We were just talking. Admittedly, it was sometime past 1 am, but standing on the street and talking has never been a crime. Not in Bombay and not in Mumbai. But last night it became a reason for two plain clothes policemen to harass one man and one woman.
My girlfriend was on her way home from Colaba to Santacruz after meeting some friends. Where I stay in Worli is on her way so she called to ask if I wanted to come down and say hi. I did.
She stopped the taxi on Annie Besant Road and we started chatting. I was trying to convince her to stay for a little while and come to my place. She, being the practical person she is, said it was late and she should go home. So we compromised and agreed to chat for 10 minutes right there. So she asked the taxi driver to wait. Not only did he agree, he turned off his meter too.
Then two men in a white jeep pull up alongside the taxi. There were no marking on the jeep and the men were not wearing uniforms but we figured them for cops. One of them leans out and starts talking to the driver, asking him why he is waiting. The driver says he is waiting to take my girlfriend to Santacruz.
The man turns to her and says, “aye ladki, idhar aa” So she goes and he asks: “taxi wala panga kar raha hai? zyada paisa maang raha hai? (Is the taxi driver fighting with you? Is he asking you for too much money?)
She tells him no, that he is not even charging waiting and that in any case, she was just leaving. At this point, things seem fine and it is even a little reassuring that these guys are checking on us. That’s when I go up to them as well and that’s when things start to get difficult
He asks what we are doing out so late at night. His tone is not exactly friendly, which is surprising given the initial conversation. My girlfriend said she was dropping her friend and was just talking to me. Now she is going home. We both thought they would probably drive away at this point.
Instead, the cop asks us: pata hai na dilli mein kya hua tha? (Do you not know what happened in Delhi?)
Then he starts to interrogate me. Who am I? What am I doing there? Why was I talking to this girl so late at night? Who was she? Where do I live? The tone is aggressive and accusatory. I decide to pay the taxi driver and tell my girlfriend we should get off the street and just go to my house. So I tell the men we are going to my house and we head off in that direction.
We had barely gone 30 feet when the cops quickly turn the jeep around and drive up beside us. There is a public staircase leading up to my building. We managed three stairs before the man in the passenger seat – wearing a checked shirt and sporting a pot belly – jumps out and grabs my arm. He tells me to come to the police station with him. Now I am getting angry. We were not breaking any laws. We were not causing a disturbance. And now we were just going home. I react and tell him I am ready to go to the station. I have not done anything so let’s go right now.
Luckily for me, my girlfriend is much more sensible than I am. She tells me to calm down and asks him: “humne kya kiya hai? Humlog bas baat kar rahe the. kya problem hai?” (What did we do? We were just talking. What is the problem with that?)
He tells her “police station chal, sab pata chalega” (Come to the police station, you’ll find out everything). He points at me and says he has been drinking (which was true) My girlfriend points out I was not driving, so what was wrong with drinking?
She asks the cop his name. He says: “tu mujhe mera naam puchega? Kya samajhti hai apne aap ko?” (How dare you ask me my name? Who do you think you are?)
Then he switches tack, and asks what our relationship is. I tell him we are friends. She tells him we are just going to my house, which is in the building behind us. He wants me to call my father to prove it. I can’t believe this is happening – that I, at the age of 35, have to wake my father up at 1:30 in the morning and explain to him that he needs to come down to stop a cop from arresting me for talking to my girlfriend. It was such a bizarre notion that at first I couldn’t do it. I just stared at my phone wondering how me and my city had reached this point.
My dad says he will come down immediately but the cop just wants to talk to him on the phone. So I call back and the cop hands the phone to my girlfriend and asks her to prove that she knows my dad. She apologises to my dad for the mess and the cop realizes they do know each other. By then my dad has left the house and we tell the cop to wait for him.
That was another mistake. Cops don’t wait for people. People wait for them. Luckily, my dad arrives at this point. His grey hair and beard elicit instant respect. The cop’s tone and expression changes. He says, “Arre sir appne takleef kyun liya? Hum to bas appse baat karna chahte. Yeh bachein log raat ko raaste mein kya kar rahe hain, yeh toh aapko pata hi hai.“(Sir, why did you take the trouble to come down? We just wanted to talk to you. You know what kids at night on the road do with each other)
Then he shakes my dad’s hand, hops into the jeep and leaves. I apologise to my father. He tells me I have to know when to keep my cool. Then he pauses and says, “It is frightening how people in this country have taken to imposing their will through force.”