Go sit in the ladies' common room," she was told on her first day on the job. The memory still angers Asha Korake, 40, now an assistant police inspector with the Powai police station. "I had cleared my exam and trained at the Nashik academy, just like the guys," she says. "I refused to move."
Sixteen years on, no one tells Korake where to sit.
"I have always stood my ground and now I feel powerful," she says, smiling. "I come to work every day feeling like I have the ability to right many wrongs."
The daughter of a retired English teacher-turned-lawyer from a small town near Solapur, Korake says it was the TV series Udaan - the story of a woman struggling to become a police officer - that inspired her khaki dream.
A teenager fresh out of school then, she was a tomboy already standing up for those weaker than herself. "When boys harassed girls in my college, I would take them on, even pull them aside and box them on the street," she says.
Despite her conservative extended family, which objected strenuously to the idea of her joining the force, Korake persisted. After graduating in Commerce, she was coerced by an uncle to work as an accounts assistant at a life-insurance company, but eventually she took her public services exam and got her first posting, in suburban Mumbai.
"All through those years of struggle, my parents supported me completely," she says. "I could not have done it without them."
Now juggling her dream job and family life - Korake is a single parent with a 13-year-old son - she starts her day at 6 am, with a bath and brief prayer session in her one-bedroom Marol police quarters home in Andheri (East).
Next, she prepares her son's tiffin with the help of her 24-hour maid, and once her boy has left for school, dons her uniform and leaves at 8.30 sharp for the 15-minute drive to the Powai police station, where she must clock in at 9 am when on day shift and at 8 pm when on night shift.
After the morning briefing, Korake heads out on foot or in a police jeep to patrol her 25-sq-km area, looking for signs of trouble and touching base with her local contacts.
If there are complaints filed from her jurisdiction at the station, she begins to follow up on the cases and, if necessary, carry out further investigations in the field. Korake's cases could be anything from rape and robbery to petty theft.
As an investigating officer, Korake takes complete charge of each case she is assigned - from filing the first-information report to collecting evidence and eventually filing a charge sheet."
Her confidence in the field, she admits, did not come easily.
"Initially, I was full of anxiety because the police stations were full of men who were not used to having a woman around," says Korake. "But as I learnt on the job, things began to change and they started taking me seriously."
If there is anything Korake dislikes about her job, it is the long hours - the average shift stretches to 15 hours - and the low pay. "I take home Rs. 35,000. We really should be paid more," she says. "We don't even have the luxury of meal times. We often just end up snacking."
In her off-duty hours, Korake says she likes to catch up on her sleep, spend time with her son, and watch any movie that shows the police in a good light. "When I'm with my son," she says, "I am one hundred percent a doting mother."
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)