VISIT FROM LOCAL COP CREATES PANIC AT FORT KOCHI HOMESTAY
Most Indians, in fact, all Indians, avoid cops as if every single one was an Ebola carrier somewhere mid-way through the disease’s 21 day incubation period. Unlike our attitudes towards police officers (provided we are white) we tend to see cops as a kind of necessary evil, helpful at times when our house is broken into (must file a police report or our insurance company will simply ignore our pleas for restitution) but scary when folks in the streets exercising their first amendment rights to speech and redress face cops dressed more like video game warriors than human beings.
While I’m not Indian, I have sufficient experience to understand why Indians avoid their local police forces like the plague. Any contract with them is simply asking for trouble – reams of paper forms to be completed, “fees” to be paid, misunderstandings and suspicions on both sides, pleadings to be filed – all to no particularly satisfactory conclusion. So yesterday, alone in our current abode – Katya and Emilio are gone on their cooling hills long weekend, Abraham and his girlfriend were out on a trek to Charai Beach on Vypin Island, and Ramesh was down at the Pepper House Café art library – I heard someone knocking at the iron gate outside.
From the door I could see that the visitor was a cop – his khaki hat with black plastic visor and brown face were visible sticking up over the five foot high fence that protects us from the itinerant street dogs and feral cats that populate (over populate) Fort Kochi.
“Huh!” I thought to myself. “Wonder what he wants?” also thinking immediately that no matter what he wanted I would simply plead “No speak Malayalam” or “Sorry, I can’t help you.” But I also knew that most cops here in tourist packed Kochi do have a minimal facility in the English language.
|Playing With Breakfast|
I walked out to open the gate and I have to say that, exposed to full view, this guy, unlike the vast, vast majority of his police-mates, was extraordinary handsome. Not only handsome but it was plainly evident that he was particularly muscular and well-built. I noticed right away that his stomach did not protrude like a male pregnancy over the black leather belt he wore, unlike nearly all of his fellow officers that I’ve seen around town. To top it off, his thick, finely shaped and neatly trimmed mustache only drew my attention to more sharply focus on his strong square jaw and exceptionally well-modeled face. My reticence began to abate, hopefully thinking, as I was, “Hey, maybe this guy is different.”
All right. I digress. With a notebook and pen in hand, Mr. Local Kochi Police Officer asked me what the house number was of our current lodgings. Now, even the most inexperienced visitor to India would probably have burst out in loud guffaws, knowing – as I do – that house numbers in India are like mythical stories – everybody knows them but you can’t prove they exist by any concrete means. I have not a clue how FedEx delivers packages here. Pleading innocence, he then asked for the owner and once again, while the owner and I are reasonably acquainted, I have no idea where he lives or how to contact him. (He comes by about every third day.) A few more unsatisfactory exchanges – Owner’s cell phone number? Owner’s place of work? - I was determined not to give him any information lest I put Rajesh, our landlord, at risk of becoming enmeshed in India’s torturous legal system. Finally, after understanding that I would be of no use to him, he left. I watched as he walked his rather well-put-together body down the lane stopping and enquiring at every house along the way.
I thought I had performed rather magnificently under the circumstances but ten minutes later I hear a knocking on the gate again. Yes, Mr. 6’2” handsome as all get out local cop was standing at the gate once more. This time he wrote his name and cell phone number on a piece of paper and indicated I should have Rajesh call him. "Of course," I said, "I will." He smiled, gave me a half-salute and walked away.
A panicked call to Rajesh followed. He arrives within five minutes. (From this I conclude that he lives nearby.) I explain the encounter and he is very upset as would anyone under the circumstances not knowing if he was about to be caught up in India’s criminally inefficient and cosmically opaque justice system. He had, he told me, neglected to renew his Homestay License. Hastily ginned up plans for us homestay occupants to vacate the premises until the situation was resolved, additional musings about necessary documents and fees to be paid, “special fees” to be paid as a result of the local cop's visit, request for my, thus far neglected, copies of passport and Indian visa for local police registration of foreign visitors,* etc. etc. I think Rajesh had visions of his entire enterprise crashing down around him as he waited for the justice system slowly unfolding in its typically glacial pace as he sat in a dank cell at the Kochi Police Station, which is just opposite the Vypin Ferry Dock and next door to the Tourist Police Assistance Station.
Later that evening Rajesh stops by all smiles and sporting a cheery face. He had called Mr. Buff Local Police Officer and apparently the cop was enquiring about a missing person. So all’s well that end’s well I suppose. But do take my advice. If you are ever stopped or questioned by an Indian Police Officer, the best course of action is to feign Czech as your sole means of verbal and written communication and never let a cogent piece of information form in your brain as you are being questioned. Trust me, it’s the best course of inaction.
* The registration of foreign visitors has always amused me. Given that all registrations are written by hand and then hand copied into three inch thick paper registers at your locality’s local police station, I suspect that given an infraction of some law or regulation on my part, by the time the official notice of such malfeasance on my part worked it’s way through India’s bureaucratic hoggle-boggle, I would be long gone. Or, given my age, dead.