I sometimes let my imagination explore the random: following the trail of the wiliest terrorist or a serial killer and nabbing him/them to interrogate; possessing an Austrian Glock-18 pistol, available only to a few armed/special forces personnel, or getting to share my analysis with the Research and Analysis Wing (Some call it ‘RAW’, the cool-set calls it ‘R&AW’).
I imagine being in uniform and being in the thick of action rather than watching from a distance as I do usually as a crime reporter. So when my turn came to do a “Just do it” piece, I slipped into a cop’s role.
Preparations for being part of the New Friends’s Colony police station’s night patrol team begin with a haircut. And end with it. Forget the Glock, not even the dinosaurean Lee Enfield rifle or a police uniform came my way. Police inspector Brijinder Singh is to lead the 35-strong ‘bandobast’ team.
I am part of his sub-team. A quick huddle and a quick strategy-session — preventing car-thefts, car/truck-jacking and netting a man who stabbed to death his rival with a kitchen knife the night before, at Taimur Nagar, hub of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the area — defines the night’s priorities.
At 11.30 pm, Singh, his police driver Surendra Singh, and I set out in the gypsy. I sit erect, place my elbow on the window-frame, and scan the surroundings with a grim expression. But not a soul in sight. There are two donkeys though, 100 feet away.
And then I spy a car, a gleaming black beauty with a man pottering around it. My mind begins to race — what if he is without a licence? He could be a baddie. He isn’t. Singh asks the driver to move ahead: “The man is so drunk he is peeing on his own car.” There couldn’t have been a more bizarre start to the exercise.
Moments later, Singh’s informer buzzed him to give a “hot lead.” The second time in last one hour. It was, again, about the suspected kitchen-knife murderer who was apparently holed up on a terrace at Taimur Nagar. “Tu ruk...tu jaa…oye sunn tu…usko pakad le...kar payega tu? No firing”, Singh barks orders to the teams in Hindi laced with Punjabi.
The teams, and I, slither into the building and up across the stairway but there is no sight of the suspect on the terrace: False information, twice, from the same informer.
Minutes later, Singh asks his men to ‘handle’ the informer ‘well’ a few days later. The informer, a Taimur Nagar local, apparently did this to impress his neighbours about his ‘clout’ with the police. I can imagine him peering at us from some corner.
Next stop: a picket or a check naka at Ring Road. I get into action. I begin questioning motorists who have been stopped. One of them, who is smiling too much, has only a Xerox copy of his licence. I ask him why. “It got wet this morning when I washed my clothes,” he says. I let him go. I am not sure of the rules.
The other man has a learner’s licence. I ask him why. He gives more information than required and says the licence was procured in Ballia. Wow, great. I grill him some more and ask him about his insurance papers. They are in order, sadly. But I have to say something, even if it means advising him about a better deal he could have got from another company. I talk crisp and quick. But I don’t fool anybody. The two ask me if I can guarantee their photographs will appear in the newspaper. I give up.
As we move on, Singh explains how the internal communication network works. There is one communication network each for a city district. Each police station chief has a code given to him — it is ‘Peter 28’ for Singh — and there are over 40 coded ‘call signs’ that accompany a written text. “Each call sign denotes a particular type of crime or emergency and I know them all,” says the inspector.
I find the wireless set fascinating and search for an opportunity to handle it. I wished to tell them to call me ‘Tiger 01’ and keep me wired on cricket matches too.
Robbers Love Tata - 407s, I learn on the Faridabad highway. I stopped a few such vehicles but was annoyed to find their drivers had not given a lift to any unsuspecting stranger. I am reminded of the characters from One Night @Call Centre but do not expect to find them in a 407 vehicle. At a checkpoint, Singh realises the picket is not ‘tight/safe.’ But the constables here make excuses.
I pitch in with suggestions on the right angles required for putting up roadblocks. The Gypsy pulls away; I tell Singh the two constables are useless, while he mutters something like — "apni raksha karna toh pehle seekh le”. Lesson: Efficient constables work, others argue.
Across the ultra-posh New Friends’s colony, stray dogs chase us with their usual enthusiasm, while there are a few who meekly slither away. I secretly mock at the meek ones.
We use hooters to scare away potential car-thieves, while I make a mental note of buying a black Sedan like the one parked before a house someday.
By 4:30 am, I am yawning. It is time to bid farewell to patrolling and my police mates. I slip out of my role of a policeman without grumbling. The gypsy drops me at my Sarita Vihar flat. I realise policing is a hectic, thankless job.