I was at a dinner, a curtain raiser to a conference, with my fellow intellectual property professionals from all over the world. It was a “networking opportunity” as they say in corporatese. I started chatting with a husband and wife pair from the US. Both of them were IP professionals. After the introductions, and collecting our drinks, the talk turned to the chaotic traffic in India, Bangalore in particular. This was their first time in India and they recounted their experiences of the unruly traffic. They said they could not understand why people honked so much. I joined them in sharing horror stories about traffic in India.
While we were at this, a handsome African American gentleman, from Detroit, working for clients from the automotive industry, joined us. He quickly joined the traffic-horror-story bandwagon. Familiarity, perhaps, does breed contempt. Though they were very polite at first, their condescension started coming to the surface. I was really surprised when the newcomer complained, “I am amazed that I have to go through metal detectors whenever I enter hotels in India. My bags are x-rayed! What are they thinking? Do they think I would be carrying a bomb?”
However bad Indian driving may be, however ready I may be to be critical of it, this was really crossing a line. I quietly told him: “It is not to check if you are carrying any explosives, but to ensure that no one is. It is actually to protect you. This is a high profile hotel (Marriott) and may reasonably be expected to be a terrorist target. So, there is nothing surprising about all these precautions, don’t you think?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, it is still strange to me!”
I told him: “Well, I am surprised that you are surprised. I can’t even imagine that in the US there are schools with metal detectors because the kids may be carrying firearms. When I was in school, I had not even seen a firearm, except in parades.” This hit home more than I had anticipated. The Chicagoan said, sheepishly, that it was true and he had studied at such a school! I was surprised that he admitted that.
I wanted these people to know that however superior they may feel to the rest of the world, they do not live in a perfect country, either. I continued and said, “Well, you find it difficult to understand Indian traffic. I don’t understand the American gun culture at all - if culture is the right word to describe it. Thousands of innocent people are killed and you don’t do anything about it! School shootings, public shootings, and what not. Everyone claims that they have a gun to protect themselves and as a deterrent. If that were the case, America would be the safest place in the world. But it is the most unsafe in this respect. So, I understand that you do not understand many things Indian. No one understands many things American.
Now the couple admit that they own a gun too and looked as if they wanted to change the subject. I swallowed the last of the beer in my glass and said, “Ready for dinner?” They were. Now I donned the role of a culinary guide on Indian food. “No. No one eats such food at home every day. No, all this is north Indian food and South Indian food is very different . . .”
Thinking about the shootings, what is less comprehensible is the inane (or do I mean insane?) words of politicians. “The victims are in our thoughts. We pray for them.” Fat lot of good it does to the victims, and more cruelly, to the bereaved families. What could actually be done – greater controls on gun purchases, let alone eliminating them, is never on the agenda!
PS. I used to blog fairly regularly a long time ago. That was when reading was a major part of my day job. Then, writing became the major part and I had stopped blogging. I had been planning to write this up often – as often as the regular, almost ritualistic, bloodletting-through-gunfire, that America indulges in. The latest one did trigger me into action.