Like poles repel

As a policeman I have learnt to be suspicious about people. But I had never felt I could evoke suspicion, until I started travelling abroad. While trying to walk out of the green channel at Heathrow airport a couple of years ago, a customs official stopped me and started questioning. He made me open my suitcase and his eye caught a bottle containing red powder. Though I explained it is chutney powder, he opened the container lid and took a deep breath. As expected he was seized by a bout of uncontrolled sneezing which made his colleagues rush to him and subject me to further intense interrogation. Finally, when I was allowed to go, my ego was fully deflated.

I had to pass through the same airport three months later. Thinking that the UK customs had forgotten me, I passed through the green channel along with a friend. I was once again detained, though I was not carrying chutney powder. I was questioned for 20 minutes and my bags thoroughly checked. When I was allowed to go my friend remarked that there must be something in me that arouses suspicion among the Brits. I agreed and laughed it off.

A few years later I visited New York with my wife. The moment we crossed immigration, an authoritative looking uniformed woman came to us and asked us to step aside. Since it was our first US visit, we were carrying a number of eatables, including chutney powder, for our hosts. When the lady officer confiscated all the food items, tears came rushing to my wife’s eyes. It took all my skills to convince the woman that we are not smugglers and we are not carrying any contraband.

On our return journey, we had a break in Paris. When we went to the airport to board our flight, we were stopped at the entrance by two security persons and were questioned for ten minutes. They knew very little English and we knew no French. After they allowed us inside, we were subjected to further checks at least twice. Fed up with this treatment, I revealed that I am a police officer from India. The moment they heard the word, ‘police,’ they segregated me, took me to a separate room and started questioning. In the meantime, boarding for the flight had started and my wife was getting tense. At last I managed to board. My wife was upset. I explained that because of ‘racial profiling’ such things happen and not to worry over it.

I took her to Thailand last week. On our way home, at Bangkok airport, I was singled out by security and searched for ten minutes! As I joined her, my wife remarked ‘Is this also a case of racial profiling?’ I said, ‘No, this is a case of people in the same profession easily spotting their colleagues.’ She agreed and said ‘like poles always repel.’

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