I was alone on the deserted road. Darkness engulfed me like my desperate thoughts.The tomorrow loomed large like a big question. My plans for the day came to naught already. Yes, I didn't find a job. Why nothing was working my way?
A couple of days ago I cremated my father. All the near and dear were there praising the old man. They were unanimous in their verdict that he was the only honest and nice guy around. In reality they never cared for our family, for he did not leave anything behind except that he was too humble.
Now I stood by myself, forlorn in the middle of an imposing city, yet in a neglected slum. I muttered to myself, ‘What the heck! I will survive anyhow. I have seen some such hard times before.’ When I woke up at the railway station, the harsh realities dawned on me. My makeshift bed was stolen while I slept soundly in the train. No doubt I had some education, but that was decent enough to conduct some religious rites. I could also pass for a clerk in dingy garages which sell cheap goods. Pity, I could not use the command over Sanskrit that acquired from my old man. After all, the Mandarins never give a pundit certificate a la MBAs.
A whistle from the distance brought me to the present.
“Hey, what on earth are you doing there? Aren’t you aware about the curfew?” roared a khaki-wearing, stick-wielding officer. He continued, “You are supposed to be indoors.”
The middle-aged policeman frisked my person roughly and thoroughly. In the process, he pulled out a rope from my back pocket.
“What is this for, man?” he thundered.
“Officer, this is just a rope I used to tie up my bedroll”. Quickly I explained,
“Unfortunately enough I found my travel bed stolen before I woke up,” I replied demurely.
“So, I find you got nothing else to hide, like a weapon, batteries, SIM cards or foreign currency!” roared the khaki-clad authority.
“Yes, Sir. I am a harmless guy, besides being penniless. What all I had was spent on the train ticket, and so I began searching for a job to get on with my life”, I pleaded.
Apparently, the policeman pitied on me. He invited me to a quick supper on the pavement. His Tiffin contained a roll of very thick chapattis and an ensemble of potatoes, onions, chilies. I ate my portion with great relish duly skipping the chilies. I said my thanks profusely, like any other unexpected guest.
Suddenly a jeep screeched to a halt along the curb. A superior officer stepped out, making a racket in the process. Obviously he was checking on the cop for something new. While the surprise inspection was going on, I moved aside a little to huddle myself deeper into a corner of a shuttered storefront. I pulled my collar closer to the neck to ward off the chilly winds. Then I heard the voice of the superior officer floating toward me,
“Did you hear the latest, Sergeant? A bomb exploded in a nearby mall. You better had to be careful and look out for the suspicious characters, especially the strangers to our city. Knowing you pretty well, I am sure you let off even cutthroat criminals with blood on the hand. Your record speaks volumes about you. And, well, I could never help you there.”
The super-cop swept past to inspect on yet another patrolling party. The old constable turned toward me. He lighted a cigarette nonchalantly. In the ensuing glow he examined my face, a bit closer now to my discomfort. Something in my face seemed to have caught his attention. Then it looked like he was talking to himself, dramatically like in a soliloquy:
‘Didn’t this man look like the suspect behind the recent serial bombing? Yes. He matched his caricature…but only in parts. But who cares these days, whether faces match the rest of the body or their history? My boss might chide me - why this stranger looks as if he ate not a meal for an entire year, what with no fat seen under his skin by even an ounce anywhere. Unfortunately for our police personnel, most profiles of wanted terrorists look like filmy villains. But this guy got a set of bones with week-long stubble on his chin to highlight his pallor for special effects. Moreover the guy gives a scare of a lifetime to passersby with weaker hearts. Whatever be, let me try my luck.’
I began to shudder. But the cop seemed to melt only a little.
“Tell me, dear! What plans you have for tonight. Where do you want to stay? Do you have any relative living in the city by any chance?”
I exclaimed, “Oh, out there lies my father in the skies, my sole connection. He gave me life, but no soul. He gave me bones, but no flesh. He gave me education, but no substantial dividends to reap from. He gave me some good morals that are proved useless. And here I am, as you see Sir, with just a rope on me. You have even confiscated that.”
I looked pleadingly even as I was gesticulating heavenward sending my prayers sans my rope. New determination seized the policeman who now started wearing an official stance,
“Man, who are you exactly, and where and what is your identity? Where do you hail from? Do have anybody to identify you?”
He tied up my hands with my rope. Finally the peacekeeper appealed to me,
“Please, man, for God's sake! Be my guest as a prisoner. You are my only ticket for my instant promotion. Soon I am going to retire. Make no mistake about it; you have all the required qualifications for a fail-safe convict. With the kind of luck you have got, this may be your last chance for some good life, that is food and shelter, although behind the bars. Don’t you agree it's a career of sorts? And it will ultimately feed your stomach for a while or luckily for the rest of your life. So, make my life at least, when you have failed in your own, and that too very miserably. If you don’t surrender yourself, I will book you for being a potential suicide bomber.”
I sighed and regretted I carried a rope in the first place. I philosophized, if I have everything, I should be flaunting them all. When I have nothing, I should not carry anything on my person in this great country, not even a rope or sacred thread.
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