The town of Pitampur is a small, conservative town, one that strongly believes in its old-fashioned values and traditions. The folk of this town wake up at sunrise, follow their daily routine and go to bed at sunset. They are simple people who are content with their simple lives. They do not like change and excitement, and it is my duty to keep things that way. I am Ashok Kulkarni, chief of police for the town of Pitampur and this is my story. Before I begin, you have to make a deal with me, a deal that I don’t judge you and you don’t judge me. So here goes.
I had grown up watching a lot of Hindi movies where the lead actor was a cop who fought crime and locked thieves and wrong-doers in the prison. I had always wanted to become a policeman since then and do the same for my town. Dreaming of joining the squad, I had worked hard and aced every test. The day I got selected was the day I thought my dreams were about to come true. And then, I was posted to the town of Pitampur.
I want you to close your eyes and visualize. Visualize vast stretches of farmland with cattle ploughing on it, small brick houses with red tiled roofs, children playing on paved gravel road, men and women folk doing their daily routine chores. Well this was Pitampur, a peaceful, conventional town.
To you, it may sound like an idyllic place to spend the rest of your life. But to me, it felt suffocating. I felt like an outcast in this town. The peace and quiet in the town made me want to pull my hair out. I am a policeman and it is my duty to keep this place safe. But safe from what? I had lived in this Godforsaken place for more than twenty years and nothing exciting had ever happened..
Let me tell you, I am a brave man. I have never feared death. When the time comes, I will welcome death with open arms and a smile on my face. But I wanted to accomplish something big before that day came. I wanted my life to have meaning. I always felt this need to be the protector, the need to feel needed. Sadly, I couldn’t feel any of this in Pitampur. It felt like if I were to die that day, I would be lost in the pages of history. The thought of living an unfulfilled life, now that I feared. And then, something happened which changed everything !
It may sound dramatic but the day was Friday, the 13th. The month was April and the year, 2012. The strong aroma of spices in the Indian masala chai filled the air as the ‘chai wala’ brought tea for us. There is nothing as invigorating to the senses as steaming hot chai. I was sitting at the station, sipping tea and reading the daily newspaper when I heard the commotion outside. Reluctantly, taking one last look at my tea, I ran outside. I could already see a crowd forming at the street corner. After making my way through the crowd, I saw Suraj, the milkman, talking animatedly to anyone who would listen. Although panic-stricken, he also seemed to be enjoying the attention that he was receiving. After finally tearing him away from the crowd for questioning, he narrated the story to me, which I guessed he was repeating for the millionth time.
“I was out delivering milk to the town folk and my wife was out washing clothes at the river side. When I got back home and opened the door, the scene before my eyes left me shocked and frightened beyond measure.” His eyes widened as he gave a dramatic pause, waiting for me to prod him further.
“Someone had broken into the house. Things had been dropped and pushed around and strewn everywhere. Everything was out of place”, he continued. “To my surprise, the door was intact, just the way I had left it.”
“Take me to your place. I want to look around for clues”, I ordered.
I could feel excitement coursing through my veins as we walked to Suraj’s modest home. “God, please let it be something big”, I thought to myself before pushing the thoughts away out of guilt.
As we reached the place, I examined the door first, looking for signs that the thief might have left. It looked untouched, just as Suraj had explained. As we opened the door, I saw what Suraj had spelled out to me. Things were lying around everywhere, strewn and torn apart. The house had been turned upside down.
“Did you find anything missing? Anything valuable?”
“No sirji. That is the weirdest part. Everything is out of its place but nothing valuable is missing. That was the first thing I checked. In fact the vase in which I kept a hidden stash of money was broken but the money was kept safely on the shelf.”
Once again, I went around the house examining every inch. I told Suraj not to worry and that the thief would be caught soon.
He looked relieved.
I spent the next few days pondering about the break-in and thinking of a possible motive behind it. I believed that the key to solving a crime is finding the motive behind it which would in turn lead to the culprit. In this case, however, I was finding it difficult to find the motive as nothing had been stolen. I spent the day puzzling over it and the night tossing around my bed, unable to sleep, still trying to solve the riddle.
Within the next two weeks, two more break-ins had taken place, both similar to the first one. Two intact doors, two ransacked houses, and two houses with no valuables stolen presented themselves to me. It appeared as though the thief (if one could call him/ her that, since nothing had been stolen yet) only wished to scare people. However, he (or she) seemed to be taking greater risks and getting reckless with each crime. The last break-in was into the house of Rampalji. Rampal, who was fondly called Masterji was a 40 year old school teacher who taught at a school situated just outside the town. He was a bachelor and lived alone. When asked, he would tell people that he was married to his profession. Masterji had left home in need of some books that he had left at school. He had been away for an hour before he returned to his shack. To his horror, the house had been ransacked.
This thief had turned me into an insomniac. I felt fatigued and exhausted all the time and yet was unable to sleep. I closed my eyes waiting for sleep to take over, but in vain. I took my thoughts back to the three cases. While I was examining the last house, I could almost feel the thief mocking me. It had been getting frustrating. I had some leads but nothing substantial. I desperately needed a breakthrough. Finally giving up on sleep, I got out of bed and decided to go for a walk.
I stepped out into the starry night in my pyjamas. The breath of fresh air cleared my mind and helped me think better. I was walking around the area in circles lost in thoughts when I passed by my house. As I walked past, I heard faint noises coming from inside. Suddenly I felt alert and awake. Moving stealthily, I sneaked a peek inside through a window and couldn’t believe what I saw. I saw a young boy, hardly 20, quietly messing up my place. He didn’t seem interested in anything in particular. He just went about breaking and disturbing my stuff. I was seething with anger and excitement.
I’m a humble man and don’t wish to brag about my brawny body and the expert technique used by me to tackle the skinny waif to the ground. I do work out and keep myself fit, you see. After a few minutes of intense struggle of age versus experience, experience won ! I took the boy in handcuffs to the station and locked him behind bars. I felt like one of the ‘Bollywood’ cops at the end of the movie basking in the victory of good against evil.
The clock on the wall read 2.05 am. With the baton in my hand, I walked along the bars of the prison, on the outside of course, with my eyes on the boy.
“You look like a teenager. How old are you?”
“And what is your name?”
“You have nerve, Chotu, breaking into a policeman’s house in the middle of the night. What were you thinking?”
“Speak up, boy. You either talk to me now or to the whole town in the morning. The town folk aren’t as patient as I am and they are a very angry lot.”
“You wouldn’t believe me.” He hesitated.
“Try me. I’m your only hope.”
“I was bored. I did it for the thrill.”
I was stumped.
“Didn’t you notice, I never took anything from any of those people? If I meant harm, I would have taken all their valuable possessions. They are stupid people, leaving their riches carelessly around. I couldn’t stand the boredom and quiet of this town. I couldn’t take it any longer. I wanted to break the monotony and bring some life to this town, bring some color into my life.”
I didn’t reply.
“I knew it wouldn’t make sense to you.”
What he didn’t know was that it made complete sense to me.
I went to my table and sat with my head in my hands. I sat there trying to resolve the conflict going on in my head. It felt surreal.
One part of me said, “Don’t you realize, he is a reflection of you. Chotu is a younger you.”
The other part argued, “That doesn’t give him the right to break the law. You are a policeman. It is your duty to fight crime and bring justice. Shashi Kapoor killed his own brother in the movie Deewar to pursue justice, have you forgotten?”
“But he is only 17. He didn’t steal or hurt anyone. He did no crime.”
“He disturbed the peace and quiet of the town.”
“You’re right. He disturbed the peace and quiet of the town!”
The conflict had been resolved. The voices in my head had been subsided.
You ! Yes you, reading my story. Remember your promise. No judging. I’m not very proud of what I did next. You may think of me as a selfish man. But that was the only way. The last few weeks had given my life meaning and purpose. It had brought excitement back into my life. I felt needed by the people. I felt like their protector. With that, I had made my decision. The harmless crimes would continue and I would continue to protect my people.
The clock on the wall read 4.20 am. Ironic. I went to the prison cell and looked at the boy. I smiled. He smiled back as he heard the door unlock. Just before leaving the station, he turned back and winked at me. We had a deal.