My Name is (not) Khan…..and still….
I am not Muslim. My name is neutral-sounding. I don’t have a police record. Nor any terrorist links. But I am routinely stopped, searched and questioned at airports around the world, including American ones. Do I protest, yell and scream ‘Discrimination! Racial profiling! Yankee dadagiri! Religious persecution!” Nope. I hate what happens to me. I feel angry and humiliated. I resent the questions…. But I am keenly aware of the fact that there is nothing personal about it. Those guys at immigration are doing their jobs – that’s it. What may appear irrational and sadistic to visitors is nothing more than a strict drill security agencies have to adhere to – for the overall safety of the world. Come on…. get real. These are procedures that cannot be altered to accommodate anybody – even desi superstars. Reverse the situation – imagine a Mick Jagger or a Tom Cruise lining up in front of a local officer at Mumbai\New Delhi airport. Do you really think those guys would know or care who these mega stars were?? They would be treated like any other passenger… and if for any reason, the computer screens indicated a problem they would be asked to step aside and respond to a few tough questions, too. Their claiming friendship with Barack Obama, Sonia Gandhi or Priyanka Vadra would not cut any ice with our chaps. And rightly so. Anybody can claim friendship with anyone.
The point is, each country has its own set of rules – some are more stringent than others. Tried going to Israel?? No?? Well… that’s what I would describe as a truly nightmarish experience. But, given Israeli sensitivities and vulnerabilities, it’s perfectly understandable. A visitor always has the choice to either go or not go to a destination that makes him\her uncomfortable. America is known to be super scrupulous while screening tourists. In today’s times, it is far better to err on the side of safety than make exceptions for certain individuals and protect a few fragile egoes. People going to America are well aware of the punishing procedures in place there, especially after 9\11. Thousands of tourists are subjected to this on a daily basis. Not everybody feels victimized. Most visitors go through this painful process gamely enough and co- operate with the officers. Just a few months ago at Frankfurt airport, I was grilled for half an hour over a pair of perfectly innocuous sunglasses my daughter had given me. I was even asked to produce a receipt for them!! It wasn’t pleasant and I wasn’t amused. But hey – was anybody forcing me to visit Germany??
It is time our movie stars, politicians , cricketers and other ‘VVIPs’ woke up to a few international ground realities. This is the way the cookie crumbles. The outside world is neither interested in nor impressed by any individual’s local status. It is not about fans waving and asking for autographs. It is not about claiming friendship with Hillary Clinton. You may be India’s biggest business tycoon or Bollywood Badshah. But out there you are an anonymous nobody - nothing more and nothing less than a name and a number – deal with it. The officer who asks you to step aside is least concerned with your fame or bank balance back home. It is his job to make sure you are ‘clean’ – and he has the full and absolute authority to undertake as thorough a check as he thinks fit. It’s that, or his own butt on the line. Is that so tough to accept?Of course, it is irritating – but rather this level of scrutiny than facing the risk of another 9\11, or in our case 26\11. This incident should inspire our own guys to tighten up immigration checks. But not in the childish tit-for-tat way suggested by Ambika Soni. It is because we are so lax and relaxed about security issues that India remains a soft target and yet we continue to take umbrage when others go by the rule book. Too bad it happened to SRK. Too bad his luggage wasn’t loaded in London. But hello! … he did make it to Breaking News, and was on every front page. This is the sort of publicity no amount of lolly can buy. Was it a clever promotional stunt for his next movie?? I think not. But it certainly did take media attention away from Shahid Kapur and his ‘Kaminey’, which is likely to become the biggest blockbuster of all time. Smart.