Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Custody

My wife and I were traveling to Hyderabad. This was in January 2006. We came back by plane (cheap Deccan tickets) but went by Falaknuma Express. The train leaves Howrah Station (on the other side of the river Hooghly, but the main railway entry to Kolkata) at 8:30 a.m. and we were there right on time. As always, we were a bit apprehensive about our co-passengers – particularly so since it was to be a 40 hour journey. Our apprehensions were somewhat increased when we saw eight extremely rough looking men, with two extremely emaciated and nervous type of fellows taking the cubicle right next to us. We were on the side lower and side upper births (which I always prefer because we can have a bit of privacy). The cubicle was for six people and the presence of ten did not bode well. But I still have some faith in the Ticket Inspectors, they always try to maintain a semblance of propriety. But the Inspector came, asked about the extra four, some mysterious conversations occurred and the men remained exactly where they were. Needless to say I was not exactly relieved.

After the train left the district of Howrah, and we were deep into the Medinipur (Midnapore in the Anglicized lingo) area one of the emaciated lunghi-clad men wanted to go to the toilet. They were speaking mostly in broken Hindi and gesticulations, but I understood that the head-rough-looking fellow was saying that both of them would have to go. The other lunghi-clad timidly objected. But ultimately both went. At that point I saw a chain was attached to the window next to which the two lunghis were sitting. Luggage chains perhaps! When the two came back I saw they were tied together to the window with that chain! Obviously my curiosity peaked. My wife was busy looking at the scenery outside, while I was busy catching the drama inside. What I could not get was chance to enter into their conversation.

The chance came soon enough. One of the rough guys came to me and asked if he could keep his bag on the side-upper bunk. Apparently he had bought an image of the goddess Kali and it was in the bag. He did not want to keep it on the floor at daytime lest someone steps on it. I had no problem. Then he introduced himself. As did I. He was a constable, a part of a Andhra Police contingent which came to Kolkata to arrest some dangerous criminals. The two chained were notorious criminals. They had the occupation of drugging passengers on trains and looting them. One of their victims found himself unconscious in Hyderabad and lodged a complaint there. Based on that complaint they had come to Kolkata and picked these two up from Metiaburuz. This oldish guy very kind to us and introduced us to all of his colleagues. The two robbers were happily ignored.

Although the prospect of spending a night with two notorious criminals was not exactly inviting, as uninviting as spending the night with a bunch of policemen, yet there were a lot of advantages. Throughout the trip we had free special tea from the pantry car. They simply would not let us buy any tea at all. Then none of the beggars or any other riffraff dared to come to our side of the compartment. This was the best night’s sleep I ever had on a train because there was no tension of losing luggage or shoes. At night they did indulge in a bit of drinking, after politely putting up a drape. But the noise of the glasses and bottles is far too familiar.

When we reached Hyderabad after a two-hour delay they offered to give us a life to our hotel, something I very politely rejected. I did not want to get off from a police-car in front of the hotel. Somehow I did not feel it would make a good impression.

What was wonderful was the behaviour the two criminals got. They were never for once misbehaved with. They were given food, taken to the toilets, the senior officer told them if they were innocent then they had nothing to fear. I don’t know what awaited them in custody, but on the train they were given due respect apart from the chains.

1 comment:

Sucharita Sarkar said...

A very interesting 'encounter' indeed. So different from the usual cops-and-criminals encounters one reads about in Mumbai, the city of "ab tak chappan" notoriety.

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