My name is Shah Rukh Khan. Whenever I go to the USA they take me aside for questioning. It sucks.
My name is Bikram. The computers around the world are not programmed for brilliance so they go whirr whirr clackety clack and circle ‘-ikram’ and I am requested to step aside. The same goes for ‘Geetanjai’ and ‘Anjali’ and that’s the way computers work.
Now, I am not famous like Shah Rukh Khan but most people who work at American airports are just average Joes who are so dramatically parochial they have no idea who he is or even where exactly India is. As much as it is very unlikely that the new age staff at an Indian airport will recognise Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino.
Shah Rukh Khan. Reuters. Also, Indians watch Hollywood. Americans do not watch Bollywood. And unlike Heathrow, which has Indians by the hundreds, US airports do not. If there had been rubbernecking Indians transiting or on the flight desperate to see their hero it would cut no ice with Customs and Immigration who would have gone by the rules.
The first time that Shah Rukh was held up, his name went into the maw of the big, bad wolf called a Cray computer which munches up everything and remembers everything and underscores everything and so it does not matter who you are; once your name is in the system you will be marked by the computer as a person of interest.
The computer might be a whizz but it does not discern. Tunngggg, red light.
I have several pages in my passport with Arabic stamps. A dozen Mid-East countries over the past 30 years. I attend an aviation conference in Seattle. I have pamphlets in my bag describe aircrafts because I have to study for the seminar. I am a guest of Boeing. I represent a publication from that region.
Sierra! Their nice courteous way of saying, you aint going anywhere yet, bud.
Finally figured out that two plus two makes 10 in the computer’s mind.
So now I know that I will be placed in the Sierra line which means a double check by security and a kind of walking the visual gauntlet.
Take it in your stride, Shah Rukh, that’s the way it is and that’s the way it is going to be. If Donald ducks into the White House, you may not get away with only a few questions.
So, if you wish to go to the States, face the fact that you are in that machine’s memory.
And the moment the manifest is fed of your flight, the computer will send out an alert.
It can be daunting, very embarrassing and annoying but stardom or anonymity, all are identical and it is a lot easier to just go with the flow and waste that time.
At Chicago, I was pulled out of line. Asked to go to a room where my suitcase sat like a coffin. Asked to open the locks and stand back, please.
Curious, I asked why I had been chosen.
The lady cop said I sort of fitted the profile of a person they were looking for. Over 60, shifty eyed, mean spirited, suspicious, short on hair, arrogant and displaying attitude.
That’s what I believe it does, that system, it profiles you and if certain markers are common with someone they seek, you are just it.
So don’t let it get you down Mr Khan, you should have gotten used to it by now. You can moan and groan and make as many petitions as you like your name will never leave the system.
Point is, you may not be over 60 but are you shifty-eyed?