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NEW DELHI — Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained by immigration officials at New York’s White Plains Airport for more than an hour after arriving from India, wire agencies reported Friday.
Khan, 46, was invited to deliver a lecture at Yale University, which honored him as a Chubb Fellow, and was accompanied by Nita Ambani, wife of India’s richest industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Their daughter Isha is a Yale student and president of the university’s South Asian Society. Khan landed in the U.S. on a private jet belonging to the Ambanis. Details were not available as to the nature of his questioning by U.S. authorities; reports indicated that Khan’s fellow travelers were immediately cleared by immigration.
“Khan was very, very upset at the episode,” wire reports quoted unnamed sources. “Yale University officials had to contact the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Department at Washington, when they came to know about his detention.”
In 2009, Khan was detained at Newark Airport and questioned for more than two hours before being allowed entry, an incident that led to a media frenzy over his treatment by U.S. authorities.
Khan’s arrival for his Yale lecture, preceded by a brief press conference, was delayed by more than three hours. The actor did not comment as to why he was detained, but before he began his Yale address, Khan smiled and took a witty dig at the incident. “It was nice, as it always happens,” he said. “Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.”
Known for his characteristic humor, Khan added: “(Immigration officials) always ask me how tall I am, and I always lie and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time, I am going to get more adventurous. (If they ask me) what color are you, I am going to say white.”
The incident again has drawn mainstream media coverage in India. Latest reports also indicated that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Department had sent a letter of apology to the Indian Consulate in Washington expressing regret over Khan’s detention. The letter alleged that Khan had failed to inform U.S. authorities of his program and added that the airport needed the approval of “senior authorities” to clear him. “The entire process took 75 minutes. After that, he left for Yale,” the letter said, according to reports.
“It has become a habit these days to first detain and then apologize. This can’t continue,” India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna was quoted as saying.
The incident also has caused an online flurry on social networking sites. “This is discrimination, and they (U.S. authorities) must stop this. Shah Rukh Khan is so cool about it, he laughed it off. But it’s not that simple, they need to look inward,” Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire) posted on his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, in his Yale speech, Khan shared his life experiences “which may not leave you inspired but will help you survive this life. … My hope for all of you is that you retain a lifelong love of learning, that you never cease to dream exciting and inspiring dreams, and when you fail, you fail well enough to succeed the next time. Don’t be afraid of being afraid, be afraid of not facing your fears and failures.”
Khan concluded his speech with a text message he said he received from his 14-year-old son Aryan: “Papa, Chuck Norris has trained his dog to pick up its own poop because Chuck Norris will not take shit from anyone. … So remember, you are fortunate enough to be a funambulist (a tightrope walker) who has an amazing set of punching bags — cherish them. And failure is your fiendish friend; keep him close, and don’t take no shit from anybody.”
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