This appeared in Sunday Times..... Very Important or Very Irritating People…???
Every second person you meet in India thinks he\she is a VIP. If not a VVIP. Expect for the one man who really is that – a triple VVVIP – our beloved former President, Dr. Abdul Kalam. The recent uproar over an ancient incident ( come on, it took place in April, not last week) makes one believe all the political huffing and puffing surrounding the ‘unpardonable’ act is nothing but opportunism parading as patriotism. And to think the elderly guy ( the ex-Prezzie) who was subjected to the ‘demeaning’ frisk, went along minus any protest or fuss! That is called true class, and real VVIP conduct. Every two bit Joe in our country expects, rather , demands special treatment. Why?? Simply! Haven’t we all cringed a thousand times hearing that awful sentence, “ Don’t you know who I am?” The obvious response to that is, “No. But so long as you know who you are, that’s fine.” Instead, the louder the person bellows, the lower some minion bows. It has to do with our feudalistic mindset and outdated class consciousness. This sickening attitude is so ingrained in our collective psyche, that it isn’t uncommon to observe a ten-year-old brat strutting around an airport with pappaji’s peons dancing around the kid. It is the old ‘Badey Baap ka Beta’ syndrome… and it is alive and thriving in the 21st century.
Hillarytai’s visit to India is again a nauseating reminder of how we crawl in the presence of ‘imported’ dignitaries. No doubt Mrs. Clinton is a world figure. But hey – she is a political appointee doing her job. Nothing more, nothing less. Why must we genuflect at her feet and treat her like a demi-Goddess who has deigned to bless the natives with her luminous presence?All that gush, the embarrassing, cloying coverage? Compare our breathless fawning over the American Secretary of State to North Korea’s terse dismissal of Hillary as a “primary schoolgirl.” Our over the top response to the former first lady is in keeping with the chamcha attitude we demonstrate whenever there is a celebrity around. But I am equally certain had Hillary been subjected to the same procedures as A.P.J. Kalam , had she been boarding an Air India flight, she would have gone along without a murmur, accepting that each country has the right to enforce its own security measures in today’s critical times. It is our own people who would have instantly exempted her , as they frequently do other famous faces. We need to understand why the bowing and scraping goes on in the first place. It is time we scrapped these arbitrary exemptions and made it one rule for all, regardless of status or position. This may lead to several ruffled egoes to begin with, but soon everybody will fall in line seeing zero options.
While this drama was being enacted back home, I was on an Air India flight from Frankfurt. Friends call me crazy for sticking with the beleaguered national carrier. Given the choice, I’d still opt for it, not because I am a masochist but because I believe that despite all its many shortcomings, it continues to represent a comfort zone and the service on board is far superior and more human as compared to the rude and robotic conduct displayed by foreign cabin crew. There are several frequent fliers who remain loyal to Air India with good reason. It is distressing to note how the airline is being systematically stripped and ruined over the years. Successive governments have taken advantage of technical loopholes to assert themselves, loot money, favour rivals, neglect genuine concerns and do so brazenly, safe in the knowledge that no action will be taken against anyone. Corruption rules. And the people at the receiving end of all the new fangled cost cutting measures are mostly hapless, loyal employees who have served the airline for thirty years or more. The VIP syndrome strikes again, when one gets to the bottom of the mess. Assorted netas ( India’s real royalty) have wreaked havoc on an airline that was once rated amongst the world’s top five carriers. Nobody is answerable anymore.Some of the most profitable routes have been bartered off, some great international properties sold, even the prestigious hanger at Heathrow was flogged .The days of legends like J.R.D. running the show are long over. The last hope to rescue the airline remains another Tata – aapro Ratan himself. Granted, he is capable. But what is needed is a miracle to keep Air India aloft.Perhaps Ratan’s the man – another true blue VVIP like Dr. Kalam, who would never object to being frisked – even while boarding an Air India flight!