Vantage point

Saturday, November 15, 2003


Burn up with envy, boys and girls. I have finally done it. Today I was involved in a high speed chase. And the credit goes entirely to the Lucknow public transport system and the U.P. Police.

It all started on one pleasant Saturday night (i.e tonight) opposite the Charbagh Railway Station. One of the means of public transport in Lucknow is what they call a "Maxicab" system. In this system, jeeps like Tata Sumo and Marshall are run by drivers like minibuses on fixed routes. They park their vehicles at a starting point, usually Charbagh, and wait for it to fill up with passengers. Once the vehicle is packed to resemble a modern day version of the Black Hole of calcutta, it speeds towards its destination.

I got into one such Sumo tonight and examined my fellow-passengers. The quorum for a maxicab to be on its way is 13, and there seemed to be only 7 people in it. The driver was soliciting(!!) passengers mouthing the familiar verse "aleeeganjaaiteesangamgoyalingneeringkaalej!! aleeeganjaaiteesangamgoyalingneeringkaalej!!". I was sitting there wondering what cheap whine Stephen Fleming will come up with tomorrow for the resounding thrashing they got at the hands of India, when a loud thud attracted my attention. It seemed to me like the sound was the result of a lathi(baton) belonging to a policeman. The lathi of law.....the lawthi, if you will (eeks!!). A constable in charge of making sure the maxicabs don't cause a nuisance to the traffic was doing his job and was very tactfully urging the driver to park it at a more convenient place. There was one minor problem though. The driver had wandered off a little too far for soliciting customers, and his helper, the guy who collects the money when passengers get down, was the only guardian of the vehicle. The policeman kept raining blows on the Sumo yelling "Hataaaaao!!" at periodic intervals. The money collector, whom we will call Blueshirt for the purpose of this story, was bound to crack under the strain. He bravely took position behind the wheels to move the vehicle and save it from further abuse at the hands of the law.

From the moment he stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake, it became clear to us that this guy was no driving expert. He started moving the sumo, but not without incidents marring his efforts. He first narrowly missed toppling a banana cart, then caused a Bajaj scooter to swerve (a feat that might be considered a Mechanical Engineering fiction!). And then, ironically, in his attempts to escape the policeman's lathi, nudged a police jeep. The driver was a policeman with moustaches that would make Veerappan look like an adolescent. He furiously got out of the jeep and gave Blueshirt a couple of resounding slaps. Then he told him to park his sumo along the road and show him his license and other papers.

Now obviously, Blueshirt had never even held a Learner license. He did the only thing his mind, reeling under the two slaps, could think of. As soon as the alpha-Veerappan stepped aside, our hero stepped on it and took us all on a high speed chase. The cop was not to be disheartened. He got into his jeep and followed us with a vengeance. Now the other passengers did not react as phlegmatically as I did. A couple of them started yelling at the bloke "STOP THE JEEP AT ONCE AND LET US GET DOWN!!" When he appeared more intent on avoiding a thrashing and a certain night in prison, expletives started flying thick and fast. I went through a short crash course in North Indian Profanity, the lecturers being 3 passengers and Blueshirt, who despite having to concentrate on the road ahead of him and behind him to avoid the police jeep, made many significant contributions. Though I was a bit worried about being in an accident, I was thinking along the lines of "When rape is inevitable, try to enjoy the sex" and so treating this like a high speed pursuit from a Hollywood movie.

The jeep weaved through the unlikeliest lanes and after 10 minutes or so, managed to dodge the law. Blueshirt then gingerly drove us back to the station, parked the sumo in the middle of the road (some people never learn :P), yelled at us "This cab won't be going anywhere, go sit in another one" and ran away at a breakneck speed. All the passengers, feeling as if they had bonded together during this ordeal, started talking about the incident as they looked for other maxicabs. A few more expletives were revised while referring to Blueshirt as well as the Khakishirts.

I did not participate in this discussion and was smiling, content at having participated in a desi high speed chase, scanning the sky to see if there were any helicopters recording the action.