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Kolkata postcard: dangerous dakus, red BB and policemen in tight pants

by Sandip Roy  Jul 7, 2011 13:55 IST

#Crime in India   #Dacoity   #Kolkata police   #ThatsJustWrong  

Looking good does not come easy. We all know it requires sacrifice.

You have to say no to something or the other – chocolate chip cookies, that second beer, the biryani.

Kolkata police too have their fashion cross to bear. They apparently have to draw the line at scaling walls.

Policemen said they could not enter the house because their trousers were too tight. Reuters

A couple of days ago six dacoits burst into a house in our quiet residential Salt Lake neighbourhood around 8pm. They bound and gagged the family members, including children, at gun point. One of the daughters-in-law who had hidden her cell phone between her knees managed to send out a desperate SOS to her siblings. They rushed over. For once the cops showed up on time – a sub-inspector and two constables. But then they promptly became fashion victims.

According to The Telegraph:

When someone suggested that the cops scale the 5ft boundary wall and try to enter the house, they allegedly said their trousers were ‘too tight” for it. “They had the gall to ask some among us to climb the walls instead,” a relative said.

Now technically the Salt Lake police are not under Kolkata police and there’s been a long tussle about whether or not they should be. But I don’t think the main sticking point in that bureaucratic fight is about the snugness of their trousers.

To be fair, the Salt Lake police department says this was just the night patrol team. The officer blamed the SMS sent by the trapped woman for the delayed response.

“The SMS was vague,” he said. “We deputed the night patrol team to assess the situation and later sent back-up.”

The offending SMS, typed secretly while the robbers were out of the room, had just six words.

Daku at home help don’t call.

We obviously should not rush to blame the police here. The woman should have put in the proper punctuation. Daku at home. Help. Don’t call. That would have made everything crystal clear and the police could have deputed officers with the right inseam and waist size, perfectly tailored to fit the occasion.

Eventually the family members broke open the door. The robbers tried to escape. One injured himself by jumping from the terrace. Two pointed their guns at the family members. The cops, who had rifles and a revolver, didn’t use any of their weapons because they said they didn’t have the official order to fire. Three of the robbers got away by stopping a passing motorcyclist at gunpoint.

Our neighbourhood is hysterical with excitement. Usually our drama level doesn’t go beyond  “Oh look how briskly Mrs. Mitra is walking. She must have had her knees replaced.” Now even the gas delivery man came by our house before schedule to deliver his cylinder. “You’re early,” said my mother in disbelief. He just wanted to get the scoop on the robbery.  Distant relatives heard the news and called us to ask “Was it near your house?

Now house CF-71 has become a sort of tourist attraction. The Star Ananda television van was parked there all day. Three policemen, pant sizes unknown, were deputed to hang out in front of the house in broad daylight. My sister told my mother to put on a fresh sari in the morning just in case television reporters came calling, canvassing the temperature of the neighbourhood post-robbery. There are first person accounts of the family members in the newspaper today along with a picture of the red Blackberry that saved the day.

We are all drawing different conclusions from this story. How could it happen in such a quiet residential neighbourhood, says one resident. Why, we don’t even have purse snatching here! We are just a stone’s throw from the Bidhannagar police station exclaims another. A friend says this is what happens when you lose that old paara (neighbourhood) feeling you had in the densely populated areas of Calcutta proper where everyone knew everyone’s business and then some.  Six dacoits with guns could  never walk into a house at 8 pm without anyone noticing in the cheek-by-jowl apartments of Gariahat or Shyambazar. Over here, we had never even seen this family though they lived down the block from us, around the corner from the Xerox lady and the Brijwasi pure milk rabri shop.

But I am wondering what’s the real story here. Did the pants get tighter or did the policemen get fatter?

I remember the old days when the cops wore such baggy shorts we called them divided skirts. When did the good old Kolkata cops go all Dabangg on us?

Ever since I came back from the US, I’ve been struggling to find off-the-rack clothes that really fit me. The shirts all look like they have been made for men who are shaped like boxes. The pants flare in strange places. I’ve been to malls and departmental stores, I’ve checked out international brands and desi labels. Nothing fits.

Now I realise I should have done what any citizen should do when they are faced with trouble. I should have just gone to the cops.

Or sent them an SMS: Need tight pants. Help. Please call.