Have you ever been to an Indian thana (police station), say in Pipli or Nidadavolu?
Go on. Step inside. Be brave. You will be raped in twenty-seven languages and a million dialects. You will be spat on. You will drink urine. And if you are lucky, you will die. But if you are reading this there’s a good chance you are not among the lucky.
Policemen in India are a scared lot. They will shit on you because that’s what they know – they have been shat on all their lives and this here is their chance. Those people huddled in corners and shaking at the edges. This is the opportunity for policemen to strike back. And there are so many ways to give back – why not, why not, indeed. All is fear in life and death.
We are so subservient, it has altered our morphology. In photos of Indians next to other Indians – or for that matter anyone – we stand in what is now called covering the crotch position. Hands juxtaposed strangely in front, for ladies and gents. In football, it is necessary before a free-kick. This is the Indian version. The police are afraid of the police who is afraid to police.
Shoulders lunging forward, arms covering potbellies, breath-holding selfie moment. Awkward? What awkward. Their dictionary starts and ends with “Do you know who I am”, which is also the favourite line of famous people. When they get an opportunity to know themselves, they hit us. Who is to blame – we, they, us, them, kismet? Zindagi. It is not easy being a cop in India – it is especially bad to be one.
Oh, look who just swung in through the saloon doors. ‘Saley, kuttay, masoom pe haath uthate ho? Maa kasam… (are you troubling the innocent?)’ and six policemen lie dead on the floor. A few minutes ago he had just rolled over a few bones on the curb. No, footpath. Amchi Mumbai or Namma Bengaluru – how does it matter? Same skeletons, another place. Another bitia, tibia, skull, socket joint, humerus, fragments from a crushed foot. That’s all that remained, anyway, one fateful night in Mumbai. Stupid
Stupid skeletons, wanted to sleep on a pavement and that too in the middle of the night. But one or two bones squeaked. How dare they. A FIR should be lodged against squeaking bones for noise pollution. Ban bones. Oh, sounds so chic. These beggars – who do they think they are? And for years now, a certain thana in Mumbai is quivering with fear, wondering what being human means to a monkey. Do monkeys have biceps?
What do policemen in India do after the criminal has been caught in the movie and after we have all clapped and whistled? The khaki uniform is so disrespected even the starch revolts, especially when policemen wear half and full-pants so stiff the canvas crackles as if you were sharpening a knife with the crease. They call it the unicorn. Can’t run, can’t sit, can’t lie down, can’t stand. All they can do is sweat. People fear sweat-drenched khaki more than they do khaki. Sweat denotes anger as much as fear.
Indian police stations are places where everything can be fixed except a leaking tap. This is where false is true and true is false, where body parts are made to appear and disappear, sometimes swiftly, sometimes with studied deliberation, as the dead come alive and the alive jump out of their skin. Don’t have evidence? Manufacture it. Have evidence? Destroy it. Defile the file. Too many files? Destroy the building. Easy. Set fire to it. Damp matchbox? Then go on leave, or better still, say there’s nothing to hide. Destroy, defile, deny. Here, behind that wall, across the hallway, are stacks of files. No one knows, a few care and even fewer come to find out.
Welcome to my cell where a five-foot man can be found hanging from a six-foot ceiling. Or where a man dies because he bit a live wire. Yes. That’s how justice is delivered in India while holders of positions and carriers of justice speak about it as a miscarriage. Strange sense one gets, of an India which is forever pregnant with Justice – she’s either delivering it, aborting it, or suffering a miscarriage. Feminine gender.
What is the ratio in India of people to the police? Some say three lakhs to every cop, some put the figure upwards of half a million. But who knows – who cares. Probably as many as the rats that run around our ration shops.
The police in India know when to produce evidence and when to do a Houdini. They watch before they act. But before they watch, we do. A girl lies strewn, bleeding to death. We don’t stop our cars because we are in a rush to buy candles and placards with which to manufacture outrage over her coming death. Such cowards we are, we even deprive a woman of her name. But crime has a name. Own it. Face it. Embrace it. It is yours.
Naming is distancing, naming is owning, naming is disowning, naming is belonging, naming is abandoning, naming is deriding, naming is defeating. And naming is defining. We are sanitized, we are globalized, we are immunized and we have given ourselves a number to dial in case of an emergency. 100. There’s a government notification requiring that the three digits should be displayed prominently in all public places across India. These include skeletons and police stations where the sun goes down and there is darkness.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can carry on with skeletons as witnesses. In the grand scheme of things you are only as alive as you feel for others, share their grief, lend a hand, spare a thought, and remember that loved ones will refer to your body as “it” even before rigour mortis sets in. The Rat Eater has only just started talking. It is about you, everything you hold dear and everything about which you know nothing. Ready to jump without nets? Brahmandam. Growing into deep silence to reinvent as a revolutionary, a Karma yogi?
In the meantime, before you laugh at India’s police people, stand straight. Order yourself a Manhattan – darkness at noon. Huh?
We are all rat eaters. Make no mistake, even the one that got away, is, in the final analysis, a rat eater. The cuckoo that flew over the nest also had a defined trajectory.
Read The Rat Eater here.