by Kiran Jhamb
Mr. Gupta driving the brand new Maruti, which his bride of a few days, had brought as part of the dowry, started towards Ooty. Honeymooning is very important, whether afterwards honey remains or not, and moon as everybody knows, always wanes and waxes, but that is quite a different story. So here were Mr. and Mrs. Gupta billing and cooing and singing songs in their car with eyes so full of dreams that it was difficult to keep them on the road.
On the way they stopped at a hotel to have dinner. They parked their car at a public place. Replete and happy they returned after an hour and were shocked to find that the brand new tyres of their car were missing. Some skilled car thief had been at work on their car. He had replaced the new tyres with old ones.
It was ten o` clock. Night was young but the road was almost deserted. Very few people were there. Still Mr. Gupta made enquiries. People expressed their ignorance. Nobody had seen anything or was willing to own up what they must have seen. It became clear that it was not the first time that this had happened there. At last he decided to register a complaint in the nearby police station.
When he reached the police station, a police constable standing outside was busy chewing tobacco with full concentration. He was religiously rubbing more tobacco in his palm as if this was his duty. Mr. Gupta told him his story. He pointed towards a room without opening his mouth, which anyway being full of saliva, couldn’t have been opened.
On entering that room Mr. Gupta found the Head constable sleeping on his chair with his feet resting on the table in the front. Undecided Mr. Gupta waited for some time. When he did not get up, Mr. Gupta tried to wake him up, “Munshiji,Mundhiji.”
Minshiji woke up with a start, lowered his feet, and listened to Mr. Gupta's complaint all the while scratching his head and yawning. Then he asked for five hundred rupees for registering the complaint and taking further action. Gupta sahib justifiably got annoyed and threatened that he would report the matter to the higher officer. What a come down waited for this uninitiated being in this police land!
As fate would have it, the `broom-broom` of the police Inspector’s motorbike could be heard just then. After a moment he entered the room. He looked at Mr. Gupta very condescendingly and asked, “What is it?”
“Sahib, somebody has taken out the new tyres of my car and in their place has put old tyres.”
The inspector thundered, “ All right, then what?” Mr. Gupta became a bit nervous, “This munshi is not writing my complaint. He is asking me...”
The Inspector interrupted, “Sure this is your car? Where are its papers?"
Mr. Gupta opened his bag, took out the papers and offered them to the Inspector. He noted that the Inspector was more interested in eyeing Mrs. Gupta than in going through the car papers. Mrs. Gupta was standing bashfully in a corner. Mr. Gupta did not like the fact that not only he, even his wife had not been offered a chair in the police station. Okay, not the chairs but the bench could have been offered. Rather they were standing like culprits. As stated before this was their maiden journey, their first visit into any police station.
From inside screams could be heard coming, “Leave me, I am not a thief. I have not stolen the goods. Leave me.” Both of them tensed up. Now the inspector started his interrogation.
“Prof. Sanjay Gupta.” The Inspector looked him over from head to toe and then pointed towards Mrs. Gupta, “ Who is this woman?”
‘Sir, She is my wife.”
Gupta sahib by now had become so uneasy that he started addressing the inspector as ‘Sir’.
“Really? Is she your wife or bhaga kar lai ho?”
Mr. Gupta was highly qualified. He had an MA and LLB to his credit. He knew more than the Inspector did. His first thought was to protest.
But sensing the atmosphere he controlled his ire. His knowledge lost its edge. He stood there like an average frightened, threatened citizen.
“She is my wife. We are married.”
“Where are the papers of your marriage?”
“Look, we did not get married in the court. We went for a religious ceremony.” He did his best to suppress his annoyance but could not stop himself from saying, ‘Even you must be knowing that pundits performing the religious Hindu marriages do not issue any marriage certificates. We have applied for one in the court”
“Okay, Okay. Don’t teach me laws.”
Again the Inspector looked towards Mrs. Gupta with naked lust. Instinctively she moved nearer to her husband. Mr. Gupta realized that it was dangerous to stop there. He felt it wise to leave the premises. One keeps on reading so many stories in the newspapers about the atrocities, misconduct and misbehavior of the police. God knows what these policewallahs might do!
“Please Inspector, you write our report and allow us to go. I will give you my address. If you get the tyres you just inform us.”
The Inspector said, “ All right.” He ordered the Head constable, "Munshiji, you write down his complaint.” Then he ordered the constable standing nearby, “ Ramsingh, take out the tyres of Sahib’s car. They are not his. He has just now told us that they do not belong to him.”
Mr. Gupta was stunned to hear the Inspector’s orders. He protested, “ If you will take out the tyres, then how will we go to our hotel?”
“ That I don’t know. It's none of my business. It's your problem. Just now you have said that these tyres are not yours. Your tyres have been stolen.”
“That’s right, but...”
“Munshiji hurry up. It’s already eleven `o clock I still have to take my dinner.” Now Mr. Gupta started pleading that the tyres of his car should not be taken out. Ignoring him the Inspector went towards his quarters.
The Head constable started writing the report. Mr. Gupta repeatedly requested that he might or might not write the report but he should not take out the tyres.
The bored constable explained, “ I’m helpless. I’ve to write the report. Sahib’s orders, you know.”
At last folding his hands Mr. Gupta said, “You please tell the Inspector that we don’t want to file a complaint.”
Pat came the reply, “This is not possible. Sahib has ordered. Unless Sahib says `no`, the report will be written.”
"You please convey my request to him.”
“No, baba, no. Now it is his dinner and drinks time. I cannot disturb him. You go to his quarter.”
Mr. Gupta did not feel like leaving his wife alone in the sinister, menacing atmosphere of the police station. So again he humbly and abjectly pleaded with the Head constable.
With a great show of reluctance, he got up from his chair as if he was obliging them and went towards the Inspector's quarters. He returned after five minutes. Mr. Gupta asked him anxiously “ What did the Sahib say?”
With a let's-get-it-over expression, the policeman replied , “ Sahib said take one thousand rupees and let the matter rest.”
Mr. Gupta was startled , “ One thousand ! What for? I am the aggrieved party. My car tyres have been stolen."
"Then shall I write the report?"
"No, no. One thousand is too much. Can't we lessen the amount? Won't five hundred be sufficient?"
The policeman quickly shook his head, “Sahib is very strict. He won’t take a single paisa less. Decide quickly, shall I write the report?”
Intuitively Mrs. Gupta had gauged the delicacy of the situation. She tried to shield her husband's ego, which demanded that he should put up a show of bravery in front of his brand new wife. Opening her purse, she took out two crisp notes of five hundred rupees and offered them to the policeman.
Before Mr. Gupta could react, she caught hold of his arm and took him towards the car. Their ritual of baptism to the corrupt police realm was complete - they too had become corrupt. *****