I am indebted to friends and colleagues who offered messages of support, or in some instances advice on the rescue of those incarcerated gowns held captive by customs and excise at Bangalore airport. Many of the potential solutions tendered came as a result of similar experiences with local bureaucracy, and it was reassuring to be reminded that I should not look at the situation too personally. Other ideas, all kindly meant, ranged from the practical to the wholly bizarre. In particular Sorrell’s suggestion of a commando type raid upon Bangalore airport gaol, largely calling upon the services of Tom Cruise, takes the prize for imagination. This was much as I would have expected from a friend who is an artist and dependent upon creativity to make a living. His ideas did however, have the important effect of diffusing some of the tensions of the past forty eight hours with humour.
I can now inform readers that after much anxiety, and through a great team effort, the academic accoutrements were finally released. On the basis of experience gained I can advise colleagues who may find themselves in a similar situation (hopefully this will not apply to you), that there is a formula, albeit a complex one to secure the release of custom held captives. So here briefly is the approach that ultimately – late last evening in fact – secured the freedom of the gowns. Firstly ensure that you have a strong team working with you to address the challenge – Jayashree and Sunil proved themselves worthy warriors in the cause. Remain persistent, be constantly in the thoughts of the jailers and their superiors. This is best done using local intelligence who are able to call upon influential friends to make frequent phone calls declaring the innocence of the prisoners. At the same time, anticipate frequent journeys to the prison officers’ headquarters armed with pens and as many official papers as you can muster. Expect to have passport and other means of identification photocopied on numerous occasions, be prepared to fill in what will seem like hundreds of forms, often to be informed by other jailers that these are in fact the wrong forms, and repeat the same information to dozens of different officials over the course of several days. As the end game approaches ensure that a small proportion of the original ransom demand is handed over, but only at the point where you have seen the hostages and assured yourself that they remain alive. Finally, have a fast getaway car with engine running at the door of the prison.
The drama concluded today’s graduation can now go ahead. A great cheer could be heard from all concerned. However, a happy ending having been secured, the saga doesn’t quite end here. A bandh has been announced for today in Bangalore. For those of you unfamiliar with the term bandh, I must explain that this is a form of strike which will bring the whole city to a halt for most of the day. In extremis this can become an ugly situation involving a certain amount of violence. Having experienced a couple of these in the past I know that they can normally be avoided, and that the disruption caused can be minimised. However, as ill-luck would have things, one of the focal points of today’s event is immediately adjacent to the hall where the graduation was to be held. This has necessitated finding a change of venue and a complete reordering of events. It seems that life in Bangalore, normally a fairly sedate business, is occasionally hit by a monsoon, and that this latest deluge is falling upon our celebrations.
Undaunted we will continue. Our original plans may have been thwarted, the fates have had their fun, but we will have the last laugh. The gowns are released, a compromise venue found and I have had sufficient sleep to gird my loins to do battle with any further obstacles that may emerge. So be warned, students will be graduating with their University of Northampton MA in Special and Inclusive Education today in Bangalore, come what may. That’s a promise!
P.S to my good friend Sorrell I ask – who needs Tom Cruise? Mission impossible? – never!