Last week, a group of top Indian shooters were stranded at the airport in Paris for 12 hours as the lengthy and complicated procedure to check in their weapons and ammunition made them miss their flight. In these times of highjacking fears and terror threats, Shahid Judge listens to the travel woes of the frequently flyers who go around the world with pistols, rifles and pellets.
The aircraft cargo hold is normally a restricted area for passengers. So, former international shooter Deepali Deshpande can proudly proclaim that she has been where not many are allowed. Though, at that time, she’d desperately wished she’d rather be at any place else.
The setting that evening in the mid-90s, seemed straight out of an action movie. The athlete was in transit at Hong Kong after flying down from Sydney, all set to board a flight home.
She found it odd that her name was called to the boarding gate before the doors officially opened to the passengers. An escort guided her all the way down to the cargo hold. No questions were asked; the language barrier wouldn’t allow it. Frantic gesticulation ordered her to enter a security van parked nearby. Sirens in the distance grew rapidly and she noticed armed policemen closing in on the van.
Inside she found her rifles neatly laid out on a table. An official ordered her to sit on the chair opposite while he furiously chatted with his colleagues in Mandarin. She recognised a copy of her gun permit with the pair. Deshpande sighed, but not necessarily out of relief. She knew the situation well.
She knew why she was in the van and she knew what she was about to be asked, probably through gestures. And so she decided to cut to the chase. She reached for her gun to point out its serial number. She remembers what followed with almost slow-motion recall.
The Olympian had barely touched her gun, but the sheer movement was enough for the two officials to shriek as if in counter. “It was all in a different language. But I could tell they were pretty angry,” she recalls. All of a sudden Deshpande wasn’t comfortable anymore.
She contemplated raising her hands in surrender, but realised she dare not move.
It seemed like an hour, but the matter was settled within 15 minutes of her entering the van.
A third official appeared and engaged the other two with equal animation. It seemed to the bewildered athlete that her papers were cleared. Deshpande was free to board the flight home, along with her bags, her gun, and a short-term fear of expecting similar chaos on future international flights.
One such case of confusion occurred last weekend in Paris. The Indian contingent at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Fort Benning found themselves stranded at the Charles de Gaulle Airport for 12 hours while on their way home.
The group was not allowed to board the Air continued…