If you must take a plane, don’t make any sudden movements on board. Don’t get into arguments. Don’t talk of having a blast or the film that bombed or agendas being hijacked. Don’t get caught reading JG Ballard’s Crash. Pardon us, but we’re a bit jumpy these days. We could jump you for anything.
In recent months, a slew of hijack scares has been triggered by such trivial behaviour. The most ridiculous case happened on Tuesday, when an off-duty stewardess reported a passenger for reading a book with the word ‘crash’ on the cover. In the hungama that ensued, the passenger was revealed to be a Special Protection Group man, perhaps cramming for an exam on air disaster management. Reading a luridly titled book is now suspicious behaviour. Friends, we are looking at climate change.
India used to be one of the freest nations on earth. You could do almost anything, from littering to murder, and get away with it. Our enthusiasm for carrying on regardless even survived decades of cross-border terrorism. Now, we live in a climate of fear which is altering our behaviour. Curiously, nothing has changed on the ground. People are appalled about the attack on the police academy near Lahore because it’s just 12 km from our border, quite forgetting that Pakistani jihadis have been operating on Indian soil for years.
The change is in the air — new anti-terror measures, ubiquitous security, the government considering giving bulk arms licences for security firms… It’s all for our security, but paradoxically, the atmospherics remind us constantly of our insecurity. Which was painfully obvious this week: intelligence agencies were all at sea about reports that 20 trained pilots and women (trained air hostesses, perhaps?) were planning to launch 9/11 copycat attacks. Public insecurity is precisely what turned America, the land of the free, into a fortress State after 9/11.
Speaking of America, the ever-paranoid Homeland Security is preparing to invent an electronic nose to sniff out terrorists. It will operate on the principle that terrorists on a mission are stressed out, and will look for high adrenaline levels in people passing through airport security. Of course, the first people this nose will detect are disorganised idiots like me. I always arrive at the airport about one hour late, alternately cursing and praying. At that time, my blood adrenaline level is probably higher than my haemoglobin level.
Also, do spare a thought for even bigger idiots who fight with their spouses, their colleagues, their cabbies or even innocent bystanders en route to the airport, sending everyone’s adrenaline skyrocketing. And don’t forget the people with the fear of flying, who grimly clutch their arm-rests or their fellow passengers during take-off. They’ll be caught in droves. And all this nose-in-the-air high technology will fail to catch the real wildcards, like the guy who flew from New York to Boston in the cargo hold of a plane on Wednesday. Lucky he wasn’t a terrorist. He just fell asleep in the hold.
Still there is this small voice inside us saying that there is no foolproof firewall against terrorism, that the wildcard will always get through. It’s making us jumpy. Real jumpy. Don’t make any sudden movements while you’re reading this newspaper, or we’ll have you reported.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine