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The 911 obsession

chandigarh Updated: Oct 15, 2012 12:29 IST
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"Mamu, dial 911…" shrilled my excited nine-year-old nephew from abroad. An unsuspecting neighbour was walking his pet and the naughty little thing defecated at our gate, inviting an immediate reaction from the kid, who was holidaying with us. 911 is the police helpline abroad to report an untoward incident or make a request for help. The young fellow was told that such a thing, though improper, was a normal happening here and definitely not under the ambit of 911.

Unconvinced, he termed a dozen incidents ranging from occasional roadside spitting to walking your pet unleashed, shouting pleasantries from a distance to parking right behind another car as unlawful and inviting penalty or a ticket, as they call it abroad.

Thereafter, we became conscious of his observations. His visit to a popular tourist place was an event. Pedestrians' woes, litter, noise, unsatisfactory safety arrangements for a casual boat ride, unhygienic snack stalls it was 911 all the way! We overheard him narrating these happenings on the phone to his mother overseas. Particularly embarrassing was his sympathy with her for having spent her formative years under such trying conditions and that she was wrong about a disciplined mamu (uncle), a fauji, a stickler for orderliness!

I felt sheepish and silently vowed to fall in line with the youngster. That day, we woke up early to drive down to our village. I had thought of giving him a bath at the tubewell at our farm in the company of dung-smeared cattle - and make him ride a local rough pony, all this to subdue his 911 obsession. Well, that was not to be.

En route, waiting at the traffic lights, we felt a push and the sound of shattering glass. The little fellow was at it again: "Call 911. Mamu, the car behind has banged into our vehicle." My wife woke up and I got out of the car to see some hungover, scruffy men trying to reverse after having spoilt the beauty of my Honda's rear. I noted down the number of the fleeing vehicle.

Meanwhile, the young turk disembarked and repeated his command. I tried to call up the highway helpline, which responded as "unreachable". More worried about his reactions and further negative impressions of my country than making good my loss or bringing the culprits to book, I hitchhiked to the closest police station, leaving my car, wife and nephew at the spot.

The fellow on duty was busy with the wee-hour nap. Disruption of his siesta led to a near-hostile response to my request to file a report against the offenders. "Colonel saab, the car does not have a local registration number and hence, the matter is beyond our jurisdiction."

I tried his boss's mobile number and was greeted with a similar response. I suddenly remembered having played a recent round of golf with a senior police officer. Managing to get his number from a common contact, I called him up. He responded immediately and asked me to relax and meet him at his office the next day. My nephew was impressed with my efforts and my closeness to powerful people, which by now he realised was more important than resorting to 911.

My endeavour to meet the "friendly and positive" cop at his office is yet to fructify despite half-a-dozen attempts, though we have had a couple of golf rounds in between. Since "talking shop" during play is "bad form", hence the matter remains buried. My nephew is back where he belongs. His recent mail reads, "Mamu, I have realised that people manning 911 here are robots. They should learn to be more human, as in India." Relieved, we look forward to the next visit of my mellowed-down, Indianised nephew!

Col Avnish Sharma (retd) can be reached at