Spice of life| Getting to know the cop arrested in stereotype
All these thoughts swarmed my mind owing to an encounter with a traffic policeman named Paramjit Singh.punjab Updated: May 22, 2017 11:54 IST
That afternoon as I drove home, I looked at the security bivouacs outside VIP houses and at the traffic policemen manning roundabouts and crossings in an altogether different light. Images of overbearing and menacing policemen in movies and serials flashed on the inner eye. At the same time I thought how most of us are arrested in stereotypes. Children are naughty; professors are studious and, tradition holds that a panch or the one who delivers justice is parmeshwar (God). In reality, individuals can be bigger than typologies. Only recently a young professor came to me and said, “Sir, I have a problem. I just cannot make myself read anything. I have not read a single book in five six years.”
All these thoughts swarmed my mind owing to an encounter with a traffic policeman named Paramjit Singh.
That day I was stopped by this traffic policeman at one of the busiest intersections of the city. As I began crossing the crossroads, the timer on the traffic signal was flashing the last eight seconds for the green light. The time seemed sufficient to cross the lights. However, as I progressed, a lumbering carrier trailer loaded with cars obstructed my way and prevented me from making it to the other end in time. I anxiously watched the countdown as it touched zero.
The unfavourable sequence of events had caught me on the wrong side of traffic rules because as my car emerged from behind the trailer, the signal had just turned red and this turbaned policeman dutifully signaled me to stop. Preparing myself for the impending challan (penalty), I parked my car near the kerb, walked to the policeman and began explaining, “Sir, I do not deny the violation but it was not my fault, it was a run out.” The policeman smiled and said, “You should have surveyed the field before taking the run.”
As I drew close, I noticed his face was flushed with extreme heat and the border of his turban on his forehead was damp with a thick layer of sweat. The temperature was above 40 degrees and he was performing duty right under the blazing sun. I felt like offering him water from the chilled water bottle in my car.
On being asked, I produced the papers of the car for inspection. While inspecting the papers, he asked me about my profession. I told him that I was a teacher and worked for Punjabi University. He walked me to the small post made of tin at the curve of the pavement. As he handed the papers to the officer on duty, he thoughtfully put in a good word for me, ‘Sahib, eh achche aadmi lagde hain. (Sir, he seems a good man).”
The officer on duty took mock offence and said, ‘Haan bure taan asi hi haan (Yes, we are the bad guys).” But the policeman’s concern for saving me touched me.
Evidently, he had not only given me the benefit of doubt but also additional points for being a teacher. However, the remarkable thing was that even after having to perform his duty in the punishing heat, he was free of spite. Not heeding to the hint, the officer picked up the challan book and began writing. I pleaded innocence one last time. The policeman, who was now just outside the post keeping an eye on the traffic, quietly crept in and saluting the officer again said, “Sahib, warning de deyo, eh professor sahib changey bande hain. tusi taan padhe likhe ho (Please let him off, the professor seems a good man).”
At his insistence the officer dropped the challan book and showing me the bare heated post without even a fan by making an elaborate rotation of his eyes said, “Look professor sahib, (you are educated), see the conditions in which we work and people still call us bad.” I got the point.
Before leaving, I thanked the policeman, asked him his name and left. From that day on, whenever I cross the intersection, I don’t allow Paramjit Singh to melt in the surroundings as an anonymous policeman; I nod a greeting to which he invariably responds.
(The writer teaches at Punjabi University’s regional centre in Bathinda)