There is no better vehicle for getting a message across than humour and as Cyndi Lauper, American singer and actress, reminds us, “If you get too serious, you could die of starch”.
Police commissioner Javed Ahmad, whose job is dead serious and his uniform always impeccably starched, seems to have heeded this advice all too well.
His outreach on twitter through a personal handle - @cpmumbaipolice – as well as the institutional one - @mumbaipolice - has captured the imagination of not just the citizens but people (and the police) everywhere.
Some witticisms and puns a few days ago went viral and a newfound admiration for the Mumbai police, otherwise seen with so much skepticism or disdain, seemed to emerge.
It is doubtful though that Mr Ahmad was prompted by Ms Lauper for this initiative.
As I have known him over the past decade, he has a sense of humour that is intrinsic -- and alive in the most excruciating of circumstances.
Even when he was diabolically bypassed for the commissionership in 2013, and made Director General of Home Guards – which usually means sent out to pasture – he lost neither his equanimity nor sense of humour.
Of course he was distraught, but there was no brooding and bellowing about how unjust the system had been to him and how cruel the world was.
A few months before he became commissioner, I met Javed Ahmad in his office located in the lane between the Royal Institute of Science and Elphinstone Collge at Kala Ghoda. He was in fine fettle, coming up with tangy one-liners faster than Virat Kohli’s boundaries currently.
Life took an unexpected twist when he was made the commissioner and moved to the most-coveted office at the police headquarters in Palton Road.
The time he had in office was meagre – less than six months. There are not enough details to make a report card, but all things considered, Javed Ahmad appears to have navigated this period rather well.
True, the Sheena Bora murder case is yet to be solved, and the Hema Upadhyay murder is now added to the list of celebrity cases.
By and large the city has been peaceful during the festivals when the threat of social tensions in the city puts the police force on high alert.
Yet it is the outreach on social media and its immediate success that adds a fascinating dimension: it reflects admirable vision, strategy, methodical planning and fine execution, but, more significantly, on how effective policing can work in future.
The use of humour in life may be a facet of Javed Ahmad’s personality, but that it connects with people so readily demands an understanding of society and people, and the courage to carry it out.
Some may argue that the wit and puns lack gravitas, but I think the choice of metaphor and imagery is well thought out. It aims at the majority, the young and impressionable, and speaks to them in their lingo.
Others may also argue that the issues addressed are not really serious. They need not be. Reduction of crime is not dependent only on solving high-profile cases, rather reducing frequent misdemeanours such as busting drug rackets, curbing drink and driving cases, cyber crimes and crimes against women.
The most important aspect of this initiative is that in being proactive, the Mumbai police are sending out a message to people that they are human, fun, ready and happy to serve.
Minor as it may seem, this is an important legacy Javed Ahmad leaves behind as he moves to Saudi Arabia as India’s ambassador for it establishes a connect between the force and the citizenry.
The onus is now on the Mumbai police to keep this going.