In a lengthy Facebook post, US-based social media consultant and journalist Sree Sreenivasan explained he was travelling to Mumbai via Air India when he noticed something odd at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport.
"In addition to the usual issues around liquids and toiletries and electronics, there's been a new wildcard that's been introduced. ALL FOOD ITEMS NOW NEED TO BE REMOVED AND RUN THROUGH THE X-RAY MACHINE!" he wrote. "The officers told me it's being rolled out now and it will be nationwide by May (just in time for the summer travel season!)"
Mr Sreenivasan then pointed out why this new policy - if put into place as suggested by the Transportation Security Administration or TSA agents - would be a nightmare for passengers travelling to or from India.
Writing that Indians often travel with snacks and food items, Mr Sreenivasan predicted that it wouldn't be too long before a misunderstanding over a typically Indian food item would snowball into an untoward incident. Especially if passengers were carrying the delicious south Indian condiment known as gunpowder.
"HERE'S WHAT WILL HAPPEN THIS SUMMER: An agent will spot a container with a dry brown powder and inquire about it. The non-English-speaker will blurt out "gunpowder" (for that's the name for the spicy powder-activated-by-drops-of-oil beloved by South Indians and some brave Northerners). The result will be smiles all 'round at best or full-scale security panic at worst. This will happen, I promise you."
Read the Facebook post in its entirety below:
On Twitter, where Mr Sreenivasan had posted a screenshot of his Facebook post tagging TSA, a representative responded to his concerns, clarifying there was no new policy regarding the screening of food.
There's no new policy regarding the screening of food. However, removing these items may assist our officers in getting a clearer view of the bag, reducing the number of additional inspections needed. For more information, please visit: https://t.co/R9CY7EdpsD— AskTSA (@AskTSA) March 26, 2018
Thx for reply, @AskTSA. You say there's no new policy, but I've NEVER seen anything like I saw @EWRairport. Officers say they are being asked to do this screening and will be doing it nationwide by May. THEY WERE GREAT; it's the policy I'm asking about. https://t.co/4QcPV9kqMe— sree sreenivasan (@sree) March 26, 2018
As it turns out, however, most people have already had some sort of encounter with TSA officials over desi food, including - surprise, surprise - gunpowder.
"The gunpowder scenario has already played out many, many years ago. My friend... tells me her uncle told the security folks he was carrying gunpowder and was politely escorted to an office at JFK, where he spent several hours," wrote one person in response to the post on Facebook.
Another added, "The gunpowder situation has already been happening, since a few years at least. Whoever gave it that name must not have reckoned with present times. I always advise my friends... to stick a small label on the container clearly listing out the ingredients and what the powder is used for."
"I once had to prove that mushy rice cooked with lentils (pongal) that my mom (lacking a full set of teeth) was taking on a flight to India wasn't some newly concocted explosive. I had to eat two teaspoons to prove it," pointed out a third.
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