In this age of technology and the accessibility to it, news feeds on city lights manages to permeate your living room some way or the other. You no longer need to depend on that early morning crispy newspaper that slides under your door. 24/7 news channels, social network, accessibility to people have all made it so easy.
Major metros (state capitals) of India have witnessed a sea change in their infrastructure in the form of countless flyovers criss-crossing on the once simple looking 2-laned roads, cute looking glass housed toy trains bearing abstract graffiti, tall and wide malls with billboard facades defining prominent locations. This boom has led to more people wanting to migrate from Tier – 2, Tier – 3 cities and be a part of this refreshing change.
It’s strange. With more spending power, we end up buying what we want rather than what we need. Flashy cell phones, expensive set of wheels, fine dining and the glamour et al. With this kind of an inflow of people and wheels, the newly done up infra suddenly seems to be way below capacity. And most of us who go through the grind of daily traffic jam in some form or the other end up abusing the system. And some of us do it sitting in air conditioned modes of transport which many seldom have to wheel around themselves.
Everyone gets a way to escape from all this chaos. Leaving air conditioned enclosures late, hanging one’s legs up from an easy chair, treating oneself to some green tea or tomato soup from a nearby dispenser at the workplace are just some of the ways to elysium once you leave this ugly scene of affairs behind you.
Out of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, Mumbai accounts for a city population of about 18 million. This also makes Mumbai the most populated metropolitan in the country. To handle this madness our Maratha state has assigned a little over 70, 000 policemen. A ratio disparity that is abysmal.
Wondering why being so vehement about it?
I am on a motorcycle trying to make time on my way back from Northern Mumbai (Juhu) to Harbour Mumbai (Navi Mumbai). My options to cut across are the newly built flyover from Santacruz – Milan Subway straight down to the western free way. The 2nd short cut being the Kalina – Chembur link. Both made headlines when being inaugurated although with their own share of insinuated political delays. They looked great from an artist’s impression. Reality is something else.
The man in front of me is another common sight in the city that never sleeps. Clad in a damp white uniform, shoes bearing slush, sweat trickling down his wrinkled forehead anxiously awaiting the next signal to turn red. The bumpers behind him inches forward and the unwanted honking from idiots are served with piteous looks.
Meet our friend – The Hawaldar (a junior level traffic cop). All that he is equipped with is a pen, a black diary stuffed somewhere in the soiled pockets of his alternate pair of official trousers and an air whistle that’s more of an entertainment to the crowd around who wouldn’t mind running over or at best whistle back.
This is his job for 10 hours, at times 14 or more. And when a politician’s rally or VIP processions are on, he is never relieved.
I wade my way through west to central Mumbai. And while I am at it, I encounter another jam. This time the one getting down towards Chembur from Kalina and the other heading towards the perennially busy Sion – Thane highway (Central Mumbai). I barely get off the clutch and it’s time to grab it again.
Rubber rolling below vehicles is dangerously close to my ankles and my knee is tightly tucked in while I barely scrape around bumpers in my endeavor to move forward. If that was not enough, a heavy downpour managed to cool me off, leaving my t-shirt hugging me chilled to my torso. Rain drops are quickly collecting around my visor making visibility post sunset a much bigger challenge. But one has to move. There is no choice.
A beat marshal pursuit motorcycle (2 cops on a bike) parallel to me is trying to make away. The rider ahead is facing the same challenge as I am. The senior officer behind is without a rain coat and is taking the hit from the flash and splash around with his wireless pinned to his ears , coordinating with team-mates at a furious pace. He gets done with his orders and hangs up.
Boring journeys can sometimes become interesting when you get a little innovative and spontaneous. I strike a conversation with the pillion officer and greet him in typical marathi style “Namaskar Saheb”. The traffic is killing us. What do you think of these new flyovers around?
He replies. New Government. New Developments. What do we get? (Sighs) A kick up our ass. That’s a traffic police man. Nothing gets better for us. More flyovers. More traffic. More trouble.
I hold my stare and wait for him to roll further.
He smiles helplessly and says, we were better off during pre-independence. At least the planning was way futuristic. Look what we have today. A kind of plan that will crumble not just because of shoddy work, but also due to its sheer inability to consume what’s coming in the next decade. His rider is desperately trying to seek a gap to push forward. Every time he does that the officer behind and I strain to keep our conversation going. But not for long. The officer sways his thick forearm across the windshields of cars that are trying to get past. They stop right in their tracks. After all, he is a cop. I scoot behind them knowing this was my best chance.
We are right at the tail of a dump truck. The officer turns back to check if his companion in despair is working hard to give him company (yours truly). I was indeed. He adjusts his cap, spits his chewy paan (beetle leaves) and smiles again. He continues to narrate his ordeal. I too have a family. They also have aspirations. I wish to gift my daughter at least a basic smart phone and take my wife to the newly opened mall in the neighborhood. We are made to work double shifts sometimes 7 day week. Are we not humans? The facilities given to us are way below civilian standards, we have to succumb to ego and work pressure due to the committed compulsion towards loved ones waiting home. Our salary is pittance and an appraisal hope that never gets past bruised aspirations. Such is our work life.
The traffic picks pace and the distance between us also increases steadily. A few meters further, I see the patrol bike reach their check point. They are greeted by a few more officers who are waiting under the flyover taking cover from the downpour. Our conversation was over. We wave at each other expressing empathy and gratefulness.
I get a clear stretch and I work on the cogs to hit triple digits. In a few minutes am home. I switch on the geyser for that much needed hot shower. I think of those officers who are still fighting hard to ensure an orderly traffic. When would they get free? When would they go home and meet their family?
Across India life of a policeman / policewoman is nothing short of hell. They work tirelessly to make our lives better. They have huge sacrifices to make just so that we are home on time.
So, the next time you hear yourself saying “My job sucks”, I bet you be at a traffic junction for just an hour.
Perspectives will change and you will respect these uniformed people even more.
More than anything else, you will thank your stars.
Kudos to police.