The news of Indian ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar undergoing a 'pat down' search in an American airport last week has now been supplemented by this week's report that another high-ranking diplomat had been ‘bothered' by airport security personnel in the US two weeks ago. If Ms Shankar didn't complain about being frisked for wearing a ‘suspicious-looking' sari, India's permanent representative at the United Nations Hardeep Puri didn't take it kindly when asked to remove his turban during a security check at Houston airport. After all, being patted down for wearing a sari is not the same as being told to take one's turban off. It amounts to asking a Texan in a car in Texas to open his glove compartment to check whether his firearm is licensed.
But as the two back-to-back incidents involving Indian diplomats and American airport security staff snowball into something of a diplomatic crisis, we could choose to see the incidents in the light of cultural differences. In India, VIPs of every hue and colour are not only regularly allowed to pass airport checks without a single finger landing on them, but one can actually hear the bowing and scraping that a passing VIP leaves in his or her wake. So you have incidents of American equivalents of our babus and netas (most famously the late US senator Ted Kennedy) getting the same ‘security treatment' as normal old us. Perhaps in the spirit of reciprocity, we could consider desi VIPs also being treated as normal potentially suspicious-looking folk.
But till then, let us fume at the ‘cultural insensitivity' shown to India's representatives, especially to Mr Puri. And how can it bother anyone from America, no matter how high up he or she might be in the pecking order, to have a little pat down in otherwise tactile-friendly India? They won't even notice that we're actually doing a tit-for-tat for those ‘insults' in American airports.