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Home page > English > Short Story >  P.C. One Way Speaking…

Police Constable Van we has not come to the attention of Bollywood script writers because the state government has hidden this sparkling diamond amidst the forest lands in a place where even the villages are few and far in-between, almost eighty percent of the land is virgin forest land. Quite a lot of that land is unproductive so no one has farms or fields there either. He travels two hours by bus to man his PC at the sleepy village police station where city dudes pour in by hundreds to get things straightened with the land records, or report petty crimes, or to get documents signed.

My passport application in today’s high efficiency world had traveled fifty kilometers to land on his table, after a tortuous journey through many offices which I had been monitoring anxiously by ‘phone. ‘Namaskar, Paud Police Station, Tehsil Paud, Taluka Mulshi, this is police constable Vanwe speaking’ was his greeting every time I dialed the seven digit city number which rung the bell in the middle of the forest, like some black magic trick. He speaks like an answering machine, though he has probably never heard Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim play the ‘One Note Samba’ , all his important announcements are based on one single pretty-flat note.

One Way, as I used to refer to him whenever my wife asked him about the much delayed new passport, was a one way street what went in never came out unless it took two left turns or two right turns. That his mind also worked one way, I was all set to discover on that torridly rainy afternoon, when we parked the car right outside the huge office complex which is an architect’s nightmare frozen in concrete. It looks like a cluster of small primary schools jumbled up, shuffled and thrown on the ground like dice with a touch of contempt and a sneer… you have to see it to believe it. There are just rows of dungeonish cubicles lined up on all four sides with a courtyard that must have been used for crushing convicts under elephant’s foot in the hoary days or yore.

Slightly wet, with a running nose and yet breezy enough to greet one and all, I  went in and found a very serious and dour looking chappie sitting in Vanwe’s chair. The cubicle had modest signboard ‘Sanganak Kaksh’ meaning the computer cubicle. The tall fella with the earnest mien got up soon and left, on my asking who Vanwe was, as the Real McCoy greeted me with a grin that spanned both  his ears. He shot at the PC as if it were the panic button designed to save everyone’s life and clicked the fancy looking mouse several times. The PC was good, I noticed, with an astro-age type printer from HP and two cute little speakers that gave it a rather stylish air. He clicked again and the familiar Windows Media Player ‘Winamp’ appeared on the screen. He clicked a song and a male and female voice vaguely familiar launched into one of those familiar Bollywood ditties designed to have the hero and heroine go in mindless circles around a bored looking tree till half the audience goes to sleep and the other half goes out to smoke. Even the song had been chosen by Vanwe to please me –he knew me by my white beard, from the application form. So he had chosen a song not too old, and certainly not too recent. The latest song would have given epileptic fits and put me in a bubblingly acidic mood, the sly clerk knew. He seemed to be slithering into the driver’s seat, as it were, in this two hour ride that lay ahead.

He put me at ease by making light remarks, not trying to gauge my income sources but bursting the bubble of doubts straight-off by saying, “Service?  Of course not, you look retired.” Of course I must have looked doubly tired than retired, but he shrugged his shoulders and let it pass, signifying that retired folks don’t have to tell the inquiry holder where all they have worked, as what, drawn what salaries and why did they leave the job. Nice way to kick off, I noted. P.C. One Way knew his lines well. And why not, he must be doing the same drama every day for ten or fifteen applicants who wish to go abroad./font>

“ Did you ever go abroad?” he asked abruptly, breaking my studious scrutiny  of a bony angular face with unusually frank light brown eyes that shone like an animal’s in a deeper brown cake-crust like complexion. He had a thin mustache, so painstakingly shaven that he must be using a magnifying glass to balance its perfect curves on both sides, I thought. Neat clothes, freshly pressed, receding hairline duly pressed back with oil like a good middleclass municipal school  graduate. He spoke good Hindi, and didn’t pour his heart out in Marathi as is usual with his colleagues, and peers, I noticed. All these traits were calculated  to put the incumbent at ease. I visibly relaxed. I was in good hands, not an iota out doubt.

The only thing that jarred, like an exhibitionist putting his tool out, in sober company without a warning, without a care, was the bottom of a boat outside the window. Can you believe that, I asked myself? There was a real fiberglass boat outside his cubicle’s window, its rump supported by a lean and mean stick that seemed to have nestled there for half a century. What was it doing there? I didn’t  see any rivers when coming to the office, nor a lake nor pond. Looking at the merciless rain outside, I thought it was possible that someday a cloudburst must be inundating the village and the cops must be shoving the boat, large enough to seat ten or fifteen, and then taking a round to keep the peace. On a boat, not in  the dark blue Jeeps, the idea tickled me. But the damned thing was so Kafkaesque, that it seemed like someone else’s imagination having laid a dinosaur egg in my dream…

“ Yes I did,” I replied politely, “ Last year to Bulgaria” –I didn’t mention Switzerland since I had spent the night at the Zurich airport and not really visited the beautiful country that way. “And to Germany, ten years ago.” He nodded and went on filling up forms. I could see he had pre-printed forms wherein he was  writing things down which seemed the usual red-tape to me. His handwriting like his talk  and his movements, was crisp and clear. Vanwe had a very clear-cut personality, I had to decide.

“Where do you live?” this query was to make sure I was me, and not an  impostor so I explained. He noted that down. “And before that?” I gave him the address with all directions to reach there. He seemed happy and noted it down with unconcealed glee, tapping his foot to the next ditty that had been blaring unattended. On hearing more noise I peeped out to see a colour TV blaring another song, kept at a h eight of something like ten feet above all tables with a remote control being lionized by an Amazonian lady constable who had a fierce mien and   an athletic body that could crush the life out of a man if she decided to just roll on to him. She never smiled, all through the two hours that I spent in their august company.

Some more inane questions and indifferent answers followed. He shut up  the  file and pushed it under more papers that looked ancient. By now my gaze had noticed yet another Kafkaesque scene behind his window. There were trees growing from the backside of an abandoned truck. This seemed rather bizarre to me. The trees were not shrubs, they were six to seven feet tall with healthy looking trunks  and there were creepers that seemed years old. The truck had been abandoned there for ten years or more, a fact screamed out by the terribly corroded body of the truck. I was feeling high, as if a couple of loaded cigarettes had filled up my lungs or half a bottle  of rum had coursed through my veins. Vanwe now wound up my case saying all details were now noted and that endorsement from his ‘Saab’ was needed. The Saab was away and could be here in half an hour. So I slunk on to the other unoccupied chair near the computer that never stopped singing plaintively lovesick blues to which heroes and heroines danced with their army of friends in recent Hindi movies.

An alcoholic type old man came shuffling in, and Vanwe dropped his overtly civilian mask to become the militant tiger that he must in reality be. His  face changed like the sky when dark clouds come to push the sun out like a diseased beggar from their own neighbourhood. He yelled, raved and ranted at the old man for what seemed like half a day but the old man hardly shot back a word. It seemed he had filed a complaint against someone but didn’t follow it up, Vanwe  had supported him and the old man had let him down by absconding. The whole chowkey was now suspecting this was a false and fabricated case, so Vanwe’s  mind suddenly turned a one way street with only anger flowing right out, no other emotions were allowed to from or shape up. Until someone else turned up, he gave the old man a piece of his mind and then barked him out of the chowkey.

A life insurance agent was the next visitor who surreptitiously shot me looks  as if I were the cop and he were selling dirty pictures with ribbed condoms as gifts or some such contraband. His demeanour cried out that he was originally a seller of contrabands or a cinemahall ticket black marketer who has to keep his eyes peeled for the fuzz. How ironic, he was behaving like that in the fuzzhole itself… I pretended not to overhear him and buried myself in the Marathi daily a week old full of uninspiring news stories that I knew by heart –some stories get repeated daily somehow. But Vanwe wanted me to act as the referee. He literally dragged me into the conversation by slyly switching to Hindi, so I must react.

“ What’s the use of paying premium for twenty years, saab?” he was asking me, “and then the entire money going to someone else? Why not use it on myself now when I am young and capable of enjoying the pleasures of the world ?” I saw nothing wrong in this hedonistic urge and told him go ahead. The agent was trying to tell him that if he paid his premium for ten years, and didn’t kick the bucket [here Vanwe literally winced in pain] he could get the entire amount back… a flicker of interest lit itself in Vanwe’s brown eyes but went out immediately.

“ You don’t even try to understand,” Vanwe told the agent angrily,” My wife or daughter get twelve lakhs if I die, but I get only one lakh if I remain alive… .arrey yaar, stop pulling my leg. What do you think I am some kind of an opium eater? Do you think I have turned my hair grey by standing in the sun or what ?” How delicious these sayings in Hindi sound when one translates into English… wonderful.

 I don’t get it…” complained the shady looking agent.

“ Well,  if I die you pay twelve lakhs to my family, if I remain alive you give me back my one lakh which by then would be peanuts looking at how fast the rupee is losing its value…

The shady agent knew he was up against a granite wall. Too slippery to give him a foothold. He wrapped up his brochures and his promises for gifts and concessions and made to get up. Vanwe’s thin mustache now bristled like a kitten that has just frightened the life out its first huge dog. He looked at me in triumph giving me the shudders, if I have to argue with this slippery customer about the ‘chai-pani’ for palm greasing, I might as well give him the sum that he names, I decided.

Half an hour slithered away into oblivion with Vanwe running here and there and making his presence felt everywhere. He made sure every farmer or villager visiting the Chowkey came to the computer where he smartly clicked the mouse to bring to life endless forms and reports that showed the smallest details of the  personal possessions of the complainant. This made the village folks pop their eyes and look worried, it was perhaps the concept of Big Brother watching that took their breaths away. Placing your life in the invisible hands of a computer that refuses to look into your eyes or talk, gave them the heebie jeebies and they made no bones about it. Each one made a hasty retreat, leaving Vanwe smirking like the only villager with a Tommy Gun in his hands. Abject fear and defeat were the only two reactions on every face, I could fathom.

One hour rolled itself over, and still no Saab. I enquired gently  and was  told there was Ganesh Chaturthi round the corner. Mohalla committees were meeting under the leadership of the saab to maintain peace, for these were bad times. Vanwe then very magnanimously let the cat out of the bag hinting at the bad times being especially bad for Muslims because now everyone’s details were being scrutinized with a magnifying glass. “You may have to go to Hinjewadi” he pronounced ominously, for that police station would be another twenty kilometers away… I stopped myself from reacting to this new punch line. “Not to worry saar, “ he said in his crisp English, making me wonder even the bad words or swearing that he must be doing, must be all equally crisp in all languages he knew… he was smiling as if reading my thoughts.

There was a flurry of shuffling feet and Vanwe got to his feet. Without turning around I knew the Saab had arrived, and had shot into his big office next door. I too excused myself to take a look at the Saab and make myself visible to him. Sometimes they take pity on innocent city-dwellers who feel all lost in such surroundings. Vanwe dropped me and my case and went running to attend to whatever pronouncements the Saab was going to make about the fate of at least eight others who had already lined themselves up in four white plastic chairs on each side of his room. The Saab sat far away from all and made prophetic comments. Vanwe nodded to his wise words like a snake dancing in front of the slowly sensually moving Been of the madari [snake charmer]. His was an inspired performance, whilst the Saab looked bored with the whole show

I kept going in and out of the computer cubicle, but making sure that another emergency didn’t call Saab away suddenly. Vanwe kept coming back, dropping a hint now and then and telling me how complex was my case, and how tactfully he would have to explain it to the Saab. It generated a trickle of worry in my mind that was bound to become a waterfall in no time, I suspected. He left me roasting in my own acidic juices, as it were.

When it was almost three hours and my tummy was rumbling with hunger pangs, I finally went and stood outside Saab’s office. Vanwe noticed, but didn’t betray any signs of recognition. Suddenly Saab got up gathering his cap and his baton, that told me he was on his way out. Vanwe was sent away to fetch a file.  I caught the Saab just as he emerged. I explained my application briefly

“ Yes, I know.” he said placidly, and went back in. I followed him. Vanwe materialized out of thin air like a rabbit from a magician’s never-depleting hat. He pushed my case under the nose of the Saab and said a few words. Saab listened with growing impatience and asked me only one question. “How long have you been staying in my jurisdiction?” I told him the answer that satisfied him. He snatched the pen from a petrified Vanwe and signed at three places where he was supposed to.

He got up and left. I went to Vanwe’s cubicle where someone had mercifully switched off the computer endless wailing. He looked a teeny weeny bit crumpled, somewhat crestfallen. “Now what happens?” I asked him directly. “ You get your passport in three or four days…” he said in a tired whisper.


“Don’t I need to go to Hinjewadi?” I asked rubbing salt into bruised ego.

“No uncle, you don’t”.

So like a good uncle, I made an exit and drove through the pleasant greenery back home.

God bless Vanwe.

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