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Have gun, will travel

If our Private Airline No.1 falls behind on security measures, should it be called 'Jet lag'?

india Updated: Sep 07, 2002 21:11 IST

If our Private Airline No.1 falls behind on security measures, should it be called 'Jet lag'? It reportedly sacked its security officer because he refused to allow the security guard of a former chief minister to breach security rules by carrying his weapons on board without the necessary permissions.

All passengers who have suffered the nuisance of farcical checks are entitled to one piece of carry-on lug-rage at this news. After each trip to Delhi, I need the therapeutic services of Zubin, my yoga teacher. Not because I need to eject all that toxic political baggage, but because I get a strained back from yanking my bag on and off the security-check counters. The officer will usually take you at your word on the contents of a large, suspiciously shaped parcel, but will confiscate your baby's diaper-pin.

This will not happen if you are a PM, Dy PM, CM, ex-CM or similar big gun. Jayalalithaa (who is, has been or hopes to be all these) is a walking ton of explosives, but no airline official would be foolhardy enough to stop this TNT, the Tamil Nadu Tigress.

However, let us not underestimate the national security lessons that have emerged from the Jet-Rane incident. As a result of it, newspapers have informed us those canned beans, powders, perfumes and pickles are on the banned list of carry-on items. Toys resembling weapons could be confiscated, though there is no stated policy on weapons resembling toys. On the other hand, weapons resembling weapons can be carried with impunity.

This has thrown me into a quandary. Not because I don't want to carry pistols, but because I've always carried pickles. Formerly, this meant the likelihood of attending meeting in clothes stained with mustard oil and smelling of methi. Now, thanks to modern packaging and the NRI market, pickles be transported without mishap. But no longer, it seems, without confiscation.

Since I'm not going to stop obliging my pickle-demanding friends, I am fully prepared for the following encounter on my next trip.

I arrive at airport and wait out the infinity of guard at gate memorising every clause and subclause of my ticket as though it's his specialisation for Mastermind. The Jet/Sahara/ IA check-in staff is smiling and efficient, so I quickly get past their counters. Cop at gate to security lounge scrutinises my boarding pass as if I am about to enter Tihar Jail or the Prime Minister's bungalow. The intimacies of my carry-on baggage are exposed to the screening machine. But technology can't be trusted. The contents have to be subjected to serious hand-checking once here, and then again just before boarding.

I hoist my Samsonite stroller on to the back-wrenchingly high counter. Security Officer (SO) rummages inside. Like a heat-seeking missile, he homes in on its most hazardous content, a packet of Parsi pickle in double-sealed plastic.

“Not allowed for security reasons!” says the SO with the finality of George Fernandes opposing disinvestment of oil PSUs on the same grounds.

“But this is only our traditional carrot and dry fruit pickle made by K.C. Kolah 'Manufacturers of condiments since 1939'.”

“No bawaji pickles,” says the SO. “But you can carry on a 9mm Berretta.”

He fishes out another packet, and arrogantly casts it aside. I protest, “This is only a maamidi kaya menthi mukkalu, the famous green mango Andhra pickle.” The SOb is unmoved. “Read notice, Madam. Weapons-grade spices are not allowed on board. Why not carry a pickle-grade AK 47 instead.”

His search is giving me seizures. I try to sweet-talk him into not confiscating his next discovery. “Bhai-saheb, this is a kachcha papita murabba made famous by such frontier-cuisine restaurants as Bukhara and Kandahar. Promise you, Sir, it contains no Pashtun terrorist, or even a preservative.” Without breaking stride, the SO-and-so casts my slowly simmered delectation on the dangerous pile of kirpans, nail-cutters — and canned beans. He says, “No murabbas or chutneys of any description. But you are allowed a carbine in any boreauthorised by the National Security (Airports & Civil Aviation) Act of 1958, as amended post-Parliament attack.”

This fire-arms instead of fiery-achars policy begins to shred my rational mind and my patience. I desperately hope that my last gift of pickle can be salvaged. With luck, he will think that the jar of gongura thokku pacchadi is an ayurvedic acne remedy. But this airport flunkey has the combined instincts of a sniffer dog and a society gossip columnist. He looks at me as if I was Osama bin Laden with a sex change, and barks. “You want to reduce pilot to taste-bud ripping rubble?”

He is so carried away by his self-importance that I think he's about to arrest me. Instead he hands me a copy of the NS (A&CA) Act. I notice that it is stained with all the pickle-oils of India. He thunders. “Absolutely no achars allowed.” Seeing my face collapse, he magnanimously says, “OK, take this gun on board instead.”

* * *

Alec Smart said, “Hope they don't end up disinvesting the Minister.”

First Published: Sep 08, 2002 00:00 IST