Monday, November 03, 2008

You've been selected!

I don't know what it is with America wanting to encase me in glass boxes.

My performance in Washington was the first time I was almost encased into a glass room, asked to perform in there while people watched from outside. That was just ignorance about Bharatanatyam, I guess. I politely refused and they obliged.

I had a choice there though. As I was leaving from Washington to come to Ottawa, I faced the glass box again.

After a lot of confusion at the check-in counter with tickets on account of their failing systems, my father and I, the last remaining passengers for the flight to Ottawa, rushed towards security. The last call for boarding had been made, and our luggage, which could've only just reached the plane, would be offloaded within minutes if we didn't arrive at the gate of boarding.

When we reached the security inspector, she was playfully joking with one of the elderly ladies infront of me in line, saying "let's let this little girl go through first". The elderly lady being the little girl. How endearing.

Then the inspection officer asked for our "passports and boarding pass please". She took one quick look at us and looked away, and said "You've been selected.. (for an upgrade? a free ticket to vegas?)...for additional security..please pass through that way." A fat red marker slashed two huge red lines on the boarding pass diagonally, slicing through my name and my seat number. I'd been marked.

"But we're in a rush, we..."
"Go and stand in that line, please" The nasal voice of the officer stung my ears.

Initially confused but getting increasingly infuriated, I walked to the 'terrorist' line and started taking off my shoes, my bangles, my earrings. I hurriedly put everything into the trays and started walking through the metal detector.

Another African-American female officer held her hand out, motioning for me to wait.
"Where's your boarding pass?"
"It's in the tray with my passport"
She looked irritated. I became even more irritated.
They fished through my things and eventually produced the boarding pass. Upon seeing the big red lines, they exchanged a look, and asked me to step forward.
I came through the metal detector. Nothing beeped. I started walking towards my things.

" can't go there. Please step into the enclosure, ma'am."

I hadn't even noticed the glass enclosure that stood slightly ahead of me. I saw my father already in there. I went inside and they closed the glass door.

I looked at abba and we saw realisation dawn in each other's eyes. This wasn't a simple random selection. We were in here for some other reason. We gave each other a sympathetic look as my father whispered, "They're going to do this once we get off at Ottawa too, aren't they.."

I looked around for about a minute while we waited. I was in a glass cage, and everyone outside of it was looking inside. I felt naked, humiliated and outraged. Other passengers with toy guns and lighters passed through, escaping the glass cage, looking at US as though WE had something we shouldn't be carrying. The lighter was left behind, but the passenger carried on to his destination. We were selected for additional security for carrying books on philosophy and political thought, and a dance costume with bells. Because we were brown. And my dad had a beard.

A white middle-aged officer walked up to me and frisked me. I had no problem with that, but maybe I should've. Yes, frisking passengers was airport regulation. But wasn't that neccesary only if the metal detector beeped? I believe that is the protocol in the rest of the world. I'm well travelled enough to know that. I started to walk out of the enclosure..I'd been in there long enough.

"No ma'am..please stay in there. I need you to point to your things"
"From in here?!?!"
"Yes ma'am."

I looked at her for a while, searching her face for some sort of discomfort or awkwardness. There was none. I stoically pointed to my things.

Then she moved aside and seizing the opportunity, I got out of the "enclosure". My dad was already somewhere else. I didn't know where. She walked to my things.

"Is this yours?"
I walked towards my laptop bag and reached for it.
"No, please don't touch anything...just point to your things"

Don't touch anything??!? Those were MY things! What the hell...I felt the urge to adopt the method of civil disobedience. I stopped talking. When they asked questions, I angrily pointed or nodded or shook my head, not making eye contact and without saying a word. Not that they cared, but I felt the satisfaction of fighting for my dignity in my own little way.

They carried my things to another enclosure. My dad was there, his hand luggage open and all its contents upturned. A fourth officer took my small suitcase and put it on the table and reached for the zip. It had a number lock on it. I smiled to myself.

"I need you to open this ma'am."
"I was told not to touch anything by that lady over there."

She wasn't too pleased by the defiance. But what could she do? Arrest me for obeying her senior? Hah.

"I need to look inside your suitcase ma'am. You have some bells in there?"
"Yes, I have some BELLS." She knew what was in there, but she still wanted it opened.
I opened the suitcase. She started rummaging through my things. I saw my toothbrush and one lone sanitary pad being tossed around. I saw curious by-standers peeping into my bag as well. A pang of hatred for the woman shot through my spine.

I turned to my father, "On what basis do these people decide who to select for additional security?" I said this loud enough for them all to hear. And they heard. I saw them averting their gaze from mine.

My dad told me to keep quiet, or we'd miss the plane. He did have a point. They had the power to make us miss our flight. And we had no authority to question theirs.

Once they were satisfied, they handed me back my boarding pass...a thick black line had exterminated the two red ones. My boarding pass now looked like a battlefield.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

mate, I'm stressed and irritated just after reading that! Never mind actually having that procedure done to me!!! bex xx :-S

November 3, 2008 at 3:12:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Blogger upsidedown said...

Sigh, so sorry you had to go through that. Annoyed on your behalf, annoyed on the behalf of everyone who has to face racial profiling everyday. We want Obama.

November 3, 2008 at 3:21:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Simar said...

Wow...bunch of stiff-lipped airline staffers. Don't mind them. Atleast you had bells and politics. I was detained at Frankfurt Airport for looking like a hippie/too frivolous, wonder how much violence they expected to pop out of the tiny colourful socks stuffed in my handbag. AND to top it off the fools refused to speak English.

November 3, 2008 at 3:29:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Sylvan Goddess said...

Becks - hug.

Upsidedown - We, too, want Obama :) Apparently people in India are praying in temples for Obama to become president!

Simar - My bag had little colourful socks in it too! hehe. with seperate things for each toe. hahaha.

November 3, 2008 at 3:57:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Anonymous Guzuru said...

Yeah, I remember the treatment meted out to me by Emirates staff at Glasgow airport. Appaling it was, I had to re-pack my luggage four times and pay 120% the price of my airfare for carrying less than half my 'additional' luggagage!

November 3, 2008 at 9:56:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Emona said...

Here’s a fresh take on it to make you feel better: Statistically, they should be double-checking every Pakistani who crosses through, be it man or woman. Unfortunately for Indians, they look like Pakistani’s and vice versa. And with the new passport scam its very easy for a Pakistani to get a fake Indian passport. So the profiling spills over, regrettably.

So bare with them, it’s nothing personal, they’re following orders and they can’t help but adhere to the new racial profiling norms. I bet half of the officials were black, so you know its one discriminated minority anyway. And spare me the ‘oh god you’re just as racist’ spiel we all know every major terrorist act in the last two decades has had direct Pakistani backing or involvement. Americans are overall open minded, apart from the small pockets of racism, and you shouldn’t hold this against them.

November 3, 2008 at 4:42:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Sylvan Goddess said...

unfortunately emona, your fresh take doesn't make me feel better. They should NOT be double checking every pakistani that crosses the border. that, to begin with, is wrong. If you're so goddamn paranoid about being attacked again, make stricter security rules for EVERYONE, not just one section of society. If anything, you'll only be alienating them MORE from America.

Secondly, yes..Indians and Pakistanis look alike. So does that mean it's ok for what happened to happen?

Thirdly, Pakistani terrorists are not the only threat to American peace and security, nor are they the only forms of terror in the world. I think Bush was a dangerous man. He killed more Americans by going into Iraq than the 9/11 terrorists did.

And I think thoughts like this, where you say, let people be humiliated so that WE can get a false sense of security, is more dangerous.

Lastly, yes most of the officials were black. That makes me even sadder. 'Discriminated Minorities' should empathise with each other and support each other, thats the only way they can make themselves be heard against the oppressive majority. But there was no empathy or sympathy there. Minorities today, and this is an issue that is more global, are only looking to play power games with someone weaker than themselves. Directing their anger to people they can, in turn, oppress...anger that they feel for the oppressor.

So, when you say, it's nothing personal, think before you say it again. Yes, it IS personal. It's personal to ME, and to every other innocent pakistani who is put through this humiliation so that Americans can feel safer. Bollocks.

November 3, 2008 at 7:27:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Parikshit Rao said...

The Americans are undoubtedly a bunch of paranoid losers who think that everything they touch - land, people, resources - becomes theirs... Fucking choots! That's all i say

November 3, 2008 at 7:45:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Anonymous Guzuru said...

Who's that E-Moaner???

November 3, 2008 at 8:13:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Restless said...


paranoia is a beast that needs to be fed, and if they continue down this path, its going to consume them itself.

it's actually quite a warning to us to, the only reason we are not so paranoid in our procedures is because we don't have the resources.

if we could, we would, i have no doubt about that.

but yeah, doesn't make it better any bit.

November 3, 2008 at 10:39:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Sylvan Goddess said...

oh, and by the way...there was no special treatment when we arrived in Canada. We were just the same as everybody else.

November 3, 2008 at 10:52:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Sneha Krishnan said...

Oh my goodness!!! That's horrible!!! Nothing as bad as this ever happened to me, but I remember I was the only one, one time in Germany, who had to empty out her backpack while the security people went through each item and asked very very inane questions.

September 27, 2009 at 9:34:00 AM GMT+5:30  
Blogger vichchoobhai said...

Travel travails. Pl read my blog futuristic air travel asnd you will find most of the situations described there in a humorous vein.
Recently Shah Rukha Khan was subjected to frjisking, questionng and worse. It happens all the time. Americans are paranoid aabout terrorism, especially the asian variety.

October 9, 2009 at 10:34:00 AM GMT+5:30  

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