Last week, after quite a while, I found myself travelling on a domesticated flight. (As most of you barring the serious types know, I normally fly wild, untamed flights.) My journey from Delhi to Bhopal was pretty uneventful. But on the way back, I was enjoying all the trappings of a nice, small airport — the tiny queues for security check, the short walk from the boarding gate to the aeroplane, you know, the things you are denied in a busy, bustling, chaos-tiring airport.
As I was waiting for my flight at the Raja Bhoj Airport, I temporarily developed a keen interest in reading messages on the boards inside. I won’t bore you with all that I scanned and read. (Blogs were invented for such supercilious details to look important and cool.) Although I did ponder over the sign that read ‘Vigilance is graceful, corruption is disgraceful’. To be vigilant is good. But how the hell is it graceful? To keep your eyes peeled for any odd activity is not exactly what makes you a deadringer for the late Gayatri Devi.
With that thought still lodged in my head, I effortlessly jumped through the first hoop of getting a boarding pass, after which I noticed a board with a longish list outside a curtained room with the sign ‘Reserved Lounge’ above its entrance. The writing on the board stated that “as per letter No. A.V. 13024/01/92-SSV, from Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation,” there’s a list of “dignitaries entitled to use ceremonial lounges at airports”. It started with the President of India, followed by the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, heads of foreign governments, heads of foreign States, former presidents, and included army commanders, the director of the NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training), His Holiness Jagadguru Shankaracharya Mahrj (sic) of Shri Dwarka Sharda Peeth, vice-chancellors of universities and “any other person authorised by the Ministry of Civil Aviation”. To show that here in India we don’t break into obeisances every time our boss’s peon’s cook is passing, there was the ‘Note’ at the bottom of the board: “This list has been arranged in alphabetical order and in no way reflects the respective seniority or protocol/position.” I thought that was a sweet touch.
It was now time for me to get my security check done. And there it was, another board next to the machine through which I went in without a beep. “In super session (sic) of this Bureau Circular No. 13/2007 dated 17-12-2007, it has been decided that the following VVIPs/VIPs and their accompanying spouse are exempted from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports in the country.” (OK, naive little me finally realised that there was a statutory term, and not just a useful tag used in the hotel industry, called the VVIP.)
This list pretty much started in the same way as the earlier one, with the President and Vice-President on top, moving to the PM. It then scatters to include ‘holders’ of the Bharat Ratna, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. No. 29 on the list is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So you can imagine the 14th Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso having a chuckle over the fact that the 15th Indian PM and the 15th Dalai Lama will also miss out on the perfectly comfortable and democratic body champi doled out by a chap doing his job.
The only name, as opposed to a title or designation, on the list was No. 31, Robert Vadra. He’s exempt “while travelling with SPG (Special Protection Group) protectees”. Which made me have two pre-embarkation thoughts: How can I one day be a Robert Vadra? And, why the hell isn’t Shah Rukh Khan, son-in-law of Mr and Mrs Chibber, on the don’t-frisk-me list?