Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Midnight Knock...

So far I have been writing in an orderly fashion, day by day, so as to keep close to the reality that comes like an ugly hag and emerges like a supermodel in Paris after my special treatment.

Today, I have an uglier reality to face. Last night there was a knock on the door well past midnight. Insistent ringing of the bell, as if someone was in a tearing hurry. I felt befuddled to a degree that is possible only when the brain is addled by lack of sleep.

Fumbling with the lock, I opened my room door. The receptionist, the male receptionist with professorial glasses and a ready smile was standing there as if he had grave news. Half a million possibilities flashed through my mind in a few milliseconds. Bad news from home? Or from some close friends who do have this hotel number? But before my drowsy brain could finish the logical analysis, my eyes perceived six cops, standing there a little coyly like school-girls rehearsing a play.

Watching me carefully, was the leader, a dark faced man, who had not smiled in years. He had his gun ready in his pocket. Being a fulltime cop's son, I didn't miss the bulge there.

"Checking sir." Someone said, and added as an afterthought, "just general checking." You don't wake up people at 2.45 in the morning, for 'general checking' I wanted to tell him. Something forced me to hold my tongue. Cops can be hellishly nasty when they choose. At an ungodly hour like this even the night duty fellas get touchy, so I smiled and said : "Please come in." The boss with the ugly expression rushed in.
" Where are you from?" " Pune."
" How long been here?"
" Three weeks, may be more..."
" What are you doing here?" Now deliciously witty answers surfaced in my fatigued brain, broiling and sizzling but I held my tongue once again.

I could have said I love getting half-fried without oil, in my own sweat....waiting to get boiled when the weather turns better...

" I am working with a company at Ambattur." The answer seemed to interest him.

" What's in there?" he pointed his baton to my briefcase. I opened it and he saw jazz CDs, a book, a shaving kit that is useless for me, my passport, and knick-knacks. A whole gamut of facial expressions streaked past, on the dark side of the moon that his face seemed to me.

" And in there?" he pointed the baton to my shoulder strap bag.

" Books" I said, opening those compartments that had technical magazines and books only. By now the cop was ready to believe anything I said, because books seemed to be emerging from where pistols and ammunition should have. Or whatever he wanted to see. Drugs or banned aphrodisiacs or...

" And in there?" now he pointed to the fat bulging suitcase, with one whole month's clothes making it look fatter, like a well-fed cat lying on the sofa.

" Clothes." I said with an equipoise and nonchalance that was getting on everyone's nerves, except his.

" No need to open..." he said softening. So I left the bag alone.
" What are you doing here?" again his query sounded like an affront. But I held my peace, cops can be really merciless if wisecracks are used by a suspect, I knew that for sure, too.

" Working for a company in Ambattur." I repeated parrot-like. The paralyzed receptionist bubbled to life. He had been sleeping in upright position like a horse. He gave the name of the company, probably its postal address too.

" Hmmmm." Said the serious faced cop, reminding me of the unamused spokespersons from the ministry of foreign affairs who never smile. They give us pieces of wisdom, as if reading obituaries.

" Is the company yours?" he asked softly. Implying that I must be cat's whiskers, owning several companies and living in hotels for months. Sigh...
" No sir." I said, giving him a piercing look.
" Okay, goodnight." Going out, rather straggling out, he gave me one last interested look and said :
" Dhanyavaad."
That came as a jolt. I suddenly realized the solemn-faced cop had been talking to me in good Hindi all along. This fact was more bizarre than the whole interview. That 'dhayavaad' gave the game away, I thought, closing the door.

The word means thanks in chaste Hindi. It is never used by common folks who say Thank You all over India. But if you have learnt Hindi through books, or through some impractical teacher who has never crossed India's northern regions, or you've been watching Hindi news on TV, you will use that rare phrase. May be they had been watching me, and the Beast too. My luxurious beard, the huge car big enough to smuggle in God knows how many automatic rifles, my unusual disappearances, my lack of communication with locals... they must have been watching.

Till Muthukurppan [ I like to give faces, arbitrary names] came on the scene and said let me talk to him. Itching to try out his shuddha Hindi on a North Indian. May be Muthu dear wanted to play-act and feel like a supercop he must have seen in five hundred Bollywood films throughout his lack-lustre life. Sighing in resignation, I switched on the TV to watch FashionTV where the catwalk and the drowsy models doing the same stuff over and over again, acts like a sleeping pill on me. Once again it did.
(c) Max Babi, April 2006.


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Dawn....सेहर said...

Interesting post...:)
Really enjoyed!

I am fiza from Ryze.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

hi dawn,
Tks for the post.
Keep coming back....

At 4:03 AM, Blogger suniti said...

Hi Max !
THis made a great reading! Didn't quite understand about the cops. Were they trying to frame you in something? Or were generally suspicious?
This will look good on caferati forum-me thinks !
On the whole , you seem to be having a great time :)


At 8:01 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

Suniti dear,
The lead cop wanted to show off he can speak in this place where even the beggars speak in English. Get me? I have explained at the end... it wasn't a frame up, it was just a harmless game for him. Ruined my sleep though.
Yeah I may post this, needs rephrasing if you missed what I meant...

At 2:43 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

I see the level of motivation you mention; -- but another of course involves some implication that this (essentially) foreign guy may be "up to no good" (in any of various ways, some of which you likewise mention amid the story).

If we may allow that a wave, to have its organic beauty, involves contrary motions and their dynamic summation (a thought which we know intuitively, though some exposure to the principle in elementary physics helps no doubt; but one needs to add to that theoretical basic, the all-important factor of staring at rolling waves on the beach, or perhaps better, observing them physically -- feeling the undertow etc.; but I digress) --

if we may allow that the whole beauty and complex drama of a wave involves its summation of a couple of contrary pulls -- so too, this little drama unfolds due to the union of several subtexts whose "summation" is the waveform of the real (so to say). Under the form of the rolling Hindi conversation, exist both of the pulls mentioned above: forming 2 dimensions of the action. The third dimenion, is the actuality embodied by the storyteller's own p.o.v. -- against which the wave of cop interrogation trundles. ;-)

To clarify the thought: yes, the guy wants to show off (or practice) his Hindi. He has perhaps been told that so-and-so says so-and-so says so-and-so says there seems to be a bearded suspicious [maybe-he's-an-exciting Bollywood villian] character afoot, driving around in an outrageous vehicle, asking bothersome questions about hotel restaurants etc. The Inspector takes in these reports and, for purposes of his own (lingo-exhibition) motivation [objective level 2], says, okay let's check out this putative nogoodnik [objective level 1].

(Pardon, obvious stuff; but perhaps I'm experimenting w/ literary analysis, rudimentary though be this instance of it.)


At 5:09 AM, Blogger R.Shriram said...

dear m.b.
The stuff reads like perry mason !!
you seem to be an old hand in this! hence forth i am apostate !!
by the way the comment from d.i was fun to catch contrary motion and dynamic summation !!


At 5:30 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

welcome to the mad mad world of max in chennai... you converted fast indeed. Comments from d.i. are always fun because he is the only reader who can combine serious strait-laced analysis with nuggets of comedy hidden from our eyes. Keep reading, I am fundamentally turning my agony into comedy here. Spread a word around amonst your fellow bloggers.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Ozymandias said...

I will go around tom-tomming someday that I was friends with Max Babi. This piece is singularly amazing, by far the best I have read so far of your writings. You bring out your fear as well as irritatation, you mention a communal bias so subtly, and then the denouement - I could feel the infuriating thoughts you must have had when you caught the trick!


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