(This is a reprint of a piece I wrote for the Free Press Journal dated Oct.14,1997. Close Encounters of the Extreme Kind/Morning Cup-benny thomas)
‘If you are a peanut vendor in Mumbai, you are likely to die young,’ This cynical remark made by one as I rode the train this morning keep coming back to me even as I took my life in my hands to negotite the stretch between the Churchgate and Eros. My encounter with death is ever present given my careless attitude to disregard traffic rules at times. Even as I settled on the parapet near the Gateway, I could not help thinking about unnecessary risks that one takes every moment. Odds are more or less the same for all given the ground realities of a metropolis bedeviled with all sorts of problems. Of course we are part of the problem. If it were not so there would be no police force. From the spate of deaths which we read in the news these days we know for sure crime does not pay either for the extroverts or the introverts. If one thinks custody deaths occur more among the introverts and deaths by encounter are incidental among those who love open spaces one is dead wrong! No wonder the Division Bench in Mumbai has called the Commissioner of Police for the policy regarding encounter deaths.
The police force to be fair to them has a policy to keep track of the enemies of the people which makes them people friendly. Friend or foe? It is always nice to know where you belong. Unfortunately for all concerned the lines of division keep blurring all the time. The custodians of law who are people friendly must become friendly to politicians whose power is kept up by the money power of the criminals who are the enemies to people. It is within this vicious circle that we move about on daily grind. How often we rub shoulders with criminals as we strap hang or eat out. Unless we find a fly in our soup we don’t bother the waiter. No more do we bother a policeman unless we find a hand in our pocket instead of a wallet. If we can’t tell a crook from the good no more can a cop especially if his finger is hooked over the trigger. That unfortunate peanut vendor must have looked menacing to the custodian of law, with the heaps of peanut unsold at the end of the day hiding something deadly. In the killing fields Mumbai has become even a peanut could make him jumpy. Death is what he can expect if he does not kill first. With such a mind set I remember what Lin Yutang, a Chinese scholar had to say of his countrymen. In My Country and My People he writes that the Chinese will never make a first-rate zoologist because on seeing anything that moves all that he could think of would be, how best it could be dressed for the table. Mumbai Police suffers similarly on the similar lines.