November 24, 2012

Cops, Sunglasses, Roadside In Daryaganj

Three 'newly' minted cops of the Delhi Police find themselves in the bustle of Darya Ganj on Netaji Subash Chandra road in old Delhi.

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.


Riot Kitty said...

That's really too bad about the cops. Most departments here have rules that the officers aren't allowed to accept gifts, to try to prevent ethics violations.

Anil P said...

Riot Kitty: Here too I believe those rules exist. Many cops will follow the rule, but it's likely most do not.

While many would say that a gift offered of another's own volition, not exceeding a certain value, is 'alright' to accept even though it can be an instrument of currying favour, what people will resent is cops taking by force of authority that which does not belong to them.

In this instance the three young cops were probably looking for dark glasses as a style statement, and will have paid the vendor considering the manner of assurance they gave the vendor.

Maybe the vendor had nothing to fear, but the fact that he did and needed an assurance from one of the cops means he has seen or experienced worse happen before.

Like everywhere, bad apples within a force will tarnish the reputation of the others.

Connie said...

Very interesting post, Anil. I enjoy your storytelling accompanied with your photos. I hope they paid for the sunglasses. It must be very difficult for the vendors not knowing what to expect in such a situation.

austere said...

Am so surprised that they paid up!

Anil P said...

Daisy: I left the place when they were still deciding which sunglasses to settle on but I think they'll have paid him, a gut feeling.

It's very difficult being a vendor on an Indian street, like it must be in most places.

Not knowing what to expect in such a situation, as you rightly said, is a problem for sure.

Austere: I think they did. Many will, though not all.

Red said...

AP: hoping they either paid or returned the wares :) An entire post on this huh and yet you left without waiting and watching. Wonder how they reacted to your clicks.

Anil P said...

Red: I feel they'll have bought it, and paid for it. It was just a passing moment that had slowed down after I found passing through the crowds a tough going.

Bumble said...

I enjoyed how you noticed the details. An extension of the vendor's hand, Tiwari's reaction. Beautiful and well complimented with the pictures.

"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."

Dabbang did a lot to connect sunglasses to the police force. Art imitates life imitates art I guess.

Anil P said...

Chandni: Thanks.

Right, Dabbang, another among a long list of cops wearing dark sunglasses, helps build mystique, makes a face inscrutable among other things.

You're right about Art imitates life imitates art.

Lucy said...

I too wondered if your photographing the interaction made a difference to it, or if they were all quite unaware. I like the detail with which you observe and record the exchange.

Don't they look young though? Or perhaps I'm getting old, you know what they say!

Anil P said...

Lucy: Thank you. They were unaware of my presence, and the transaction took its own course.

The cops are young for sure.

Mahi Kashyap said...

The Cops are busy to show themselves Dabang. But it doesn't matter for them that whats going around them..