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Shirtless in Mauritius and other stories

Last updated on: April 03, 2005 18:45 IST

I had the honour to accompany the Prime Minister's delegation on its four-day visit to Mauritius, which ended on Saturday.

The trip offered me experiences ranging from the immensely pleasurable to excruciatingly boring. 

I'll start out with a few things that left me totally speechless...

Two historic statements made by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his recent four-day visit to Mauritius:

"When two politicians meet, they obviously do not discuss the state of the weather."

(When asked what he will discuss with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. At a media briefing on board Air-India's Khajuraho flight)

"The caravan must move on."

(When asked if his meeting with Musharraf would be called off if the Delhi cricket match between India and Pakistan was cancelled. At a press conference at a hotel in Mauritius at the end of his visit to Mauritius)

Both statements left me speechless.

Not so tight security

Security for the prime minister was extremely tight at all times during his recent visit to Mauritius.

But I got into Khajuraho, the prime minister's aircraft, unintentionally bypassing many clearances at Delhi's Palam airport.

I landed at the airport well ahead of time. At the entrance, I was made to step out of my hired car and put onto another government vehicle that happened to be entering at the time.... despite having a security pass.

From there, however, I kept moving about, not sure what was to be done. All security officials were too busy ensuring that their baggage was being loaded. I got my boarding pass and strolled onto the tarmac. A few meters away from the mighty Air-India carrier.

When boarding began, I followed the others, and was let in.

On the plane, I was offered tea/coffee, cookies by the courteous Air-India staff.

When my media colleagues began entering the plane much later, I realised something was amiss. I did not have a security badge.

I retraced my steps and realised that I had not even got my immigration stamp. How did that happen? I was at the airport very early, much before most departments began work, so I had walked past all their empty tables and entered the plane.

The security officials laughed when they realised their (and my) faux pas.

I later wondered what would have happened if I landed in Mauritius and they would have realised my mistake. Would I have been deported? Or taken back on the same flight?

Or put in some Mauritius prison?

And more problems…

On the last day of the trip, the media was told to keep their luggage outside the hotel rooms more than three hours before departure.

In a hurry, I had forgotten to keep a shirt to wear on my return journey. I only had my suit pieces (stitched specially for this trip at a cost of more than Rs 8,000) and a banian.

The hotel staff insisted I go to the reception area, identify my baggage, and take off my shirt, if the security officials were not through with their job.

So I had to troop down to the reception at 5.30 am in a suit, pant and a banian, and pull out my shirt from the suitcase.

Senior media colleagues who noticed me at the reception, wondered if I had turned casual and decided to wear the suit with a T-shirt.

Media people I will miss

Now that I am ready to return to Mumbai, I will miss the media delegation that joined me on the trip to Mauritius. The group includes...

Khalid Qureshi, Raja Ram Sukumar (both AIR), Ananya Dass Gupta, Manoj Dubey, Soban Singh (Doordarshan), Pradeep Rao, T C Manjunath (both Films Division), Kanchan Day (Photo Division) M V Meenakshisundaram, Parthasarathi Sengupta (both PTI), P Mohan Das (UNI), T N S Behl, Arun Kapoor (both ANI), Arvind Padmanabhan (IANS), Kasturi Venugopal (Hindu), A J Philip (Tribune), Radhika Mukherji (Telegraph), Jayanta Ghosal (Anand Bazar Patrika), Pankaj Vohra (Hindustan Times), Kalyan Barooah (Assam Tribune), Baby John (Malayala Manorama), Babu Lal Sharma (Dainik Bhaskar), P Mishra (Dainik Jagran), A Thangavel (Dinamani), V M Baviskar (Lokmat), Seema Mustafa (Asian Age), Gulab Kothari (Rajasthan Patrika), K Q Anwar (Munsif Daily),  Diptosh Majumdar (Indian Express) and V M Rajput (Daily Nand Darshan).

Apologies if I have missed anyone or got anyone's name or organisation wrong.

Special thanks to…

Dr Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the prime minister; Navtej Sarna, joint secretary, (XP), Ministry of External Affairs; Shambu Kumaran officer on special duty (PR), MEA; M S Bhandari, publicity officer, MEA; E P Teki, also of the MEA, and the many other unnamed people who worked very hard behind the scenes to make the trip enjoyable.

And an extra special thanks to…

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for greeting me (and hundreds others) at the reception hosted by Indian High Commissioner in Port Louis P S Haer. And for letting me travel with him on board Khajuraho.

Finally, sincerest apologies to…

Two people I really upset in Mauritius, despite all their hard work, were media centre in-charge Amandeep Gill and Inderdeep Singh Dhariwal,  who managed the centre.

You did a great job, guys!

Anthony D'Costa