The Shankar Mishra Air India caddish pissing episode was “poorly handled” by the flight crew of the commercial jetliner on which it occurred between New York City’s JFK International Airport and New Delhi, because all that the pilots and the flight attendants did was to reportedly spray the “Name Withheld” female passenger victim’s clothes and luggage with a disinfectant. We are told that the proper procedure ought to have been for the flight crew to have radioed ground control and have the criminal culprit promptly arrested as soon as the plane landed in the Indian capital. Instead, the criminal perpetrator, or perp, as New Yorkers are wont to say, would be allowed to quietly deplane and leave the airport for his residence and place of work several days later before the Air India authorities would cause the executive vice-president for an Indian subsidiary of the US-based Wells Fargo transnational corporation to be arrested and arraigned before a judge, who would promptly, albeit rather belatedly, sentence Mr. Mishra to a diddly two weeks in the slammer.
I got hooked by this news story primarily because I have done quite a remarkable bit of readings, not necessarily deliberately scheduled systematic research, about the routinely short-shrift treatment meted Indian women, on a daily basis, especially lower caste women, such as the “honor killing” of women accused of consorting with men below their caste and class status, and some lower-caste men as well. So, this rather disturbing incident set me wondering whether this most despicable act of gender violation and violence could very possibly also be a matter of caste denunciation or vehement protestation, whereby an upper-caste Shankar Mishra felt culturally or ritually and religiously violated or contaminated by the close proximity of the seating of these two societally incompatible passengers, as to provoke this most depraved act of human misbehavior. Which would be very ironic, that is, hypothetically assuming the preceding observations to be reflective of the factual and practical reality, because his very bestial act of urinating on the woman victim of this crass exhibition of an apparent false sense of moral and spiritual superiority, actually reduced the dignity and the humanity of the perpetrator to an abjectly base level and status of downright sub-humanity.
Of course, I also realize the possibility that I may very well be reading too much ideology into a pure and simple case of uncouth personal or individual misbehavior that may very well have absolutely nothing to do with either cultural differences or ritual sanctity or caste status. My wife’s initial gut reaction was that perhaps Shankar Mishra was suffering from a momentary grip or seizure of dementia or mental and psychological imbalance or disorientation of some sort, after I suggested that the perpetrator may very well be among the hundreds of people afflicted with aviation or flight phobia and might have felt frozen in his seat or perhaps even deathly afraid of walking to the lavatory, while the plane was in motion and at some 40,000 feet above the Earth. Personally, I also have a fear of heights, but not when I am on an airplane jampacked with passengers and I have to make myself comfortable by promptly evacuating the extraneous and toxic contents of my bowels. In this kind of “death and disgrace” situation, I would rather choose death than having to disgrace myself in public. An international or global public, in this specific instance.
Among the Akan majority populace of Ghana from whom I hail, we have a maxim that says that “Given a choice between death and disgrace, most self-respecting and dignified people would promptly pick the veritable poison of death and dignity.” These days, though, one is really never sure whether this acute and laudable sense of civility still prevails among an overwhelming majority of our people, the Ghanaian people at large, that is. In this most depressing story, we are told that but for the steely determination of the victim not to be taken for granted by the “male chauvinist pig” who has so criminally desecrated her dignity and thus written to the Air India authorities to grieve her case and, likely, threatened to take the matter to the highest level of justice, this most despicable act of patriarchal denigration of Indian womanhood would likely have been literally swept under the proverbial or metaphorical rug and out of sight, almost as if it had never happened.
Now, we don’t know much about the personal and familial background of Shankar Mishra, although we may be legitimately inclined to suspect the existence of some sort of a pattern or habit here, as one simply does not get up one day and just decide to unzip the flap of his “dingbat” and erratically spray one’s next seat fellow passenger with urine. But similar things do happen in other “landed” situations. For instance, about a decade ago, this author had an Arab-Egyptian neighbor in the cooperative apartment building in which he has continuously been living for close to a quarter-century steadily and systematically harass him because “Abu Jihad” – no offense intended here – had decided that he could not abide living next to a “Kaffir” with two robust toddlers. Abu would proceed to lodge several complaints on a daily basis with our coop’s management to the effect that his then four- and two-year-olds were constantly running up and down the hardwood-floor of his apartment and making loud noises throughout the night, such as to make it virtually impossible for his neighbor to go to bed.
That was a big lie because other than the few occasions that one of my boys – these days I call them my bodyguards – would take ill or come down with some sort of ailment, on most days, my boys would be fast asleep by 10 pm, in preparation for the babysitter and kindergarten the next day. When Abu would go away for the weekend, he would set up a loud industrially sounding beeper like the kind of noise made by a backing-up Earth Mover. This sort of deliberate annoyance went on for several weekends. Finally, sensing that there was absolutely nothing that he could do to get my family to vacate our three-bedroom apartment, Abu decided to follow the Prophet Muhammad up the proverbial mountain. We would meet with the Managing-Director of our cooperative apartment complex. Ernesto Rivera, as I vividly recall, who would admonish Abu to purchase his own house somewhere in one of the New York City suburban townships, if this Egyptian “domestic terrorist” so avidly craved the sort of deathly silence of a cemetery that he seemed to be unreasonably demanding of his neighbor.
At the State University of New York’s Community College where yours truly has been teaching for some 26-plus years, the theme of his College Composition and Literature Courses has always been “Patriarchal Tyranny and the Place of Women in the Contemporary Global Village.” And for his dogged pursuit of Gender Equality and Justice, yours truly was recently brought up on some unfounded and unproven charges of sexual harassment. He is presently on Medical Leave and undergoing treatment for teaching-related trauma. “What a strange American world in which we live in it, Spirit of my good, old Uncle Atukwei Okai.”
*Visit my blog at: KwameOkoampaAhoofeJr
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
March 17, 2023
E-mail: [email protected]