There is a first time for everything. Recently, I had to go to a police station to get permission for holding a fair for the NGO I am currently working for. So far, my familiarity of police stations have been limited to films (both Hindi and English - Bengali cops and robber films I avoid because you need a cast iron stomach and more to digest those). How many times have I seen interiors of jails, corrupt cops, seasoned criminals, seemy side of underworld, dons, don’s den’s and of course Mona darling - in films ofcourse.
Even then, I didnt think much about it. When I arrived there, the PS was a hive of activity. There were people outside the PS, inside the compound, in the reception and in front of the Duty Officer. While waiting for my turn, I noticed vertical bars in the wall in a corridor. Inside, there were a few men sitting on a thick cloth, on a dirty floor, surrounded by grimy walls. Above the door was a small board with “Men’s Lock-up”. Criminals? What is the correct word? Regular men that one might meet on the road, everyday. Young, old, fat and thin. I found it shocking. Not the men themselves...but the lock - up, people who got caught for a variety of reasons, handcuffs, police files, photos, aliases, courts and bail. (Middle class morality).
Most of them were quite blasé about being behind bars. They were not looking dejected or depressed, weeping or animated. Suddenly, some one shouted for one of the prisoners to be brought out. An armed constable unlocked the bolt. The shutter was a long one which went into a hole in the adjacent wall and the lock was fitted in side a small alcove built in the wall, so no one from within could have easy access to it (filmy style). A scruffy young man with blond highlights in his equally scruffy hair came out and was taken some where inside the precinct. When I asked to meet the OC, I was told to wait since the OC was interrogating. Could I return after an hour? Interrogation. Horror and excitement is what I felt. (Ofcourse it could be normal procedure for small stuff ... but I thought about mafia and gun running or drugs smuggling).
I returned after an hour to find the precinct more crowded than before and this time full of really enormous police men, all striding around and shouting (and what loud voices). It was lunch time. A man was sliding aluminum plates of rice, dal and one sabzi through the gap between the grill and the floor of the lock-up. The prisoners slid the empty plates, post lunch. A large 20 litre bottle was kept within reach just outside the grill. They tilted the bottle and poured water into a glass kept on top of the bottle.
Just as I was about to ask if the OC was free, we heard a really loud voice shouting out that the “Ashami” were to be taken to the court. And sure enough, a van with grilled doors was backed into the precinct and suddenly, all the prisoners, some 6 men and one woman were taken out in a single line, each held firmly by the arm by a gigantic policeman. The solitary woman in a yellow salwar kameez, green shawl and blue high heels was led by a policewoman. I wanted to ask what the woman was in for. But seeing the police women (in plain clothes...read that as ordinary printed cotton sarees), I didn’t dare. I shrank to one side and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible (not an easy task that since I am taller than the average Bengali – man or woman)! I kept imagining that a car would come screeching and people with firearms would rush out, lob a tear gas and make off with one of the ashami in the ensuing chaos. Nothing like that happened of course. The prisoners were loaded into the van and it made off as did the OC in a spanking new Maruti Gpysy with a red sire on top. And the PS looked quite empty. The people left behind, I realized were families of those taken to the Alipore court. There was the wife and a tiny child not more than 4 years old – of the chap with the blond highlights – the one who was interrogated. She looked more resigned than worried and not making eye contact with anyone who were looking curiously at her and there were a few (including me).
I felt tremendously sad for her. How different it must be for her; She not only has to live with her husband in lock-up and interrogations and courts, she also has to deal with others who like me visit PS's via films and is agog, shocked, horrified and all sorts of stupid genteel things, when they come in contact with it in real life.
PS – The Duty officer was quite cordial and apologetic about the delay and the necessary permissions were granted quite quickly.