This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Old Policeman Speaks

Brothers, sisters, please listen to me. Sit down and listen; I shall try to explain. And after you hear me out, you’ll understand why i can’t change my decision.

Yes, I know that you all know me, have known me for years, that I’m as much a part of this locality now as the walls or the betel nut stall there in the corner. You know, the kids buy cigarettes when they think I’m not looking, and sometimes I raise my stick and shake it at them. I’ve been doing it for so long that some of you were kids I once shook my stick at.

Over the years, I’ve seen you all move in and move out, and got to know all of you by name. I know where you live and what you do, and I know most of your little secrets, which of you gets drunk on Saturday evenings and beats his wife, which of you scalps tickets outside the Mohan movie theatre. And of course I take my cut from the hawkers on the pavement and the cricket betting racket in Surinder’s tea stall. I figure that they aren’t really doing anyone any harm, and they might as well be allowed to stay, so long as I can get a little something for my trouble. You know, a constable’s salary doesn’t go far these days.

So, naturally, since I know everyone, I knew Bilal. You probably knew him by sight though you may not have known him by name: the thin dark boy with the bent nose who tuned engines and changed tyres at Raju’s Motor Works. He used to live beyond the river but he came here every day and worked from eight in the morning till eight in the evening, six days a week. I never knew him to miss a day.

I used to sit in Surinder’s tea stall and have some of his masala tea, and maybe an omelette as well, and watch the activity over at Raju’s garage across the street. Bilal was always busy, squatting beside a scooter and changing its tyre, or head and shoulders under the hood of a Maruti, his hands oily up to the elbows. He was fast, and he was good. Once or twice the owner of a vehicle would start shouting, and I’d go over, and stand there, you know, close enough to listen and to be seen, but I never found that Bilal turned out to be at fault. And for some reason he liked me too. He would stop and chat a moment each time I passed by.

There were the other boys at Raju’s Motor Works: Abdul, Sabeel, Usman. All Muslims, of course, but I suppose you know that Raju himself is a Muslim despite that name. A man has to live, and if he has to take a Hindu name for business, that’s his right. Anyway, I knew them all, but none of them was a patch on Bilal so far as work went.

Then there was that fair last week, over behind the school. You all were there at the fair, so I don’t really need to describe the crowds and noise and so on. Everyone went there. Why, even Surinder shut his tea stall and put up a temporary one there. He made good money, didn’t you, Surinder?

One policeman can’t do much of a job at a fair like this, so apart from me there were six others. As we went around on our rounds through the grounds, I suddenly heard a shouting and screeching. There was a commotion. So I went over. I didn’t run; I’m too old and fat to run. But when they saw me coming, the people gave way.

It was Bilal. A fat man had grabbed him by the collar and was slapping him and shaking him. When I grabbed the man’s hand and asked him what was wrong, the man said Bilal had picked his pocket. I asked him to check Bilal’s pockets. He didn’t find his money, but he said Bilal must have passed it on to someone else. He said he had felt a hand in his pocket and looked round and seen Bilal there.

There was a big crowd gathering, and some of them looked ready for a lynching, so I grabbed Bilal and took him to the station. The Station House Officer put him in a cell and I went back to the fair.

You know how we deal with young pickpockets? We don’t take them to court, put them in prison and so on. It’s not worth the effort, friends. They go in as petty thieves who might have been tempted, or just hungry, and they come out as hardened crooks. All we do is beat them up till they remember their grandmothers and we let them go. Usually it works. I thought the same thing would be done to Bilal and I was only glad that I wasn’t going to do it.

But the next morning when I went on duty, I found a newspaper with a headline about a notorious Lashkar terrorist getting killed in a gunfight, and a photo under the headline of a corpse with a gun beside it. You maybe remember that paper and the headline. Well, the photo was of Bilal.

You tell me how he got killed as a terrorist after I arrested him as a pickpocket and dropped him off at the station?

 I’m not a particularly good cop, I know. I’m fat and old and out of breath and I wink at far too many irregularities. I’m corrupt in my own small way but what I am not is a killer. I kept seeing Bilal at Raju’s Motor Works and I kept seeing the photo in the paper. I still see them, and I can’t sleep well at night. I keep thinking that if I’d let the crowd beat him a little and let him go, he would have been alive now.

And that, friends, is why I am resigning from this job. You can ask all you want, but I’ve had enough.

I don’t want to be the cause of the killing of any more Bilals, you see.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment