Seventeen years after the September 11 attacks in New York, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) would appear to have gleaned an important lesson from arguably the most visual and visceral terror attack in recent memory: An uncalibrated smile, it seems, led to the lapse in security all those years ago, and no grin, no matter how friendly, must be allowed to lead to a similar lapse at an Indian airport. The CISF, which handles security at 60 airports in the country, has decided that too much time and energy is being wasted on making passengers feel comfortable. According to Director General Rajesh Ranjan, the time has come to move from “broad smiles” to “sufficient smiles” — after all, security, not customer service, is the CISF’s mandate.
The CISF has set itself a herculean task, one which has bothered the newcomer at a party, the job-interviewee and every bride and groom to be. How much smile is too much smile? What algorithm can determine the precise parting of lips and appropriate display teeth to be “sufficient” to balance hospitality and intimidation? Will a chimpanzee-like grin, used by our great-ape cousins as a tool to intimidate rivals, do the trick? Perhaps a knowing smirk will take the place of an old interrogation technique — let would-be carriers of contraband know that the cops already know you’re guilty.
At the root of the CISF’s objection to ear-to-ear grins may lie something more than a false dichotomy between security and hospitality. The CISF may only be expressing discomfort with a happy workforce. It seems that a little chit-chat, some human warmth for and from the uniformed men and women must no longer be allowed to provide a modicum of relief to those who are forced to deal with the tantrums of entitled air travellers.