Ten thirty am on a Friday, sandwiched between a bakery and a hardware store was the ICICI ATM, set back from the road by some 20 feet. There was no problem parking my car right in front of it. Diagonally across the road was another ATM of SBI. It was the right place to park myself.
Both the ATMs had run out of money by 9 am, because people had queued up since early morning and took away whatever the machines had. I was not one of those people.
The security supervisor of my apartment building, who has a ear firmly to the ground about the goings-on in the two-kilometre radius around, had informed me that the ICICI ATM would get a refill at 11 am.
"At the most 11.15, sir. Go there in time and you will get money," he had said. "All in hundreds."
So I was there well in time. I looked back at the road and checked both ways. There were no policemen. So I gallantly lit a cigarette. Kerala is the only state where the ban on smoking in public places is enforced with some seriousness. Then I waited, my eyes not leaving the door of the ATM even for a moment.
I adjusted my mirrors in a way I could watch the SBI ATM behind me as well. I congratulated myself on being smart. I should be writing crime novels instead of news and opinions.
Logging onto Twitter on my iPad, I was amused to read some funny, and some not so funny experiences of people with ATMs today. It was not hard to find that the unfunny, tragic experiences in getting cash came mostly from journalists who had always tweeted venom on Narendra Modi, no matter he did. But forget that. They are fools. They just have no idea how to park themselves at the right place and at the right time.
It was 11.30 am now. And there was no sign of the cash-refilling van. But I knew I must be patient.
A feeling that I was being watched made me look up. The glass door of the bakery opened just enough for a Veerappan-like moustache to come out of it. It was followed by a suspicious face attached to it. The door closed as quickly as I returned to my iPad.
Fifteen minutes later, a car screeched to a halt next to mine with some violence on the brakes. It was a police car with CRV painted in bold red on its side.
An efficient-looking sub-inspector with a big mole on his nose got out of the Control Room Vehicle and sauntered to my window.
“Karnataka car,” he said. It was a statement more than a question.
“Yes,” I said.
I told him. He thrust a hand in my face. I knew what he wanted.
He took the licence and passed the RC book to a constable inside the CRV. “Your address in the license is in AP,” he said. The constable shouted from the car, looking at a receipt tucked in the RC book: “The car was serviced last month in Chennai, sir.”
“You got any other ID?” asked the SI.
Getting out of the car, I handed him my Aadhaar card. His eyes came out of his sockets.
He said in one breath, “Your DL address is in AP. Your car is registered in Karnataka. You service your car in Chennai. Your Aadhaar card address is Kerala.”
The question came after a pause. “Where were you on 16 August?”
The constables got out of the CRV and stood by his side. The SI mumbled something into the ear of a constable who mumbled something into a walkie-talkie.
I had no problem remembering where I was on I-day and the day after. “I was in Chennai.” He wouldn’t have been more surprised if I had told him I was on Mars on that day.
“What are you doing?” the SI asked.
“Am waiting for somebody to put money into that ATM.”
His eyes turned blood-red. “I mean what’s the job you are doing?” It was surprising he hadn’t asked that before. His face remained sceptical after I told him what I did for a living.
“So you want to rob one more ATM, right?”
Then the sound of two vehicles stopping behind me made me turn.
One was an ICICI jeep, apparently with cash. The other was another police car. An officer who I judged was a Deputy Superintendent of Police got out of the car and pointed an ancient revolver at me. His hand shook as he spoke.
“You are under arrest for the theft of eight lakh rupees from the HDFC ATM in Kochi on 16 August. Your description fits the absconding accused,” he said formally.
I woke up in a sweat.
Sitting back on the bed in my apartment, I reached for my wallet. I still had Rs 365 including the Rs 10 and Rs 5 coins. I sighed. I needed to be patient. Even if a part of my country’s black money had to be done away with, there were inconveniences. I didn’t mind it.
Author tweets @sprasadindia