Thursday, January 6, 2011

In search of Intelligence

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 4th Jan 2011)

I enter 2011 with the startling discovery that our Intelligence officials are smarter than I thought. They’ve recently issued a nation-wide terror alert – a clever way of disguising the fact that they have absolutely no idea where on earth terrorists may strike, and in the unfortunate event of an attack they can look superior and gravely say, “I told you so!” And perhaps even get a fat bonus for their superior sleuthing skills in the process, bah!

Every other day we read in the papers about how the USA, UK and other European countries successfully foil terrorist plots, and my frustration deepens. All we get (and that too, only occasionally) are sketches or photographs of a few Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who have reportedly sneaked into our country and are never found! Not astonishing, because the sketches are vague and the photographs faded beyond recognition. Even if posters were nailed on every tree in India and pasted on every available inch of wall-space (which they’re not), we’d never recognise them. Not even if they sat directly across us at a dining table and asked us to pass the salt.

I guess that means we all have to look out for each other. So here’s how we can do it:
1. Don’t let security personnel flatter you: Never foolishly assume that they just about barely peer into your bags at banks, malls, cinema halls etc because you look beautifully innocent like a Botticelli angel. Most of the security guards are bone lazy, period! And don’t bother to feel sorry for them because their jobs are so tedious – proof-reading is as much a pain in the neck, okay? What has to be done must be done well! I do my little bit for the security of the nation by threatening to report slackers to management. As a result, my handbag is checked so thoroughly I sometimes find long lost treasures in its crevices like tiny squares of refreshing tic tac. Rest assured after you scrape off the lint, they taste pretty good.

2. Don’t feel embarrassed about reporting suspicious objects: I have on one occasion loudly (and sharply) remarked on an abandoned backpack while refuelling at a popcorn counter during the interval of a Harry Potter film. A young man guiltily picked it up and, scorched by the fiery glare in my narrowed eyes, hastily shrank into the crowd. My husband disappeared before you could say ‘Poof!’ as well – clearly embarrassment is as effective as Potter’s invisibility cloak. He continued to pretend he didn’t know me till we left the cinema hall later. But hey who knows, I may have saved many lives that day!

3. Choose your restaurants wisely: After the horrible Mumbai carnage I have learnt that terrorists keep changing their tactics, and that it’s best to stay in constant touch with family and friends because you never know when you will be saying your last goodbyes. I have also learnt to appreciate dining establishments that sport opaque table-cloths that gently swish and sweep the floors. Very, very important - just in case you need to duck and hide.

4. Always remember that terrorists come in all colours and accents: Consider David Coleman Headley, one of the conspirators in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. He didn’t look remotely like Osama bin Laden. His accent was a Donald Duck-ish drawl. His ‘United Colours of Benetton’ DNA never reflected on the outside. Can you blame the people he became chummy with in Mumbai for believing that he was as American as apple pie? Frankly the only thing stood out about him was the colour of his eyes – one blue and one brown, sort of like a cat. I really wish America had warned us about him before the attacks but evidently they don’t love us enough. However, even if they had, and a photograph had been helpfully inserted in the papers, it probably would have been in black & white, tsk – I fear there is no intelligent life out there! Look, I’m not saying don’t become friends with strangers, but do use Google search frequently. It’s not foolproof, but it may make your antennae twitch.

5. Think like a terrorist: To defeat your enemies, you’ve got to think like them. Oh my god, on second thought, please don’t! It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pakistan-sponsored terrorists are hopelessly insane.