Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do I Smell A Rat?

No doubt that SRK is a big star. But for him to paint the town red with his celebrity status after he was detained at the Newark Liberty international airport was going a bit too far. He was all over the media saying the US immigration authorities treated him "shabbily" just because his last name happens to "Khan". Hey guys, guess what is the name of his upcoming movie!!! It's called 'My Name is Khan' (directed by Karan Johar) and it is all about racial profiling in the US, post 9-11, and how minorities (read Muslims) are looked at. And speaking of Karan Johar, he seems to be feeling upset and terrible. Oh, how touchy!

It is true that you get profiled in the US if you either happen to be from one of the so-called watch list nations or have a 'funny' name or anything that may arouse their suspicion. Last year when I went to the US, of the six times that I was at their airports, my mother and I were profiled twice. Of course we were not taken inside any room and confined for one / two hours but we were asked to step aside and our handbags were checked and each and every item was checked. A few random questions with some small talk were thrown at me, though I must admit, all their officials were extremely polite. I think I was profiled because I am an Indian. But I could be wrong. Though after those two incidents, I was at their airports four more times and the check-ins were a breeze. So I am not at all surprised that SRK was also detained and asked questions.

But for the so-called, media-painted albeit so shamelessly, Bollywood Badshah, to be grilled at a foreign airport, by immigration officials who were merely following their country's rules irrespective of whosoever the detainee is or how high up his connections go, was merely routine. if anything, it just goes to show that their duty of their country is top-most priority irrespective of who you are. SRK should have realised this and respected it. My cousin sister, born and brought up it the US and with therefore all her American style, accent, etc., and also a mother of two was once similarly detained and questioned for two hours when she went back home to Detroit because, amongst other things I do not remember clearly, she was carrying baby food which was white powder (ferex / cerelac). She was made to eat some of that in front of the immigration officials to prove that the food was indeed baby food and not anything suspicious.

We may crib and cry endlessly shouting injustice to the insane security measures that we get to see these days at international airports, especially the US airports. We curse them for their ways and systems and call it names. All accepted and very much true, in most cases. I am not a US fan and we all know that some of their wars have gone horribly wrong. Their administration can be awefully inhumane. But we can't deny one thing. Post 9-11, there has not been one terrorist attack on US soil. One of the reasons is because they take their security so seriously. You may be a huge star globally, but to their immigration officials, if your name pops up on their screen, you better have answers to their questions. And you better also have all the time that they need to answer their questions. If only such stringent security measures were adopted in India, we wouldn't have had all these repeated terrorist attacks, one after the other, all over our country. I am sure some pompous guests would be cribbing to be subjected to the security checks at the Taj and Oberoi, but who could blame these poor hotel authorities for all the ordeal they want through on 26-11. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. You can't please everyone; if you're pushed to the wall, you have got to wake up and learn to take care of yourself. For all the pains that we have to go to every time we pass through the metal detectors of Taj and Oberoi and have our luggage screened, I am placing my bet that these two hotels would not go through 26-11 ever again. That is, if they continue with their security checks and not come under pressure to compromise.

I think we can learn two lessons in this:

1) Adopt similar strict measures for all travellers coming from abroad, as well as those travelling within India. Ask questions and start profiling if the officials suspect something. Retain our humanity, but ask questions. And do not get swayed by whosoever is there on the opposite side. They may be politicians or movie stars or sportsperson or even rock stars. We have to subject them to stringent security checks even if we have to run our hands all over them. This is no time to buckle under pressure, wave diplomatic flags and lay down red carpets to every tom, dick and harry.

2) Unless they are downright rude or brutal, we should co-operate with foreign airport officials and be ready to subject to their security checks and systems, irrespective of who we are. I am not saying we have to lick them, but if they ask questions politely and do not disrespect us, we should co-operate. They can be very intimidating, but SRK is a grown-up man and a seasoned traveller; he ought to have handled this in a more dignified manner.

Having said that, for SRK to crib endlessly, especially in the wake of his upcoming movie 'My Name is Khan' and to make such a big issue of this, puts a big dent on his credibility. Aamir Khan is known for his publicity nonsense like cutting somebody's hair or having ushers get haircuts similar to his, from his upcoming release; they're all brilliantly documented and well-known. That these stunts work, is by itself preposterous. Did SRK get carried away by something similar? Who knows!

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