(This piece was written in 1988 and has not been updated.)
It seems that when God made him, going by the prevalent myth that God made us all, He was in a pretty awful mood. Or maybe, He was not paying enough attention to the work at hand. Whatever the reason, the overall impression that he creates on first encounter is a testament to God's ambivalence. His fingers look more like heavy stubs, his jaw would have done credit to a bulldog, and the interchange of his lips with a skunk could have gone unnoticed by either of the creatures. His gait, his guffawing laughter, the way he clears his throat, the vehemence with which he clamps his incisors and molars on bits of inert eatables in formal dinners in the police mess, compel you to seek models of comparison in other species. This Police Officer, he would accept no definition of himself other than that he is a policeman, was indeed a mythical figure. Even though I never had the occasion to work under him, the broad outlines about his career and personality are too well known to need any personal observation of endorsement.
He was more a machine than a man, a thoroughly time kept assemblage of functions who lived by- and for- his work. He would get up early in the morning, perform his morning rituals of ablutions and oblations and then sit down to work. The densely populated office would gradually be emptied till there was no one except his personal staff left. Yielding to their muted but urgent pleading that it was time to go home he would give up at long last. As a sop he was given a black box full of files. This routine continued for years. One suspected somehow he would outlast the creation itself.
He knew the nuts and bolts of his profession: could quote verse and chapter from the Book - The Police Manual - and could generally make mincemeat of anyone trying to cross swords with him on points of detail or regulation. Subordinates and superiors alike lived in mortal terror of him because he could screw people in next to no time and sometimes he would do it upside down. To call him a workaholic and a slave driver would be an understatement. He had put duty in the place where most of us humble creatures would put happiness. He was a robot whose physiological functions were remarkably akin to human beings. The only character I can think of comparing him with is Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek. So Mr. Spock would not let emotions or compassion influence his decisions. He would tick off other ranks on furlough for being improperly dressed, chastise senior officers for not properly keeping an account of service stamps, and teach the finer points of law to his own superiors. In open largely attended meetings he could discipline Superintendents of Police and others for impecunious deployment of manpower and tell them some home truths about how their reserve lines were being managed or how the reserve Sergeant Majors were pulling wool over their eyes. And how correct he was! It was a familiar sight-him decimating stalwarts from the field.
He was meticulous about inspections because the Book said that a supervising officer should undertake regular inspections. The news of his proposed inspections led to large-scale exodus of officers from their assignments and an epidemic of illnesses would sweep the family lines and barracks. The lucky ones, those who could run away on one pretext or the other, did. Those condemned to their posts prayed for the calamity to pass off with minimum damage to their persons, positions, ego and status.
One of the widely prevalent myths about him was that he had a Medusa like stare and whoever dared to look him into the eyes was bound to be suspended-and no questions asked mind you! One of my colleagues narrated this story to me. I have no reasons to believe that he was lying because he is posted in the Special Branch and the amount of lies that he must be having to speak in the line of duty ought to have satiated this natural human tendency it to improvise stories just for the heck of it.
An inspection was in progress. The whole office looked like a place visited by an earthquake of magnitude 9 on the Richter scale. In an effort to grab the asked for report or figure or whatever, racks were overturned, almirahs turned upside down, and papers were scattered on the floor, in one big heap. Even after two hours the Superintendent of Police was gamely hanging on to his chair while one of the lowly functionaries was being given the third degree. The barrage of questions wouldn't stop until Mr. Spock discovered that the lowly officer, even though he was addressing him, continued to contemplate the toe of his boots. He peered at the boots. Well! They were regulation pattern, in good order and well polished. He was further mystified and demanded to know the reason why he did not face him while answering the questions. The officer contemplated his boots, even though he was visibly shaking. The fire that burnt on its own was fed with more fuel and he threatened to suspend him or perhaps declared that he stood suspended! The urgent coaxing of the Superintendent of Police also proved equally unproductive and the subordinate officer stood frozen in his stance. The gentlemen gradually reached his boiling point and the lid of the pressure cooker blew. He screamed and the deep baritone of his voice sent shock waves through the heart of all those present. Would it be en mass suspension, transportation for life for all of them, or plain and simple liquidation by the firing squad?
The Superintendent of Police looked almost beseechingly at his subordinate, while all those assisting at the inspection prayed silently for the target of the rage to look up. He did not look up but those looking intently at him did notice a faint trickle seeping forth from his trousers. Since the source of the leak was hidden from human eye, people generally presumed that perhaps under the stress his bladder had given way. Nobody ever tried to find out, but the volcano of rage suddenly became silent – from incandescent heat it crashed to room temperature in an instant.
Then by degrees his scowl softened, he let escape an abridged and low pitched version of his famous guffawing laughter and when he became fully seized of the nature of calamity, he burst into the authentic thing. Eyewitnesses have narrated that he also repeatedly slapped his thighs. As if on cue, and in descending order of seniority, the SP followed by the next man senior, down to the lowliest policeman present, joined the chorus. My friend who narrated the story, an excellent ranconteur himself, added for good measure that every one present there almost expected the report of three gun shots. Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya. But the proceedings came to an abrupt anticlimactic end. The inspection was called off, a rare and memorable event because Mr. Spock had never broken his routine.
He was a man of many myths and one consuming desire. To give in his very best by way of professional work and wherever he was posted he became a bit of a legend. He could elicit awe and obedience automatically, he could almost command the elemental forces of nature. But he was a miserable failure in his other roles. He could be pretty ruthless-cold blooded brutal and inhuman. He is reputed to have been part of many hair rising encounters in extremist prone district but the bloody events did not take him off his meals even for a day because he thought he was doing his duty.
I had read somewhere that In Marxist Russia, in a city square, an official bulletin calculated to debunk the myth of the indestructibility of soul and other non materialistic claims tabulated in detail, the constitutive elements of the human body: like nitrogen oxygen, iron, zinc etc and so forth. Finally it said that when consumed by flames it yielded this much amount of charcoal but evidence of a soul was not found. I think if they had investigated this gentleman they would have been in for an even greater surprise. They would not have found any evidence of a heart as well.
He was a pretty heartless sort of a fellow, not because blood and gore did not affect his mood or normal activities. Not even because he didn't love is wife-which is perfectly natural, after all. In fact the lady went round the bend, was driven to insanity, coping with a husband like him. He was heartless because he did not love his neighbour’s wife. The most compelling evidence, the evidence which clinched the issue for me came by during a police week.
This Police Chief was a very gregarious, affable person, handsome and chivalrous. There were some unsavoury rumours about his integrity but that did not detract from his qualities of leadership or from his appeal in the police force. In uniformed services every bit of it activity, is touched in the hue of the leader. Saintly policemen have been known to make parties and celebrations more dull and boring than enjoyable. But this police week was memorable.
The police stadium was the venue. Capacious and cosy, it gave ample scope for circulation as well as savouring the kebabs and other dainties from the many food stalls. The winter chill had been touched by the pleasurable warmth of the many sigdis and tandoodrs and more so by the great bonhomie of the occasion. Those of us who loved to have a drop or two indulged themselves in the lobby of the old IP mess. All in all the mood of the moment could have motivated even the inert furniture to mirth and merriment.
Many couples were dancing to the tunes of the Police Band - I think the only time I have seen dancing in police parties- and before I could realize I was dragged to the dancing floor by an eminently graceful lady, the wife of a senior officer. I warned her that my best performances till date had been from the side lines and that I had this uncanny ability of turning every dance to rock and roll – waltzing couples begin to rock under the impact of my gyrations or trip and roll on the floor, their feet keep getting into a tangle. I was saved by this kind benefactor. Or so I thought till I learnt better.
This gentleman was utterly lost, an alien to a world of leisure and celebration he did not know the value of this purposeless activity. He himself was here because the police week was an official event and the invitation had issued under the orders of the Police Chief, but his resources of professional accomplishment were no help. The Police manual was silent on how to deal with a situation like this. Mr. Spock saw in me his opportunity to whet the sense of his identity. He thought I needed some critical advice. He took me aside, unmoved by coy smiles and warm hellos of the ladies floating around. He was no dribbler and shot the ball straight away in to my half. I had just been transferred “prematurely”, - my own definition, however, was that I was mature for transfer once I had taken charge of any new assignment. He proceeded to explain to me in detail what I should have done and how best I should have fended or defended my position. One must be fair and apolitical but one must also engage in politics just enough to defend oneself from politics. Actually he did not put the issue in such a Chekhovian term but he said words to that effect. Here was this man, I thought, holding me from the pulsating world of dance and music right in front of me, pontificating on a world gone by.
I broke loose. How, I wouldn’t know, but I did break loose.
(... to be continued)