The Auto Expo is usually a messy affair where hapless security guards are expected to distinguish between the general public and members of the media. This year, since the event was arranged in a venue far away from New Delhi, they only had to handle power socket-hungry journalists.

Day 1 saw a string of ridiculously expensive cars, in an avatar that is well past its sell-by date in the West, being unveiled for the first time in India. One end of the hall was filled with those who were trying to get audio bites from officials. The other was filled with people vying for freebies. This didn’t look too different from crows vying for the last piece of meat.

A journalist who had just come out of the huddle approached a security guard who looked like he was well into his 50s. The journalist wanted to know how to get to Hall No. 5. The security guard explained that since he was at Hall No. 8, three doors down should be Hall No. 5.

The journalist, meanwhile, was confused as to what he wanted to put into his pocket: his smartphone or the freebie he probably punched a few people to lay his hands on. Having not heard the guard properly, he asked the old man to repeat himself. He promptly did.

The journalist whipped out his smartphone, fidgeted, and told the security guard he was wrong.

The now disgruntled journalist who was balancing his phone, laptop and a backpack he got for free at the just-concluded press conference arbitrarily started yelling that the security guard did not know the layout.

The guard, confounded by this revelation, radioed his colleague who was standing on the other end of Hall No. 8. As the voice on the radio repeated what the first guard had said, the journalist lost his head, abused a few family members of the security guard, and walked away in a hurry, probably to stand in line to get another freebie. It is entirely possible that the two security guards were informed only of their own postings and not of the entire layout of the hall. However, that matters little to the guy who thinks his job is more important than a puny watchman.

Even as this writer was dancing up and down to catch a little bit of mobile signal to send photos to his editor, another young journalist approached the same guard. As the elderly security guard recovered from the volley of abuses a guy half his age had hurled at him, a lady journalist walked over to ask about hall No. 9. The guard, smartened up, simply asked her to refer to her phone.

(Karthik Harinath is an automobile journalist based in Chennai.)

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