Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Timepass is the name of a bourgeois bar in the holy town of Palani in Tamilnadu. Bourgeois, the adjective, was coined by the fellow-alcohol-aficionado with whom I was travelling. In his observation, there are not many places for a bourgeoisie drunkard in Tamilnadu. You have the wine shops that sell everything except wine all over the state. These shops owned and run by the State, and very much a proletariat’s place. For a bar to be bourgeois needs swing door, cushioned chairs, and inevitably, yellowish grim lighting. These places serve alcoholic drinks at 2 to 4 times higher price, depending on the quality of the swinging front door, than in the wine shops. These doors, by default, work as push-to-open from both sides, as there won’t be many who want to go out in the evening, or any who can go in at the closing time.

This particular bar, Timepass, has got a curious thing on the wall near the counter. A regular size wall clock with its hands moving anti-clockwise. More than confusing the time that has passed, it provides to the purpose of the badly needed excuse to a customer. When the waiter comes to tell you it’s the closing time, you can stare at the clock for two minutes and tell him, there still are two more hours to 11. I don’t think not many customers see this opportunity and try to exploit it to their benefit, as the clock is still there, and was there two years back. But then, bourgeoisies never had much trust in rebellion.

And while the clock was steadily tock-ticking, we were chewing on the snacks and masticating memories of encounters with policemen we met on the road. The subject was on the top of our minds, because that day afternoon too we were stopped at a border check-post. The policemen at border check-posts never wear caps. The cap sits on the table all day, looking over the procedures, and listening to the noises of the wireless equipment stands next to it.

The bag tied on to the luggage rack of the bike, is full of explosives, the one who stopped us was almost sure. I am still wondering how he would have reacted if he had found anything that he expected. He looked a lot relieved seeing only spare clothes, some clean and some dirty, and a couple books in the bag. Clutching at straws, he was hanging on to the elastic strap we use to tie the rain jackets over the bag when it’s not raining. He wanted to know whether we strangle people on the road with that elastic band, and pull out their eyes with the hooks. Though, all he could ask was why we are carrying around a suspicious elastic string with deadly metal hooks. At the end, he consoled us saying that we just look like thugs, but are actually not. He warned us against the danger too. That every single policeman who spots us will trouble us. He was a good pastime, and cut short our time in Timepass by half an hour.

We took his warning lightly. But he was right about this brothers and sisters,-in-arms. Two days later, we were stopped and checked five times. Longtime back, a bunch of policemen had warned us not to walk to the peninsular tip at Dhanushkodi, because the naval guards might shoot us down. We did walk to the tip and came walking back without any extra holes on our bodies. May be, we were lucky. Or they were. They might have had enough quails (read crows or cranes) to shoot down that day. On another occasion, they had warned us for carrying a Swiss Army Knife. They had said, highway petrol officers would put us behind the bars and charge us as highway robbers. That too didn’t happen after travelling with the same knife for thousands of kilometres.

Policemen are the most brilliant pessimists I have ever met in my life. Still once in a while they get unpleasant surprises. Like when they see that you actually carry all the required documents. But this guy’s intentions were noble. This committed officer at the border check-post, all alone almost hundred kilometres away from any support staff, was not risking his life, armed only with a cane baton and an unloaded 303 back in his cabin, not in an effort to squeeze out a 50 rupees note out of our wallets, but to ensure the safety of millions. Unfortunately we were not villainous enough to make him a hero.

It’s cinema that spoils our policemen, observed my companion. In reel life policemen look like policemen, and thugs and terrorists look like thugs and terrorists. Sadly for us, in real life only policemen look like policemen. You can never argue with a person who wears a uniform, whether it is a nurse, a waiter, or a policeman. The most sensible thing is to listen to them, and tell them what they like to hear. And never try to tell them anything that they already don’t know.

Two days after the drinks at Timepass was a day that commemorates the death of a freedom fighter belongs to the region, and we were travelling from Madurai to Tanjavur. Police barricades were made at every junction anticipating some trouble from the admirers of the local hero. It’s a tricky situation. The observant of the day has to shout patriotic slogans, but has no idea against or in favour of whom. When this patriotic spirit is spiced up with local spirits, police barricades at the places where the procession pass through are a necessary backdrop for this ironic comedy. And it was our third involuntary stoppage at one such junction.

They want to know where we are coming from and where we are going. We always start from a place, and hope to reach the same place. But that answer is not something the protectors of the people like to hear. So, we told them the place we started in the morning and the place we wished to reach by evening. The lady officer in charge of the battalion at the junction gets suspicious. She wants to know if our intention is touring the locations, why are we not doing it in DVD coaches; preferably in the ones those have window curtains.

Now, the basic rule for any uniform-wearing personnel is the blind following of the hierarchy. If your boss is suspicious, you too are suspicious, by default. This is generally referred as discipline, and causes chaos, or aggravates, most of the time. The low ranked actors re-enters the scene. And about twenty five policemen, and women, gathers around in anticipation. The job of the outer circle of these curious things in khakis is to chase away the inquisitive public. And all wanted to know what’s in the bag. The bag opens, once again, to reveal its unglamorous contents, including a couple of books wrapped in polyethylene bags.

Books, of course, are meant for the curious. They wanted to know whether they are ‘crime’ novels. No, they aren’t, the one you are flipping through is about the author’s misadventures as a petty criminal, when he was a narcotic addict, and drug pusher. The latter part of the answer was a just thought that was dead before born. Yes, there’s a camera that’s been double wrapped in the bag! “What is this? A camera! Call Mariyappa! He knows everything about cameras!” Orders the queen bee. Constable Mariyappa pushes his way through his less-privileged colleagues, with a hand held camera in his hand, and starts shooting the procedures with the fervour of a greenhorn journalist. He inspects our camera, and turns to his boss helplessly. “It’s not a digital camera. I know to check pictures stored only in a digital camera.”

Now they are utterly disappointed, but still as clueless, after seeing the unexciting contents of the bag, and a camera that doesn’t have digital image preview. What they want to know now is why are we taking this bad road, when there’s a very good NH connecting our starting point and destination. There are no bad roads, and we were looking for the longest possible route; I wanted to tell them, but didn’t. Instead, I told them we thought this route is shorter. No, this one is longer, and in a worse condition compared to the NH; the officer is not convinced, as he is not supposed to. The roads in Tamilnadu are almost as good as national highways, I said in an attempt of justification. No, not as good as an NH, the state policeman replied modestly, as if he’s been flattered.

We are ready to continue our ride after 30 minutes of interrogation and scrutiny. But the lady officer in charge still can’t make a decision. With her short, thin frame, and what-do-I-do-now look on her face, she resembled a high school kid with a big fake moustache, playing the part of a tough guy who forgot the lines during an emotionally intense scene in a play he was acting at the school competitions. It could be the moment of my life, she must have been thinking, feeling the weight of the situation on her tiny shoulders. The two stars weigh a tonne now. The hearts of every single man in uniform, and the two on the other side of the fence, filled with compassion and genuine helplessness. One of the senior constables suggested that we could be allowed to leave. And the lady, gave her consent with a silent glance.

You would be going through the same drama for another twenty times, said one among them as we started off again. One is good pastime. Twenty are real waste of time. If you have walked on the roads of Bangalore after midnight, you will understand what we were feeling right then. In that place, and time, you will find a pack of street dogs at every 300 meters or so. And they are not there to respect the rights of a pedestrian. They will stare at you, and if your eyes meet theirs, they will bark! Seldom, they bite too. The trick is not looking at them in their eyes, and walk past as composed as you possibly can, while feeling their stares right at the back of your head. They still might bark, or bite. But seldom. The same might work with policemen, I suggested to my companion. And it worked with a pretty good success rate. We were stopped only in two more instances. Now, I didn’t suggest this analogy with any intentions of insult. I respect dogs a lot.

And time passes, without making any major changes, and repeating same mistakes.

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At Sun Nov 19, 01:31:00 pm, Blogger jm said...


looking forward to more travel accounts like this!

At Wed Nov 22, 07:45:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u donkey-cavity,

the next time take the call and please tell me when you're in town.


At Tue Dec 12, 06:02:00 pm, Anonymous Sebin said...

Uniform, may i interpret it as a disciplined dress, or the "dress code"? Or in general having a pattern in dressing? If my interpretations are correct(only if) the liberals/socialists(ha ha..) (i am not sure i am meaning only pseudos) are also have patterns.

So what is your problem of not wearing a cap? if you don't have a problem with that and just making some fun, again i feel it is dangerous(don't ask me danderous to whom). Is wearing a cap just like having police man stading in front of the police station? I feel we just inherited the cap from the colonial period. But let them give the freedom of removing them when it is not necessary.

The bag tied on to the luggage rack of the bike, is full of explosives, the one who stopped us was almost sure.
I am not sure of this idea. There is a distinction between sure and suspicious. If they were sure, either they will be scared or they will try to contact the higher people in someway(as you told they may not have the proper equipments for defending you ha ha..). This is what my spontaneous logic says.

Anyway what i feel is, i respect(or i don't have much problem to co-operate) the responsibility of maintaining law and order peoples. i think there attitude is to protect each and everybody.They cannot take a Rs 50 in the middle of the crowd(no need to teach me how to bribe in the crowd ha ha..). And there actions? They don't have such experience before in there life. It is almost the same for all human beings we work with our imaginations. That is all we can do.

I don't think you respect dogs you just afraid of them. You don't have the complete idea how to handle them, so i feel it is not respect or gratititude it is just fear.


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