It was the day after Diwali and we were returning to Mumbai from Pune, having just crossed the expressway. As we were about to take a flyover, we saw a policeman gesticulating excitedly – waving at us to pull the car to the side of the road. He seemed to look delighted to have made a suitable catch – one that would prove amply profitable – a great way to add to his Diwali bonanza.
Puzzled as we were, as we had neither been speeding, nor driving without having fastened the seat belt, we stopped the car and rolled down the window panes, looking at him questioningly.
“No no Roll them up – a little more, ok now stop” said he frantically in Marathi.
We did as we were told, still completely in the dark as to what he meant. When the window panes were at the appropriate height, he scraped against the glass with the tip of his fingers and then with his nails – as if he were trying to peel something off. Unfortunately for him he found nothing.
Not willing to give up so easily, he continued, “You’re not allowed to have tinted glasses for your windows”
“These aren’t tinted – they came with the car. We haven’t added any film either” – replied my husband in Hindi, as he is a non-Maharashtrian.
This seemed to somehow add to his glee as he intensified his authoritative tone and continued with renewed gusto – now in Hindi.
“Well its the Supreme Court order – haven’t you read it?”
“We’ve been driving the same car for many years now and we have never been pulled up so far”
“That’s changed now and you should know the rules when you drive. Show me your license”, he demanded.
So far this conversation had taken place only between the cop and my husband who had been driving the car. He reached into his wallet for his license and handed it over to the policeman who continued with his tirade in the typically colloquial version of Hindi that is spoken in Mumbai.
“You have broken the law and so you’ll have to pay for it” – mustering up as dictatorial and intimidating a tone as he could.
By now I had reached the end of my patience and just had to break my silence. I retorted in fluent Marathi that, in that case, he ought to stop almost every other car on the road as they all had window panes with far darker tints than ours. Why was he singling us out?
Visibly taken aback and almost disappointed to hear me speak Marathi, the cop was tongue tied for just a moment before he regained his composure. But like a deflated balloon, he seemed to have lost his clout, not quite prepared for such a situation.
He tried to salvage his position by saying – “ Madam you need not have interfered, this was between me and him.”
Indeed, so that you could continue with your arrogant tone, feeling smug about having been able to bully someone who you think is at a disadvantage as he is not from your state – I thought to myself.
Although, my husband would not have given in to his unreasonable accusations anyway, he decided to humour him further by allowing him to go on talking, just to see where the conversation would lead to.
“I wasn’t speaking to you anyway and I had even returned his license – why did you have to interrupt when you weren’t being spoken to?” rambled on the cop.
Ok – so what he really meant to say was why should a woman butt in when two men are conversing? This was taking on a sexist tinge now.
But as I did not want to show how his comment had rankled me, I spoke as calmly as possible –
“I butted in because I did not like the tone you were using on folks you know are decent and law abiding. Why not try the same tone on some real ruffians instead?”
And so saying we drove off.
Although this is such a common occurrence nowadays, that we no longer bat an eyelid or even bother ruminating about it, the incident has continued to rankle and perturb me. If the protectors of the law display such petty mentality – using the powers vested in them by the government, to harass innocent people and look for opportunities to extort money, what hope have we to be able to achieve the status of a civilised, developed society? And what was equally disturbing was the xenophobic attitude that fuelled the malicious urge to try to make underdogs of people who did not belong to the same region/community. How easily have we fallen prey to communal propaganda that divides minds, not to mention the male chauvinism that seems to have become second nature to almost half of our population?
All I could allow myself was the smug satisfaction about having successfully foiled the policeman’s plans of adding to his Diwali bonanza.