During immigration at Narita, Tokyo, I heard a commotion at the counter behind mine. I turned, sympathetically, only to see that it was my own mother! She was surrounded by armed guards and sniffer dogs, none of whom/which spoke English. There was barking, and agitated chatter on the hand-held radios. Panicking, I called out from where I was, ‘What happened?’
She was calm and unruffled, holding a shiny green object which looked like a hand grenade, and was announcing to her group of wary listeners, ‘This is karela. It is very good for blood purification. I have it for my diabetes. You don’t grow karela in your country, so I picked 1 kg from Noida for my son-in-law. He loves Bharwan Karela.’
In my defence, I had no idea she had smuggled in a batch of bitter gourd. And now, she was, defiantly defending it. She had absolutely no intentions of giving it up. The queue behind her was growing, but this argument was going nowhere. She was now sharing recipes that needed panchphoran masala. The guards backed off, confused but convinced that the grenade was harmless. We came home, safely, with our booty.
Airport security is quite intimidating, as it should be. My friend was chased by dogs for that one shred of Tulsi leaf in his pocket, another was almost incarcerated for idlis, and an aunt had a close shave on account of mango pickle. Umm, she needs a shave, but then, that’s another story.
On the other hand, there is security, purely for aesthetic purposes. Post 26/11, when the nation was swept with overwhelming respect for black cat commandos, I saw a few at a mall in Lucknow. I was about to go over to convey my deep appreciation till I saw one of them empty a pouch of tobacco, pat it on his palm and gulp it. That’s when I realised that it was only the uniform that was authentic.
Then, there are security guards for whom we are rude intruders. It’s a luxurious mall. The male and female checkpoints are side-by-side. Love is in the air. The beep of the machine is birdsong. She is smiling at him while patting down a woman, he is asking her if she’s coloured her hair. Just then, we barge in, like jarring notes in a beautiful symphony and inquire, ‘Where is the bathroom?’
Finally, there are those guards who go beyond their aesthetic purposes, in the wrong direction. That would be the security guard of my neighbourhood store. He stands at the end of the billing counter, watching me bill the items, making the payment, collecting the huge bags, holding the credit card between my teeth, and shoving the bill inside my bag.
He waits patiently for me to stumble out, watching me trip over the stray dog sleeping there. I wince at the sound of the egg tray toppling over in the bag, and struggle to grasp the dupatta which has now intertwined with the strap of my handbag.
The mayhem reaches a crescendo when I, noisily, topple a few magazines off the stand. This melee had ensured that the bill has drifted further downwards and settled under the watermelon.
Now is his moment. He smiles and stops me, ‘Madam, receipt please.’
Best-selling author Rachna Singh (www.rachnasingh.in) is a sit-down comedienne