Murder. That was the first thought in my hyperactive mind when I saw our office having been turned into a fortress. I'd been stopped and asked for my antecedents four times within a distance of 200 metres. There was tension in the air. Swarms of cops, rifles in hand, got denser and denser. Something was really wrong.
Had it finally happened? Had that reporter known to be obsessed with her stories finally killed the editor who loves rewriting them? Or, had the desk-hands finally got together and murdered the reporter? Would I be arrested for conspiracy?
To my relief, the policemen near the office seemed relaxed; like a set of schoolboys lined up for a compulsory NSS camp. It couldn't be murder.
Suicide, then? Maybe the odd working hours had finally taken a toll on one of the newbies. Who would be named in the suicide note?
Engrossed, I swerved in, only for a cop to stop my car at the gates. "What is this?"I asked in a mix of anger and curiosity.
"CM saab is here,"he said, signalling for me to park on the road outside. No one had died. Parkash Singh Badal, the patriarch of irony, was paying us a visit.
I reminded the cop that it was my office, and that the CM was the visitor. He appeared amused at my juvenile idealism: "Please, I've told you what to do."
I protested some more, so he let me in. But the entire parking lot had been vacated for the CM's cavalcade, and I was told to park at the back, in a space designated for lesser mortals. Were they going to land a chopper in the parking lot? Anyhow, I was one of the lucky few whose cars were allowed in. Most of the staff filled the road outside, while the CM's hangers-on and cabinet-rank advisers were driven in, their car doors opened by saluting officers. Some security measures are necessary, and are taken even when other VIPs visit our office. But this was unprecedented. I was frisked thoroughly, my tiffin-box opened and checked, and the cops' stares made me feel like Shahrukh Khan at a US airport. 'I look like a Khan, but I am not a terrorist,' I smiled to myself.
Having gracefully suffered the loss of dignity, I was shrugging it off as a guest's tantrum when I entered the newsroom. There were cops there too. Well, being polite to an unreasonable guest is one thing; having cops sit next to you, inside your office, in the name of guarding a public servant, is quite another! Enraged, I told the cop to get out. A senior colleague, probably simmering inside so far, joined me. We used some fancy words like preposterous, deplorable, intolerable, etc. The cops stood stone-faced. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, one of them smiled: "Tuhade naal taan kade-kade hundi hai; saada socho ji (You have to face this rarely; think of us)!" So he was one of us, lesser mortals.
"Why? Don't you get paid?"I asked, not caring that I was already late for work and had not even switched on my computer. Even my enraged colleague had got back to work, resigned to fate.
The cop responded: "Would you stand eight hours in the sun just so the CM could pass you by in five seconds in his fancy Land Cruiser? By the way, He has not even arrived here yet."
"Don't you get sick of it?"I wondered, softening.
"Well, there's no time for that. This is my 75th hour on duty, with hardly any nap time. And we still have a night patrol to carry out,"he said.
Filled with remorse for having shouted at him, I walked upstairs for a coffee break. Some cops were stationed there too. This was getting more amusing by the minute.
"Why are you everywhere?"I joked with a constable.
"Not us! The officers are everywhere. The officers will ask the constables to 'become invisible' when Badal arrives. They will salute, smile, and get the credit, while we've been here for four hours already."
"What have you been doing?"
"Just making our bosses feel fancy. God knows when this will get over."
"And what's your salary, if I may ask?"I continued.
"We get around Rs 35,000 a month now."
"That's not bad!"
"Bhaji, there are perks too,"he told me, "Like not getting to meet family for weeks; not being able to wear anything other than this uniform at all waking hours; not knowing what class your child is in; and then being castigated for being corrupt. This job is loaded!"The sarcasm was tragic. I didn't talk about bribery. He was a small cog in the machinery.
Meanwhile, Badal Senior came, gave us an interview about gurdwaras, golaks and saving the Panth; and left. The cops dispersed. The siege ended. Our office was ours at last.
Thanks for visiting us, Your Highness.