The front wheels squealed, the seat pushed against my back like the hard of a giant palm. I couldn’t help it. The OST of the original Don blared inside my skull.
“Oh well, at least I can write about this,” I thought as I accelerated dangerously through a subway in Chennai. Beside me was Jagan, a constable and in the rear seat, Sub-Inspector (SI) Palaniappan (names changed), gripping his lathi and grinding his teeth.
30 seconds ago: I was stopped at an impromptu police barricade, bolstered by an illegally parked truck. Even as I saw the traffic slow, I had rolled down the windows and fished out my ID card, which said PRESS in bold red letters. The SI had just pulled over a frisky Maruti Alto LXI and was poking his head into the car. The car had the Chief Minister’s picture stickered on the rear windshield. I wondered if that would make a difference. Apparently not. SI must have smelled alcohol, because he asked one of the passengers to get down, and pointed the car to the side of the road. I moved forward, scowled like Clint Eastwood and said as I lazily dangled the card from two fingers, “Press. Going home from work.” I enjoyed the consequent flinch. The Alto passenger, meanwhile, saw a teeny window, and took it. He ran and got into the car, which swung into a startled constable and sped off.
The SI and constable, livid with rage and now convinced Bin Laden’s brother-in-law was in the Alto, scrambled into my car. For God’s sake, I’m a civilian. There’s no way I’m going to go after random drunks. The thing to do now is to politely but firmly refuse. Then the SI says, “Saar, chase!” Well, when you put it like that…I auto-lock all the doors and hit the pedal.
My front wheels squealed, the seat pushed against my back like the hard of a giant palm. I couldn’t help it. The OST of the original Don — all Congo drums and trumpets — blared inside my skull.
Alto had serious head start, but we had an 1197 CC engine and a driver who was, well, not all that bad. My passengers were impressed. “We’re going to get him, sir. Well done.” After a few minutes of top-notch action, a narrow lane slows Alto down, giving me a good look at the number plate. My memory is notorious, so I read it out loud, four times. Constable grabbed a pen and scribbled on his palm. I swerved and overtook him, swerved again and cut into his lane, forcing him to stop. Before we had fully stopped, constable threw open his door and ran at Alto. The moment the Alto driver saw khaki, he rammed into my car, nearly yanking the front passenger door off its hinges.
Constable escaped by the skin of his teeth — archaic usage, I know, but I doubt I’ll find better context. Alto, meanwhile, clumsily ran onto the footpath and sped away down the alley and into a main road with more alleys on either side. By now, the SI, who had got down, tried to push the front door closed. The clock was ticking. After a last frustrated heave and my “Leave it alone!” he said, “Don’t let him get away.” Even as I sped up again, I knew he was gone. The chase was over.
Right until that point, it felt great. Then my senses caught up. As the two policemen and I ambled back in a dinged car, a powerful image from a Tom & Jerry cartoon flashed in front of me. One of those scenes where Tom realises he’s been fooled and sees a donkey’s face in the mirror, with ‘Jackass’ helpfully subtitled. I was sure the policemen saw it too, because they began to fidget now. Alto was “surely carrying drugs or some banned substance. Why else would he drive like a maniac?” they said. They didn’t sound convinced. Well, at least we had the registration number.
It turned out to be wrong one. A traffic policeman on night patrol keyed in the number on his palm-top. It spit out an address not far away. Great. “You, you and you, go take a look.” Traffic cop says, “Was it a blue car?” No. We try five permutations. No red car on the list. SI removed his hat. Constable trotted off smartly. Traffic cop cleared his throat. I looked at my car. Three constables were trying to force the door shut, heaving against it.
That’s it, then. It was either going to be some long legal process with fudging involved or I was going to have to fix the car on my own. Either way, I was looking at major expense and a colossal waste of time. Well, that’s what you get for being a goose, going on a chase with policemen, when you should have simply gone on home.
“So what now?” I asked the SI. “Well, we’re terribly sorry about this. You helped us and now your car is smashed.” Keen observation, brilliant deduction. I made a face and nodded. A head constable jogged up to us, conferred with SI. It was looking bleaker now. They were stalling. I was sure of it.
I didn’t expect what came next. “We’ll pick it up tomorrow morning and have it fixed in a day. Or you could claim insurance and we’ll arrange the pay the balance,” he said. I looked at them like I was a French tourist who’d never heard the word ‘dosa’ before.
For the next hour, we got to know each other. The barricade came down, because SI was “Chah, not in the mood anymore.” We talked about wives, kids, #$&^%& criminals and slim paychecks. We pulled over a tea-vendor on a motorbike and swilled a couple of stale cuppas. With a piece of string, we tied the door to a hook inside. It was 2:00 a.m. I went home.
The next morning, a head constable called on me at six and took the car. “You can leave all the stuff inside. I’ll be with the mechanic all through,” he said when I frantically tried to collect two weeks worth of junk from the car.
And the morning after that, again at six, the head constable came back with the car. I walked over to the door to check on the repairs, when he smiled and said, “It was that door, sir. Not this one.” It was good as new.
But you can have the morning-light epilogue, which shows the policeman in a ‘different’ light. My story ends at night, when I drove home grinning, the front door of my car yawning in the rain. A few scratches and patchy paintwork seemed small payment for the friends I’d made that night, and the Chennai-style Guy Ritchie silliness we were part of.
(Anand Venkateswaran is fascinated with people and with words. So he writes about people. Even when he's writing about food, film or formaldehyde. Fatten his ego or spit in his punch, at email@example.com)