A faux tribute to our ever-vigilant airport security
Place: Mumbai airport (domestic terminal), at the security clearance X-ray machine
Time: Afternoon, one fine spring day
Cast of characters: Security guard, firm but shaken; Lady, hair a mess, dupatta trailing on the floor, looking a bit deranged
Extras: passengers, crew, airport personnel
“No, you cannot have my pickle! No way!” The lady exclaims.
“Pickle no allowed [sic], madam,” security guard says, and then, speaking v-e-r-y slowly, “pickle allowed nahi hai.” The lady is heating up. “You are out of your mind!” she shouts, her voice now on the edge of hysteria. “What in the world could I possibly do to the pilot with a jar of mango pickle? I’ve had enough of your silly rules and confiscations. You show me where it says ‘pickle is not allowed’. I am not getting on this flight without my pickle.” The guard, now joined by several co-workers, asks her to be calm. “Kya karun, madam,” they plead, “…pickle no allowed.” The lady (okay, it was me, you might as well know) clutches her jar of precious pickle to her breast and stands firm. Everyone is staring, holding their breath. The manager is called. “Mama,” asks a young boy, his small hand curled up inside his mother’s, “why does the man want to steal auntie’s pickle?” The mother throws me a look just as I am trying to smile soothingly at the child. She tightens her grip on his hand and pulls him away to safety.
One of the supposed perks of my job is all the travel we get to do. But as newspapers around the world struggle to remain afloat, they are cutting out incidentals like sending their reporters to the scene of the crime. (Last month, I investigated the murder of an Israeli woman in Bangalore without ever leaving my verandah). When we do get sent, we are supposed to keep expenses at rock bottom and be quick. I was on my way home from a flash trip to Delhi now, and my story had not panned out. I was tired, in no mood to mess around.
At this point I will admit that I have mistakenly carried my fair share of “no allowed” items in my carry-on bag during writing trips, most confiscated and never seen (by me) again. Some posed real security threats and needed to be confiscated, like that super expensive face cream I deliberated over for two hours and finally bought because it promised to erase all seven signs of my ageing. Twice, they confiscated the rubber snakes I had bought as gifts for my reptile-crazy children, one of them a multi-headed Sheshnag bought from a temple fair (the snake, not the child). At home, we speculated endlessly on the security threat posed by these cheap rubber snakes, and the only theory we ever came up with is that theoretically I could have used them to scare first the flight attendants and then the captain into submission.
On the other hand, I once had something definitely ‘no-allowed’ in my handbag, given to me by a baba in black, high above Kullu. Having no personal interest in this gift I had accepted in the spirit of loving kindness, I promptly forgot it was there (one of those seven signs of ageing, I’m afraid). Maybe it was mantra-protected, because this particular item was not detected by anyone and must have been with me on several flights until, unutterably horrified, I happened upon it months later.
But pickle? No, I had been pushed past my limit. This was not just any pickle either. Well, it was, but it was very tasty and intended for my older son, a pickle nut. It was the only worthy thing to come out of the Mango Festival in Delhi. I can’t imagine how, but I had convinced my paper to send me, certain I would come home with a juicy story. I had never been more wrong. “See, I am a journalist,” I adlibbed to the manager, re-arranging my dupatta and pushing back my hair, “I am conducting a pickle taste test. I have travelled very far to bring this rare pickle, please sir.” He said okay, and let me go. Although feeling guilty at my opportunistic use of the ‘journalist’ card, I walked through the terminal with my head held high. Next day at the market, I noticed a five-foot stack of the same mango pickle I had fought so hard for. Turns out, it’s just a common thing.