The Policeman and I

Zulfiqar Haiderali

First appeared in Dawn

Karachi policeman humour and satireI was stopped late one night by a traffic cop right before a traffic signal on a deserted street. "Strange..," I mumbled as I didn’t even break the signal. Not that the thought hadn’t occured to me, I may add sheepishly.

"Papers and licence, ji," he approached me and said quietly.

Now if driving back home really late at night in Karachi wasn’t such a comfortable experience, being stopped by a cop definitely wasn’t exactly offering a lift to Uma Thurman.

"Er... you want to see them?" I asked.

"No ji, I am doing an opinion poll with late night motorists," came the ice-cold reply.

Stupid! I cursed myself. Just show him the papers and get the heck out of here. So, I reached for my glove compartment and took out the folder in which I’d kept the papers.

"Is there a problem?" I asked him as politely as I had once asked my boss for my first ever vacation.

Now, I don’t intend to sound disrespectful or unjust, but the officer took my question to be malignantly contemptuous. "Step out of the car, ji."

Darn! All the bad things that my father had ever taught me about being caught in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in the middle of a situation came whirling down the memory lane. 'Always remember son,' I remembered him saying to me, 'when a cop tells you you’re trying to be smart and now you must pay for it, pray to God because that will be as bad as it will get.'

"You are trying to be smart and now you must pay for it, ji." The cop said.

For heavens’ sake! Please, God, help me as I have sinned all my life and now I must repent before you at this hour of doom! I solemnly prayed and followed him.

Well away from the car, he took the licence and papers. He opened the licence book, looked at my photograph and then gave me a look that Hillary must have given Bill when he’d said "Jeez honey... this workload, I’ll be home late again."

He flipped through the licence book. Then came the papers. I thanked my stars I had only recently paid my tax for a full year in advance.

Puzzled at some statutory discrepancy, he read my licence book again, and then my papers. Then the licence and papers. He repeated this maneuver three times.

"Do you have a radio in your car?" He gave my stuff back and started walking towards the car.

Did he say radio? "Er, I don’t think they have a news bulletin or any cricket game this late, sir." I said, or rather, cooed.

Again the look! "Show me where the radio is." He ordered and before I could say anything he was peering over the dark dashboard.

"Sir, you see, there’s no radio... what you see is only a dial and two knobs... but there’s nothing behind... like what they say about blondes... he he... get it?... like, you know... because I had a stereo that was stolen... so, this thief... he just yanked the system out... so, to camouflage the unattractive crevice, I got a dummy radio panel from a junk dealer... he he... quite a good job he did actually, don’t you think so?" I gave him an understanding laugh. Too bad he didn’t have a sense of humour.

"Where’s the radio licence?" came an abrupt appreciation of my comedy of errors.

"There is no licence... but that is exactly the point, sir... how can you have a licence for something you don’t even own... I mean... like, see... no radio... no licence... I can just take out the panel for you to see I’m not lying." I tried to present my case as eloquently as I could. It was late, you see, and I was tired... but I did a good job, I thought.

"So, I am lying?"

"I didn’t say that, sir," I reminded him of his tactical mistake.

"What do you do?"

Now he will ask for my income tax returns and salary certificates. This was getting ridiculous. No, this was getting absurd. No, this was getting funny.

"Well, I write." I answered apologetically, fully aware of my totally unconvincing line of work.

"Write what?"

"This an that, advertisements, songs, articles, also have my online internet site and all, and recently..."

He looked at me with sheer pity and disgust as if saying "Get a life!"

What did he expect me to say? That I was an Indian agent on my way to pick up a nuclear device blueprint? Now, I was sure he was going to ask for money. They always ask for money. Maybe he’s going to threaten a challan or something at first, but when I’ll try to refrain him from doing that, he’s going to ask for money. Too bad I didn’t take enough cash with me when I left my house to go to the darned dinner. And they don’t take credit cards, either... why is he quiet... why isn’t he saying something?

"Drop me at the next signal, will you?"