It being a long weekend due to Ganesh Chaturthi, when the rest of the Mumbai people were either traveling out of the city or celebrating the festival, I was spending long hours languishing at the Powai Police station or making small talk with the policemen. Yes, I have their landline AND mobile numbers (plural); yes, they dropped in at my place for a casual chit-chat and yes, now I have new powerful friends.
It’s not like I have committed any serious crime (ok, I may have, but I am definitely not talking about it on my blog) and the entire exercise was part of the police verification process for the renewal of my passport, the first part of which can be read here. Now, it’s like I am new to the Mumbai Police and I have already visited the police station a few times, and the experience had been quite harrowing to say the least (like here). So I was dreading the ordeal all over again, as I waited with bated breath for the random check at my house.
But after two weeks when there was still no sign of them, I decided it was time to take things on my own hands and I visited the police station along with my 6”2, 90 Kg relative, whose mere presence ensured that the policemen at least heard me out, instead of just dismissing me. On my part, I was my politest and patient best, using phrases like “commander” and “sir” at a drop of a hat, instead of trying logical and moral arguments which had clearly worked against me in the past.
As expected there was the initial resistance when they made us wait for over an hour, pretended to have lost my papers and sent us shuttling from one policeman to another, but in the end we persisted and the damned paper was finally located. The guy promised to finally come home for the verification, but I was not satisfied with his verbal assertion and insisted on having his mobile number (a personal low considering that I have never needed to work so hard to get a guy’s number). I waited for a day and still there was no sign of him, so I started calling him like an obsessed girlfriend/wife, till he finally relented just to get me off his back.
On Friday evening, he came home while I was still at work and I missed his four calls. Eventually, he was nice enough to come again later in the evening and there he was comfortably sitting at my place, chit chatting, as he filled out the form. In his plain clothes and outside the dreary and intimidating police station, he could well have been just another friend, and I stopped short of offering him a drink (he guzzled the Fanta I did offer). He promised to process it immediately, well ahead of the four-day official deadline and told me to call him if I faced any problems when I visit the police station for the verification of my papers. I was touched by his kind offer since it was beyond his area of responsibility, especially since he took so much trouble to visit my place twice, that too on a weekend, well after his work hours. So I offered him some money more as a token of my gratitude and definitely not as bribe which he refused steadfastly, saying he was only doing his job. I was pleasantly surprised and quite embarrassed.
The next day, he called me up, informing me that he has processed my application and I could drop in at the station with the papers. This time I was confident enough to go on my own and it was evident that the kind policeman had told his colleagues about me. The guys in charge of verifying the papers were extremely co-operative and even though I did not have some of the papers, they gave me easy alternatives and after my third visit, I was laughing and joking with them like I belonged there. On a Sunday evening, when the rest of Mumbai was spending time with their families, they were still hard at work, pushing files, signing papers and listening to hapless citizens. I was waiting my turn, observing the people: the elderly Muslim lady whose house was taken over or the woman who was beaten by her husband or the young girl whose husband had suddenly gone missing- stories of everyday life which plagued the policeman irrespective of a weekend, a festival or a holiday.
Finally it was done and done without any bribes/influence and before the four-day deadline, but my biggest takeaway was my new-found respect for the police. All my life I had avoided the bureaucracy and the police like a contagious disease and this entire passport renewal saga brought the two forces together, but my experience belittled my preconceived notions.
Not that I would be any less critical about the bureaucratic red-tapism that plagues our country, but at least I would be more careful about the blanket generalization that goes with it…