Three 'newly' minted cops of the Delhi Police find themselves in the bustle of Darya Ganj on Netaji Subash Chandra road in old
It’s Sunday and 'Life's Good'. The lane heading north toward the intersection with Meena Bazar that runs on to Jama Masjid is floored under all manner of wheels. The other lane is relatively empty.
If it isn’t for the fact that it’s a pleasant winter morning and nothing is amiss in the capital, the flood seen from a distance would appear to be the only road out of the city, one its population is using to flee.
The footpath adjoining the lane is worse. There’s no room to breathe, nor exclaim. Yet the vendors wanting to make the most of the Sunday bazaar manage to breathe and coax their breath out in high pitched voices shouting their offers over that of their competitors.
Come weekday the shops open their shutters for business while Darya Ganj’s Sunday market vendors retreat from the footpaths to elsewhere and wait out their turn until the next Sunday when the shops close again.
It’s likely that one such appeal to the passing public drew the attention of the three policemen to the footpath vendor in a frayed full sleeved shirt selling sunglasses arranged in neat rows on a white sheet. The choice of white is no coincidence. It was meant to set off the sunglasses.
The sunglasses face the vendor so passers-by picking them up will do so by the temples, sparing the lenses soiling from dirty fingers. Or if the vendor has to hand one over to a buyer, he will do so with the crossed temples facing the customer.
The three policemen stop to have a look at the sunglasses. Without dark glares the menace a cop can project is limited to his looks. With dark sunglasses on, eyes hidden, the face acquires a sinister potential.
If menace is not the sole objective, coolness is the other alternative. Police uniform and dark sunglasses complement one another.
Tiwari is flanked on the left by Kumar, and Singh on his right.
Tiwari picks up three sunglasses. I cannot be sure if he chose three to choose one from among them or if he chose the other two for each of his two colleagues.
Whatever the case may be, the vendor forgot all else and fixed his eyes on Tiwari and the three sunglasses in his hand. The three cops took turns examining them, returning them to Tiwari who turned them over, comparing, looking, making his mind.
By now I could tell the vendor was a worried man. As a street vendor he must know that asking cops to pay for items that catch their fancy can jeopardise their freedom to do business on the street. Pucca shops are a different matter, not to say they can be any more immune than a makeshift operation on the street.
Street vendors are particularly vulnerable.
Awaiting trains on platforms it may not be uncommon to find a policeman place his boot in front of the shoeshine boy before walking off without paying after the shoeshine boy shone his shoes until they could shine no more, or for that matter the thirsty security man in uniform cooling off on a tender coconut before turning his back on the coconut vendor without paying. Limboo Soda. Steaming cup of chai. The list is as endless as the items hawked on the street.
But exceptions exist among men in Khaki. Maybe more exceptions than we give them credit for.
Palm facing up, the vendor now extended his hand and kept it extended while the three cops turned the sunglasses over in their hands. The gesture served to remind the cops he wasn’t taking his eyes off the sunglasses. The hand tensed not in demand that they return the sunglasses but in silent entreaty – ‘ Do not walk off with them without paying.’
Tiwari became aware of the vendor’s hand soon after I noticed it. Young, but with a hardened face, he looked similar to his colleague, Kumar. If not for the surnames - Tiwari, a Brahmin, and Kumar, likely a Jat or a OBC, I’d have taken them to be blood brothers. Here they were brothers-in-arms. From one angle they looked like twins.
Tiwari, made aware by the nervously extended hand of the vendor’s concern, reassures him in a voice that rings authority – “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for whatever I pick up.” He repeats, “I’ll pay for what I pick.” Tiwari smiles as he reassures the vendor.
The hand retreats. But I’m not sure if the vendor’s concern did similarly. I’d like to believe it did.
I continued along the footpath without waiting to find out how the transaction ended. I believed the policeman words of reassurance in this instance.
Too often, reputations precede uniforms, at times justified, other times not. In uniform, it must be difficult to declare your integrity to street vendors while it’s usually taken for granted in those not wearing them.
And to do it on a daily basis must wear the person so.