(Published in Business Standard on May 4, 2013)
In the last few days I’ve come across unnerving violence in places you wouldn’t expect to find it. One was at Brussels airport, and one was at a book launch at the India International Centre (I know!).
Brussels airport at 6am is a very quiet place. I had half an hour to get to my connecting flight, and spent most of that time walking all the way over to terminal B, because apparently I am unable to correctly read a boarding pass, and then walking all the way back to terminal A. By the time I got to the security gate, there were five minutes left for boarding time. Why do they make these airports so large if their layovers are going to be so short? This one would be properly sized for Defence Colony International Airport, but it seems like overkill for a small European nation.
Anyway, I had just joined the shambling queue of walking dead at security when a loud clatter turned our heads: one of those short steel poles that hold security cordons had fallen over. The lady who had knocked it over kept walking. Again, that wouldn’t be odd in Defence Colony, but it is in a small European nation.
This lady then charged at the metal detector. The security guard put out his arms and blocked her. She began to scream “Let me through!” in French, bringing a couple of beefy officers slowly to their feet. Without raising his voice the guard said she couldn’t go through without a security check, and could she kindly get in line and place her jacket in a tray for the Xray?
The lady took off her jacket. She also took off her shirt, her bra, her trousers and her panties, flinging each item into the crowd like a rockstar. The crowd received them with rapt attention. So there we were, one stark naked raving woman, a troop of groggy travellers holding her knickers, and a set of guards who were uncertainly beginning to reach for their walkie-talkies. After spending a few moments crawling around the floor, naked lady stood up, picked up a stack of those blue plastic Xray trays, and flung them into the air like very large, hard and potentially injurious confetti. She then threw one of those steel cordon-poles across the room. It was very loud, and the crowd reacted with the sounds that you hear in a stadium when a ball goes high, or a play ends in disappointment.
At this point I had to tap my security officer on the shoulder and tell him I had one minute to get to my gate. He waved me through without taking his eyes off naked lady. Two men walked around this lady, talking reasonably to her and at most holding her wrist. I have to hand it to European-style security: in the US there would have been five men kneeling on her chest with a kennel of dogs and a battery of assault weapons pointed at her nose within five seconds.
The other incident, at the IIC in Delhi, was at the launch of a book about Narendra Modi, where the panelists were discussing the question of whether India is ready for Modi. It was a normal book launch for a while, but suddenly two members of the audience began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. In that roosting spot of nodding greybeards, the discussion then collapsed into a massive roar of simultaneous shouting so loud and furious that I think audience members’ pulses were spontaneously revived.
Just goes to show, you can never tell what might happen.