This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
Inspector Abhay Singh was sitting in his Pital Nagri police chowki near Moradabad drinking his afternoon tea when the phone rang. It was the Assistant Commissioner of Police. Even before he had a chance to say “hello”, the ACP screamed over the phone.
“Abhay, get over to Highway 24 immediately. There has been an incident near Sabzipur. Look, I don’t want to waste your time by talking. Get moving right away. And call me when you get there”
With that the ACP put the phone down even before Abhay had a chance to say, “yes sir”. The conversion had ended as abruptly as it had begun. Abhay was befuddled for a minute. Then he quickly gulped his tea down and jumped out of his seat.
“Satnam, get the jeep ready. We are going to Sabzipur” he shouted to his senior most havaldar even as he put on his gun belt.
Satnam Pal, his senior most havaldar was already gunning the engine of the police jeep as Abhay rushed out of the police chowki and jumped in.
“Get to Sabzipur on NH24 and fast” ordered a breathless Abhay.
“But why sir? What are our orders” asked Satnam calmly.
“I don’t know. The ACP won’t tell me. He simply said to get there quickly and to call him when we got there”
“Ok, sir. Don’t worry. We will get there fast. Moradabad traffic is very light this time in the afternoon. I am sure we will be there in no time”
The tyres screeched in agony as Satnam slammed on the accelerator and began putting pressure on the jeep to gain speed quickly.
True to what Satnam had said the afternoon traffic in Moradabad was light and the police jeep soon reached Sabzipur on the National Highway. As they approached the accident spot, they could see that a large crowd had already gathered. There was a nervous excitement in the air and the stress of the situation was visible even from afar.
Satnam stopped the jeep a few feet away from the crowd so that the howl of the engines braking would startle them into a temporary silence. They turned around at this sudden interruption to the chaos. The seasoned havaldar quickly took this opportunity to jump out of the jeep and began crowd control.
Abhay jostled his way through the crowd to the other side to investigate what all the fuss was about. A tempo was overturned, its cargo of bakery products spilled out on the roads, and the driver lying on the road injured and bleeding. Behind it was a black Mercedes, its front end bumper clearly damaged from the collision with the tempo, its driver standing with concern on the road, and a young man in a black suit talking into a mobile phone pressed to his ear.
Arriving at a conclusion as to what had happened on the scene did not require much guesswork on the part of Abhay. It was obvious. Owners of foreign cars were known to drive their vehicles at high speeds on these highways. The driver of this particular Mercedes had probably lost control and had crashed into the slow moving tempo. It was purely a blessing of God that no one had died in this accident. Others in the past, Abhay recollected from his files, had not been that lucky.
Meanwhile, Satnam was screaming at the crowd.
“Has anyone called for an ambulance? Did anyone call the hospital? Anyone”
The havaldar shook his head in frustration. Some things never change. So many onlookers. So many villagers rushing to the scene out of curiosity. So much gossip, so much hearsay, but not one phone call to a hospital, not one person stepping forward to help. The driver of the tempo was just lying there bleeding.
He snatched the mobile phone out of his pocket and dialed for medical assistance.
At the same time, the mobile phone in Abhay’s pocket began to ring as well. The inspector looked at the caller id. It was the ACP.
“Well, Abhay, have you reached yet?” he hollered over the phone.
“Yes, sir, I have”
“What is the situation?”
“Sir, there has been an accident. A Mercedes driving at high speed has crashed into the tempo. The driver of the tempo is lying on the ground injured. Satnam is calling for an ambulance. A large crowd of local villagers has gathered nearby, and we are trying to keep them under control. Sir, I have often heard of cases like these where drivers from rich families drive their cars recklessly at high speeds, and get into trouble. I think we should book the owner of the Mercedes immediately sir.”
“Hmmm.” the ACP breathed hard into the phone “Ok, Abhay, now listen to me very carefully. Do you see a rich looking man standing nearby.”
Abhay looked around. Yes, there was the young man in the black suit standing near the rear door of the car, still talking into his mobile phone.
“Yes, sir. There is” Abhay confirmed.
“Abhay, that is the son of the famous industrialist Giridhar Lal. You must have heard of him. Giridhar is the one who has built all the factories on the Agra road. He is a very important man, and we should thus extend his son all due courtesies. “
“I don’t understand sir. What are you saying?”
“You are new here Abhay. You don’t understand how important this man is and how things work here. Just listen to me and do exactly what I tell you to do. Take the tempo driver to a hospital quickly. Give him some money. Make sure he does not file an FIR. If he does, talk some sense into him and make sure he does not. Get Mr. Lal’s son back in the car as quickly as possible and make sure they are back on their way again. And do all these things as quickly as possible. Mr.Lal’s son is talking on the phone with the DCP even as we speak, and the DCP is on the other line with me demanding quick action”
Abhay went dead silent. His mind had no thoughts to think and his mouth had no words to speak. What was the ACP asking him to do? Break the law. Not enforce it. Help an offender. What was going on?
“Abhay, Abhay, are you there Abhay?”
“Yes, sir. I am”
“Did you understand my instructions or do you still have some doubts”
“Sir…. Are you asking me to let an offender go free?”
The ACP got irritated “Don’t make this sound so dramatic, Abhay. Don’t you understand how big this industrialist is? What is the life of a poor villager in front of him? Just follow my orders and stop wasting all our times.”
With that the ACP slammed the phone down leaving a shocked Abhay standing speechless on the open highway.
Satnam was busy making inquiries and giving calls to action. He was asking members of the crowd what had happened; had anyone seen the incident; will someone please get some Dettol and stop the tempo driver’s bleeding. He had taken out his old ball point pen and was making notes in his tiny pocket book when he saw Abhay walking towards him with a worried look on his face. He stopped writing, turned away from the crowd and faced his boss.
“Sir, I have spoken to several members of the crowd and they all concur that the Mercedes driver was at fault. They are prepared to file a FIR on the tempo driver’s behalf as well. A couple of the villagers have gone back to get some first aid kit, and an ambulance will be here shortly”
Satnam was expecting a word of praise from the inspector for his quick work and sharp thinking. But no!
“There will be no FIR, Satnam. I have been given orders to take the tempo driver to the hospital, and make sure he does not talk. And to get the Mercedes on its way quickly.”
Abhay did not mean to speak so loudly. He wanted to say the words quietly to Satnam. But in his confused state of mind he was not aware of what he was doing. And his voice was loud enough for the villagers to hear clearly.
Satnam on his part simply gave a wry smile. The havaldar had spent enough years in these parts to know how the system worked. He had seen it all before. Abhay’s honest nature had sparked a faint hope in him that maybe things would be different this time. But his seniors and the system had gotten to him as well and the hope died as quickly as it had gotten ignited.
He looked sarcastically at the young man in the black suit standing near the Mercedes.
“Whose son is he?”
“Giridhar Lal” answered Abhay.
“I see. Giridhar is a powerful man. His reach is long. Hmmm… so sir, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know Satnam. I am new to these parts, and my ACP has just given me a direct order. I cannot defy him”
“No… no you cannot sir. Unless you want to be transferred to a village whose name nobody knows, where water does not flow and where trains don’t run”
The crowd was listening to all this. They might have been apathetic at first as crowds always are. But this conversation was rapidly increasing their agitation levels. Soon some senior members of the crowd began voicing their anger. It was not audible what they were saying because they were all shouting at the same time. But they clearly did not like a turn of events where the powerful industrialist’s son would get away scot free while the poor tempo driver would be put through great suffering.
Satnam looked at the crowd then looked back at Abhay and smiled.
“Well sir. The people have spoken”
“They might have spoken, Satnam, but tomorrow it is my career on the line”
Abhay turned and walked towards the black suited young man, who was now busy talking with his driver. They viewed the inspector arrogantly as he approached, much like how a king would view a slave.
“I am inspector Abhay Singh” Abhay introduced himself.
The young man turned his face away from Abhay, took off the sun glasses that he was wearing, and began cleaning it with his handkerchief.
“You should know who I am. But just in case you don’t. I am Jaideep Lal, Giridhar Lal’s son. Now don’t tell me you don’t know even who my father is”
This brazen show of arrogance shocked even Abhay.
Now it was the driver’s turn to give orders.
“Look, my Saheb has to be in Kanpur for an important meeting. We don’t have time to waste. Clear this mess, talk to whomever you have to and let us be on our way. If it is money you want, you can have it. Now go on with your job”
The driver might as well have been talking to a street urchin.
Abhay was unprepared to be treated this way. This was more than even he could take. The pair were not just insulting him, they were insulting the uniform, the law, and even the standards of human decency.
Alright now, something had to be done. Abhay could not let this go. His blood was boiling and his heart itched for action. The ACP’s orders were now a distant memory. Thoughts about his career were long gone. It was just the moment that he was in, and what he needed to do at this point in time. He gave a wry smile to Jaideep and his driver.
“You see those people back there Jaideep. They are angry with you. And your father. They are the lives you have trampled on your way to earning your millions. You see they have given up caring on what your status is and they are no longer in awe of your flashy Mercedes and your expensive suits. They know how it has been earned and they are not impressed. I have been ordered to save your skin, but I am not going to do that. I am going to turn the crowd lose on you. I am going to write a report saying that Satnam and I could not control the crowd. What will happen to us? A suspension? A bad mark in our reports? Impressing people like my ACP is not worth it anyway. But you. I don’t even want to think what will happen to you and your driver now.”
With that Abhay turned and walked towards the crowd to speak to them. He did not see the panic on Jaideep and his driver’s face. He did not bother to heed their desperate cries for help. Satnam and he were already in the jeep by the time the mobile phone was snatched out of Jaideep’s hand and thrown somewhere far away so that he could not call for help. Satnam turned the jeep around and headed back towards Moradabad.
On the highway there was chaos, and commotion, and shouting and screaming and punching and kicking, and people’s justice being served.