I hate those people who imply that a policeman’s work is not particularly intellectual. The job requires a streak of inspiration, practical cunning, and more than a smattering of smartness, in addition to muscles and heaps of courage. That is the reason why I am so suited to the job. You may have heard that I have been promoted to Assistant Sub Inspector of police last March. I agree that it was a little late in coming. I joined as an ordinary constable, with the qualifications required for becoming an SI. Still it took me five years and some influence (my uncle is the finance minister now). And I have become only Assistant.
Why were my superiors so reluctant to recognise my talents? I can’t reveal all the inside stories on the police department just like that. You may be aware of it. The national secrets act, and all that sort of thing. But jealousy did play an important part – that much I can tell you.
The DYSP is an asshole. Don’t quote me, it is off the record. I wanted the crime branch, which needs brains. To track criminals down, I mean.
“Why do you want that?” DYSP Aswath asked me. Politely, of course. He admired me immensely.
“The challenge, sir,” I had answered eagerly. “I can use my analytical skills.”
“Most criminals, Sashank, are of at least average intelligence. In a one-on-one contest, I suspect you may be left far from the finishing post,” he said. At least that is what I think he said. It left me confused. I have seen that so many big people talk in a convoluted and complex manner. I am practicing that same skill, as you may have noticed.
“The traffic should suit you better. You don’t have to tax your cortex much,” the DYSP had continued.
“Tax? What Tax, sir?” I had asked.
“The road tax, of course, silly.”
I nodded. That is how I ended up in Traffic department. It is not a small thing. There was a party at the headquarters to facilitate me. I mean felicit.
“This proves that an ASI can have his upper storey relatively vacant.” My superior, SI Soorya said during the speech. I was astonished. How did the man know that I was keeping the second floor of my rented house vacant? It was extraordinary. He has a real police brain, I can tell you. But my friends say I have a real police brain.
After three months, I am happy now. I have a reputation for ruthless efficiency. My specialty is booking drunken drivers. I have a knack of spotting them. The new breath analyzers are a boon to cops like us. Previously we had to make them do tests of balance and drive them to the local doctor. Now you just walk to the car window, shove the contraption in their face and say:
“Blow on it, mister.”
If the person had even one drink, the alarm will go off – trrrrrr … you should see the look on their faces. It is very satisfying work.
The breath analyzer is a sort of magic wand for people specializing in this area, as you can imagine. That was why I was very disturbed when I noticed that they had started malfunctioning. At least mine had. Then I had so much trouble getting it replaced. Now I think the new one is also not working properly. The authorities are indecent … I mean indifferent. So I thought that I will share the problems with you. The public has a right to know when the department is going to the dogs.
Kottayam is the tipplers’ capital of Kerala. There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the main street intersection. The myth is that after dusk, he is the only male not under the influence of the brewed menace in the entire district.
One weekend, I stopped a car at around eight in the evening. The driver rolled down the window with a curt “Yes, officer?” Quite pompous. It made me really mad. It was then that I recognised the man. Advocate Sivasankaran. He was the most famous lawyer in the town. I still remember him when he crossed me during one case some months back:
“Yes, constable, what is the false positivity rate of these Breath analyzers?”
I was rattled by the fact that he had called me constable, when actually I had become ASI by then.
“ASI. I am ASI now.” I corrected the bugger.
“The court, I presume Mr ASI, is more interested in knowing the fact of the case than the fine points regarding your designation. Please answer my question.”
By this time I had forgotten the question and told him so. He repeated it and made another scathing remark about memory and presence of mind and then something which I have quite forgotten.
I did not know the answer to that question also.
“It is not a crime to know some basic things about one’s line of work, venerable ASI,” the man had said. The assembled audience laughed like children watching Tom and Jerry.
I reminisced briefly about all this and the Advocate stepped out of the car and looked steadily at me. I had a bad cold and couldn’t smell any liquor on the man. I refused to be intimidated and pointed the nozzle of the machine at him.
“Please blow, sir,” I said in a dignified manner.
He coolly exhaled into the thing. “Trinnn…” The alarm sounded.
To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement. That is one thing with us policemen. Once you let us sink our teeth into your flesh, you have had it. He could be let off with a fine, but the new regulations were very strict. And I was in no mood to be lenient.
“Come to the station, sir. The madam can arrange for the bail.”
His wife, a very respectable looking woman, got down from the other side and stood by his side. I bowed at her. Chivalry was my hallmark.
If I expected the Advocate to break down and grovel at my feet I was disappointed. He was as cool as a cartload full of cucumbers.
He looked carefully at the machine in my hand.
“That machine is defective. It is a false positive result.”
A response like that would have had me laughing aloud in mirth, had it been somebody else. As the person was the legendary Sivasankaran, I was plunged in doubt. Moreover, his comment about false-something seemed to evoke uneasy memories.
“Why are you saying that, sir?” I demanded.
“I am an expert at these things. If you have any doubt, try it on my wife.”
He snatched the machine from my hand and pointed it at his wife. She blew on it.
“Trrrr…” Sounded the alarm. I was flabbergasted.
“See, I told you. It is all false positives, constable.”
“ASI,” I corrected him. I thought furiously. How could it be? By the time I recovered, the Advocate and wife got in the car and drove off.
The next day I promptly asked my immediate superior for a replacement machine.
“The damn fucking contraption is screwed up, sir,” I informed him.
He glared at me. It was then I remembered that he was one of those rare policemen who disapproved of bad language.
“I mean, the efficient breath analyzer machine, a boon to the police force and all that. The one I have with me sir, is out of order. That is, defective.”
He asked me why I thought so. I recounted the previous day’s encounter.
“If we continue to use it, we are liable to be sued, sir. I want a replacement.”
He should have been concerned. Instead, he was amused. That is what I mean by indifference in high places. He asked me with a smile:
“Do you use a helmet while biking, Inspector?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well don’t. What is there to protect?” He said, in an enigmatic manner. I did not understand it at all. What was the relationship between a malfunctioning instrument and my use of a helmet? His head is out of order, is what I understood.
I managed to get a new machine day before yesterday. I had to use some considerable influence with the man in charge of supplies. For the past two weeks, I had refrained from using the old one. Questions were being asked about my lack of success in apprehending drunken drivers.
Yesterday I waited in front of Central Hotel with my new machine. This was a standard practice which we pulled off and on. Park unobtrusively in one corner of the road by the side of the parking lot, wait and watch for the patrons to come and get in their cars. But you could stop and test them only after they got on their cars and drove it on to the main road. That was the law.
It was a long wait. It was usually like that. They start appearing after around ten pm one after the other.
Suddenly a man appeared. A young twenty-something with a … tie! Imagine coming with a tie to the bar. It would give me enormous pleasure to haul him off to the cooler, I thought. Suddenly I could recognise the fellow. He was the young son of lawyer Sivasankaran. A medical student. And he was obviously drunk .It was beyond any doubt. The accumulated alcohol seemed to bubble out from over his eyebrows. He staggered and he reeled. Very slowly he walked- no – crawled to the car park. Many of the cars had started leaving and I ignored them. My eyes were on him. He was the prize catch today. It was really funny to watch him. In between he leaned and rested on the many coconut trees that lined the path. He stood just under a street lamp and I could see his face. He had a vacant beatific smile that was the trademark of drunks all over the world. I wondered how he hoped he could drive in that state.
At last he reached the car park, after zigzagging for half an hour. A few cars were still left. Then he pulled out a bunch of keys and squinted at them for a long time before selecting one. Then he tried to open a Honda City for some time. Then he moved to the next car and repeated the exercise. Can you believe it when I tell you that he did it with a total of all the six remaining cars? Finally he managed to open and get into a Maruti 800. You can imagine in what state he must have been in to mistake a Maruti for a Honda City.
Then there was silence for a while. Many of the other cars also started leaving. The blighter was trying to start the car. He put on the wiper and then switched them off twice. Then he blinked the headlights for some time. Then he started the car. It lurched and moved perilously on to the road.
At last! With a flourish, I moved the patrol car and blocked his way. The last of the remaining cars sped by. I got out and approached him.
“Please get out of the car, mister,” I ordered.
“What ish it?” he looked up drunkenly. Then he slowly staggered out, balancing with difficulty.
I had triumphed. It was the hunter’s moment. And big cats like to play with their victims before finishing them off. I decided to subject him to the old tests of balance before moving in for the kill.
“Touch my finger with your forefinger and then your nose repeatedly,” I told him. He rapidly moved his finger back and forth with uncanny accuracy. He seemed to have shaken off his drunken state effortlessly. I was speechless.
“Walk on an imaginary straight line,” I stammered.
He walked rapidly and correctly as if competing in the Olympic walking race.
Then I produced the breath analyzer. He pounced on it like a toddler going for a lollypop and blew on it. Not a peep!
I rechecked the machine and made him do it a dozen times. It remained as silent as a sulking wife. Something was going on. I had to find out. But how? I tried the direct approach.
“What the hell is going on, you dirty son of a bitch?” I asked.
“Dad is very stingy with pocket money. The hotel pays me some evenings. And mind your language.”
“For what does the hotel pay you?” I asked.
“For writing a book.”
I was mystified. “What book?”
“The Decoy. It was a best-seller. You don’t read much, do you?”
With that he got in the car and drove off. Something is wrong with these machines, I tell you. Or maybe these lawyer and son are up to something. There must be a conspiracy to discredit these useful machines. I am worried. I have to write a detailed report.