twirled his stick at me menacingly (as if to say “If I find out you’re a suicide bomber, I’ll give your scattered body parts a nice whacking”) and let me go.

I must confess that at the time I didn’t care for his unnatural dedication to the job, but he has grown in my estimation. Today we need all the obsessive security checkers we can get.

(From my Metro Now column)


  1. 1.The security guards are trained to look disinterested so that the real terrorists are fooled into thinking that these guys are useless and end up committing careless mistakes

    2.Random/Crazy checking ensures that terrorists are confused.

    3.Poor sense of humor and waving the stick menacingly is for deterrence so terrorists hate their job and find it tough to recruit.

    4.b.t.w These guys are not actually checking your car, they are primarily analyzing your reactions. They can easily spot a terrorist based on the reflex reactions.

    There are other many other theories and strategies, but those are classified :)

    The bottom line is that these guys are much more advanced than CIA/FBI/KGB.

  2. Loved the comments, crazybunka! Jabber, I never really understood the point of those checks under the car at RBI office when I visite my uncle's office.

  3. We were discussing the same thing in office today. It's irritating to see the indifferent guards.

    The latest fad seems to be checking ladies' handbags. One of the malls we went to had an entrance at which a female security guard was checking ladies' handbags. But, there were many stores' entrances through which one could enter the mall and which were totally unguarded. So much for security!

    - Sangeetha

  4. Crazybunka: thanks, that makes me feel a whole lot better! I'll be sure to put on my most fearsome expression next time the mirror-check is being done.

    Sangeetha: my wife and I have observed this a lot in recent times. At the Select mall, all a lady visitor has to do to bypass the bag-check is to put on a defiant expression and sound annoyed at the intrusion - the bag-checkers simply back away with a scared look on their faces. Also, this business of asking people to switch on their mobile phones (to verify that they are real, working phones) is done completely randomly.

  5. I encountered the most pointless checking at the Bangalore bus stand a day after the blasts here. There was a table with three police officers standing in a line behind it. You are asked to place your bag on the table, and your bag is just pushed from the first guy to the third guy, and you pick it up from him.

    Also, I entered from the side entrance, and bypassed this checking, but had to come to the main entrance to the "May I Help You?" desk to find my bus, which is when I was subjected to this check!

  6. Totally digressing from the tenor of comments here, I could not help laughing at the observation about the only two newspapers that non-journalists in Delhi were familiar with.
    Spot on...

  7. Probably this would be a better solutions, atleast for the underside of the car........

  8. I wonder why it took so long for someone to notice this and write about it... anywhere in d city.. even in the metro.. the security people look into ur bags.. move things around and let you go.. what is it that they are looking for? is a bomb supposed to look like something? i mean what is the point of such checks if at the end anyone can walk in easily with any other object which is not allowed...
    everytime we go to watch a movie.. the security guy lets me pass with my huge handbag.. but stops my guy who has a jhola with nothing but a book, a wallet and keys inside it... i easily pass the women security gaurds who just again move things in d bag to see hez arguing at the gate with the male guards.. we have now come up with a solution to it.. now i carry his jhola in my big bag.. which easily passes security tests and so does my guy now...
    i gues.. the bigger the bag.. the more disinterested are the security people to chek the contents...
    i wud love to have met that jasoos security waala myself... :)

  9. The security at the Secretariat building had no clue as to what that beep meant when we enter the metal detector door. Unfortunately it is the least sought after job in India. The Govt. needs to come up with more incentives to attract better people for the job.