I saw Pandu Hawaldar reading a newspaper of all things. “Why are you reading a newspaper?” I asked.
“I’m looking for a new job,” he said.
“But why? You were so happy to get this job, you distributed sweets and all, just two months ago,” I said.
“That’s because I took a loan to pay the donation to get a job as a constable and I was assured I would be able to pay back the loan inside six months,” he said.
“You call it donation, not bribe,” I said, “What do you think the police force is? A private school? Anyway you have four whole months left.”
“It’s no good, when we ask for donation the public say they will complain to the IGP,” he said.
“People will continue offering bribes to avoid paying a larger fine,” I said.
“First we used to just catch people and find something wrong with what they were doing, and they would just put notes in our hands and go off. Now that does not work. They argue,” he said bitterly.
“But people still break all sorts of rules on the road,” I said.
“Yes, but we have to be there when they break them, no? On my beat everyone becomes an upright citizen” he said mournfully.
“Don’t worry,” I said bracingly, “your ship will come in.”
His eyes opened wide in horror. “Please don’t say the word ‘ship’,” he begged.
“Why, what’s wrong with the word ‘ship’,” I said.
“We have a curly coastline and terrorists think it’s fashionable to come in by ship,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry, our fishing trawlers are manning the coastline,” I said.
“Trawlers,” he said scornfully, “What can trawlers do? All they are interested in is what’s in their nets, not what’s on the water.”
“Well anyway, let’s suppose terrorists do come in by sea, we have sand bunkers on the beaches,” I said.
“Yes, and I’ll be in one of those bunkers and anyway, can you tell me what we hawaldars are supposed to do in them?” he asked.
“You have to scan the coastline and maybe radio for help, maybe shoot them with your .303 rifles,” I said.
“And what happens if then come in from the back end of the bunker and throw a grenade in?” he asked.
“You will have to act like lightning and fling the grenade back at them before it explodes, like fielding in cricket,” I said.
“When I applied for this job, I was not told I would have to act like lightning and catch and bowl grenades that are thrown at me,” he said.
“Don’t worry, you will be issued protective gear,” I said.
“What protective gear,” he said, “the bulletproof jackets are not bulletproof. Don’t you read the papers?”
“Maybe the donation paid to the bureaucrats who passed them was a very large one,” I said.
“That is not a donation. That is a bribe. Use the correct terminology,” he said.
“But it’s a win-win situation,” I said. “If terrorists kill you, you will get a gallantry award, an Ashok Chakra even.”
“You shut up with your gallantry awards. You go get yourself killed by the terrorists and take your awards up to heaven with you,” he said.
“I’m not a policeman; they won’t give me any award – only Rs 2 lakh to my next of kin,” I said.
“Anyway, I am not brave and have no wish to get Ashok Chakras,” he said. “I see no reason to help terrorists out when they want target practice. Now please go away while I look for a job I can do which does not involve getting shot.”
“You’ll have to leave out hotel jobs, shipping jobs, hospital jobs, or for that matter any job that involves you traveling in public transport, or walking on a road,” I said.
“The only people who seem to have no tension are terrorists,” he said.
“You cannot qualify,” I said. “They look forward to getting killed.”