Enter the Dragon

I presume every self-respecting English speaker out there has seen the Back to the Future trilogy. I know I’ve seen it. A few times. Alright, alright – Many times. Don’t tell me you haven’t. After years of sedentary living, my flaccid arteries can’t handle that shock. I might simply choke & keel over. Just haul your butt off that couch, rent the DVD & enrich your brain.

The hero, Marty McFly, is the only normal, sane character in the movie. Everyone else is quirky, eccentric or plain weird. Now Marty’s all ship-shape till someone utters the “C” word. “What are you, Chicken?”. A Double-Doggy Dare. That’s all it takes for Marty to unravel. “What did you say?” he demands swerving, beady-eyed & foaming in the mouth.

Each of us has a trigger, a set-point. If that’s breached, we all become as wild as a Bronco with a fly in its ear. We prance around whinnying till the madness passes over. I don’t dig horses: they look dumb. They aren’t in the least terrifying. If its all the same to you, I’d prefer to morph into a savage creature with a fearsome aspect.

Insult me. And I transmogrify into a Fire Breathing Dragon. Sparks fly from my eyes, nostrils & assorted orifices. I cast aside the cloak of decency, daub my face with war-paint & become a primordial beast. Take a hint, drop the offensive & talk about the weather. If you can’t – or worse, won’t – stop bullying me because you’re glacially slow on the uptake: Get ready to tackle Ze Dragon.

It all started because of Shah Rukh Khan. He was en route to North America, but he was detained by US Immigration. For being a Muslim. The fact that Khan is more tolerant than most people in the world (his wife is a Hindu), that he has received death threats from Islamists for integrating with India’s fabric – was lost on them.

Racial profiling is galactically stupid. Roughly 23% of the people in the world are Muslims. What’s the grand plan of the Immigration officers – stop every 4th person that passes through? What, all of a sudden, traveling under an assumed name has become improbable? If you think US Immigration used a “process” to zero in on Khan, think again. Recently, they detained another Khan – Irfan Khan. The  enormously talented actor was on his way to receive an award. Don’t forget Aamir Khan: He was strip-searched & interrogated.

So, sorry to bust your bubble. No glorious, air-tight, Space Shuttle-Worthy, Lunar Module algorithms developed by NASA are at work here.

Khan is an internationally well known artist. Measured by the prevailing (and astonishingly appalling) standards of Indian movie-goers, he has even attained eminence. He’s from India, a country well-known for promoting its kitsch to the wider world. I expect everyone to do their home-work & this includes US Immigration Officers. How can you not know famous people, that too from a prominent country, when your job is to patrol, safe-guard & secure your nation’s borders? At best, that’s sloppiness. At worst – I’ll come to that later.

I tweeted about this & all hell broke lose.

How dare I call the officers ignorant? Not knowing SRK isn’t ignorance! You naïve woman. How can you fill your lolling head with stinking tripe from the mass-media? So SRK was detained – Big deal! Ex-President Abdul Kalam was frisked in New Delhi & we never heard a peep from him! People with Hindu names have trouble with immigration, how about that? Stop blindly parroting the news channels. How can you assume the officers don’t have a process? Are you even reading my responses? Shut your trap, will you? Woman?

These knights in shining armor, defenders of the officers in distress, were not American. They were Indian. Tamil. I found the stridency in their responses interesting. I don’t have a problem with disagreements or heated debates. Discussions are enjoyable & educative when decorum is maintained. People verbally lash out when they can’t land a stinging slap on your face. Its par for course when sensitive topics – religion, God – are discussed. I’m amazed that this vehemence was manufactured while debating the detention of an actor.

My personal opinion? I didn’t lose any sleep over “King” Khan’s detention. I don’t particularly care about him. In fact, I don’t even like him. He over-emotes, which is a polished way of saying “bad actor”. He takes himself way too seriously. He seems to think he knows more about cricket than Sunil Gavaskar. He thinks he has already filled thespian Amitabh Bachchan’s over-sized shoes. I think he sports a brand of arrogance born out of ignorance. But, he was a harmless, essentially decent, innocent man on his way to an event.

And yet: “People with Hindu names are stopped routinely”. What of it? Can you spell “Racism”? Immigration Officers in most developed nations can. To be fair, some of them can’t tell Arabs & South Asians apart. They blindly target “Muslim Looking” people, which in their mind involves a brown skin.  That’s superbly dim-witted. Arabs are not the only Muslims in the world. Turks for e.g. are Caucasian. Arabs from Lebanon or Syria can be very light skinned.

But some aren’t that innocent. To them, its a God-given opportunity to parade their Xenophobia. “Damn foreigner, setting foot in my country. I’ve taken an intense dislike to you without any basis because I’m a douche-bag. I have the power, so let me taunt you, play Cat & Mouse with you. What are you gonna do? Call a lawyer?!”. So it goes.

I don’t expect most Americans to know SRK: Only people who need to know, such as officers at the port of entry. He has a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s in London. He was a presenter at the Golden Globe this year. I don’t expect them to know the who’s-who of Indian glitterati. Only those who have a global footprint.

India, China, Russia and Brazil are the emerging powers. Their citizens travel more to developed nations, so I merely want the immigration officers to have some General Knowledge on these countries. And I demand that they make at least a half-assed attempt to review the paper-work of the visitors.

Back to my bug-bears. In retrospect, I wonder how much of their nonchalance was attributable to their inability to identify with SRK. Let’s up the ante. Would they be this insouciant, if their people – whoever that is – were stopped? Or would they thrash & moan about the ignorance of America? Would they lament that the Indian Government was in cahoots with the enemies of the Tamil Cause? The answer is mired in our views of identity & clan behavior.

Maybe my views are all wrong & I’m a bungling idiot. Perhaps I’m a sock puppet manipulated by the media. But that’s irrelevant. Those are my views & I have a right to air them. Your discomfort over my views is not my problem. If my opinions irk you, don’t read them. Its that easy. Your disagreeing with me doesn’t give you the right to slam me. You can’t verbally abuse someone because they published their thoughts in a public forum. If you think you can, you have an Anger Management problem, coupled with Chronic Hostility. You need help.

Nasty people hide behind their Digital Avatars. They know fully well that they can’t diss you face-to-face, you’ll tear them apart & make ribbons out of their innards. But, what can the Dragon do about online meanness, in twitter? You can put your foot down. But if that doesn’t work – Its a good idea to take the high road & not stoop to their level. Oh, un-following & blocking are good too. Dragons don’t reconcile.

Jerks teach us a lot, if you’re willing to learn. They’ve taught me how not to treat people. So I let sleeping dragons, broncos & buzzards be. I try not to trip on their tails. Working them overtime just won’t do.

What do you think about Shah Rukh Khan’s detention & Dr Abdul Kalam’s frisking? Do you think racial profiling works? And how do you handle meanies online? Tell us!


  1. Quote

    Senthil – When someone says “Let’s agree to disagree”, that means they politely disagree with you. It also means they are not interested in discussing that issue with you further.

    You’ve made your point & you are entitled to it. Thanks for your views. If you have some other point that you have not made so far, you are free to make it. Otherwise – Please move on.

  2. Quote


    We agree to disagree.. that’s fine with me..

    But you have made a serious accusation in a public medium against american officials that SRK was detained because his name ends with “Khan”. and i pointed out a latest news report, that SRK was detained because of the controversial links his sponsors in US had.

    If you feel accountable for your accusations, you may offer an explanation w.r.t the latest news.. Else, if you want to have the privilege of indian medias (of accuse but no need to answer) , then i will leave it to you..

    I will end my point here..

  3. Quote

    Senthil – Thanks for the link. But, please note that Subba already pointed out possible underworld connections, so the point you made is not new.

    Let me repeat myself: This post is about a pattern of behavior, not about this incident per se. Anyone who travels to US or other developed nations will have a 1st hand experience of what this post says. I’m also speaking from personal experience.

    >> But you have made a serious accusation in a public medium…. If you feel accountable for your accusations… etc

    Let me gently remind you of something: You make many accusations in your blog posts. You haven’t defended most of them to our satisfaction. That doesn’t stop you from making further accusations & you haven’t provided enough of what we consider evidence. I think this is the same as “not being accountable for your accusations”.

    But we think that’s OK. You have the right to your opinions. Which brings us to the topic of freedom of speech/expression. Let me repeat this point – its already mentioned in the post:

    Just because something is expressed in a public medium doesn’t mean the author has to satisfy everyone who disagrees with him/her. Perhaps the other person refuses to understand. Perhaps the topic is difficult for the other person to comprehend. That’s not the author’s problem. And in some cases, maybe the author is wrong. But s/he is entitled to his/her opinion.

    There is no law against expressing one’s opinions in a public medium. If anyone has the right to take umbrage at my views, its the US immigration. They don’t need help from anyone to defend themselves.

    And this is precisely what agreeing to disagree means. Freedom of speech & expression. We disagree with you, we may post some comments on your blog post, then we move on. Even though you haven’t satisfied us. We take your right to express yourself seriously, even sacred.

    Thanks for ending this line of discussion.

  4. Quote

    Abinav – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Yes, India is no shining example on how to treat people. Our govt doesn’t take racial profiling seriously. This probably doesn’t rank anywhere near the top of their priorities. And I think that’s OK.

    Please see my responses to Subba above. Just because there are 1 or 2 infamous characters with dubious links with the underworld – doesn’t make everyone in the Hindi Film World guilty or suspicious. That’s as bad as suspecting every brown skin or Muslim. Isn’t that racial profiling? You’re entitled to your opinion. But, I respectfully disagree.

    Randomly stopping brown skinned people/muslims on the ports of entry has not made US a safer nation. Investing in their security forces & making meaningful changes in their administration – that helped them. Their armed forces & law enforcement departments use up-to-date equipment & they are technically savvy. Whereas, we have very little people & too few boats patrolling our coasts, along the Arabian Sea & the Indian Ocean. Even our fearsome Black Cat NSG commandos botched their operation on 26/11 due to poor organization.

    I’m all for meaningful processes, so I want the immigration departments to tweak their entry procedure a little bit. We don’t have an option but to live with the rules imposed on us, meaningful or otherwise. But that need not stop us from questioning them.

    I’m not at all Xenophobic – I love all cultures. I can’t speak for my compatriots – nor am I bound by their actions. I’ll speak against racism & xenophobia wherever I encounter that. If Indians show these streaks, they aren’t exempt from my criticism either.

  5. Quote

    Arvind – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    All jobs need guidelines. As an Engineer, I appreciate processes, frameworks & rules. But I disagree that arbitrary rules are “process” & I don’t think they work.

    Let’s say most officers don’t know that Indonesia is a largely Muslim country, with increasing fundamentalism. If they use a half-baked Racial Profile (such as “Stop Brown Skinned Men”) – Will they pause to question Indonesians? Will that rule accomplish anything – Other than irritating South Asians?

    I don’t mean to say Indonesians are dangerous, that’s not my intent. I just used that to illustrate how arbitrary rules don’t work.

    Yes, Immigration Officers may not have much GK. Which is why they need solid guidelines & rules – instead of arbitrary rules. The solution is for the Immigration Departments of developed nations to have a better thought out process, that has more precision to identify truly dangerous people.

  6. Quote

    Priya – We have the right to question alright, no one’s stopping us; no one can. I am quite with you on raising the questions – but raising a question is one thing and concluding the baselessness is quite another. I am a bit wary of terming the American procedure as baseless or random, unless I know what the defined process, if any, is. And I am sure making a security check process public would be the most ridiculous thing to do. 🙂

    But yes, as much as I hate to, I guess this is a case where I have to be content with your agreeing to disagree… 🙂

    Keep posting…

    @Back to the Future: I was meaning to respond – I saw all the 3 parts on Star Movies bang during my final year Engg. examinations..! 🙂 Entertainment at its best…

  7. Quote

    Abhinav – Shashi Tharoor has written an article in Huffington Post. Perhaps you’d like to read that. He talks about his experience in racial profiling & how he was “randomly” selected for screening, repeatedly. There’s a phrase in Tamil: You don’t need a mirror to see the wound in your palm.

    Here’s how I read your comment – We can’t conclude the process is baseless without knowing the process. We can’t know the process since they won’t go public with it. Ergo, we can’t conclude it baseless 😉

    But, suspending judgment on the US immigration officials is a fair, unbiased position to take & I respect your position. Let’s agree to disagree.

    You saw the movies during your semester exams?! ZOMG 🙂 And yes – Star Wars is wonderful. Remarkable imagination!

  8. Quote
    pk.karthik said August 29, 2009, 4:59 pm:

    Great Post Priya and as usual it took some time for me to understand 🙂

    I am not in favour of Racial profiling and US has reached its pinnacle of Xenophobia…

    Its not fair to single out people with Islamic identities as terrorism has no religion….this has been proven in Ireland and East Timor and even in India.

    I am even more diasppointed in on more thing they just questioned King Khan instead of actaully strip searching him the..the officer has failed in his duty:)

    On serious note ,I guess we need to give his due to Shah Rukh as makes the most of his publicity out f any event ( he has a movie release based on 9/11 this year).I feel in a way we need to appreciate this guy’s sales promotional talent .

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