The Valentine’s Day checkpost

12.30 am. We are cruising near Air India Garden, Juhu. That’s when we see them. An array of cops in uniforms – browns, khaki, white, even some jeans and T’s – a full house. My head buzzes with Why? How? Who? All questions brushed to the side when a young biker boy type wearing a neon green half jacket stating police (!!) asks us to pull aside.

‘License -PUC – Insurance,’ the constable came up and asked.

I thank the stars, we were on K’s scooter. My old Splendour had zilch! Unlike me, K is more sorted. He has a way to do and say things that sound right.

K nods at the young constable. I catch a glimpse of his name tag – Pawar. He’s got an gentle voice, not imposing and not being impossible. This is going to be easy.

Until K asks me to get off the bike.

Oh oh.

Now K stood up. I think of why he did that. Maybe, his feet felt cramped. But then, he barely rode for 10 minutes. So no. Or because K needs some face time with the constable. And the only reason to do that is to explain or worse – negotiate. 

K hands over his license to Pawar who took his time to inspect it. I look behind him – all kinds of cops sporting all kinds of badges are present, ranging from ACP’s to Senior Inspectors, lady cops to traffic – one big Valentine hang-out. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling too good about this. 

As if on cue, Pawar asks, “Can you show me your insurance and puc?”  

Like asking your ex immediately after you split – “Can we still be friends?”

Nope. Not going to happen.  

But K answers differently – “Sir, I have that on my computer.”

What? What does that even mean? I don’t wait to find out. Instead I say, 

“Pawar Sir, What do you think – we are a couple or what?“ 

This tickles Pawar’s funny bone, we cackle together. K turns a tad red. Clearly he doesn’t enjoy being my valentine. Now, Pawar doesn’t seem too keen to examine the insurance papers. 

“Okay. Just show me the PUC. “ Pawar adds, “ and then you can go.” 

K nod again, then sets to retrieve it from his scooter’s dickey. He is searching for it – means he has it. I exhale. He gets the paper out – a shadow crosses K’s face. Shucks! Exhaled too soon.

“Your PUC have expired.” Pawar announces what we already know. We exchange a look – Pawar and me. No words – silent stuff. It goes –

Me – Please 

Pawar – Why? 

Me – Two guys out alone on Valentine’s yaa. How sad can it get? 

Pawar – (sigh) I know. 

Finally Pawar said – “I’m going to ask the traffic constable to cut your challan.” I am about to say something when he says, “it’s the minimum – 200 rupees.” 

Pawar has the “What to do? Challans to collect, targets to achieve,” look on his face. 

I wanted to negotiate, but then K spoke – “Sir, I will pay it”. 

Pawar nods, goes away. With that settled, we wait for the traffic constable to get to us as I take the scene in. They were stopping other vehicles but they seemed to be concentrating on the couples – A Happy Valentines day mid-night special. 

All of them in different stages of negotiation and paying the fine. Couples on bikes and couples in cars. One of them stood out – a 20 something boy-girl on a bike. The boy was in torn shorts and a faded black T, dressed like a rag-picker. He had no license, no papers, no nothing. The girl, in swanky clubbing clothes, hair – makeup the works and she stood in her blood red pumps pleading with the lady cop. Snippets of that conversation: 

Girl – I wasn’t feeling well, he came to drop me home. 
Boy – Admiring his face in mirror. 
Lady cop – Silent. 
Girl – He’s like my brother. 
Boy – Jumps off the bike! 
Lady cop – Can’t stop laughing. I join her. Girl gives us an ‘at least I tried’ shrug. 

Finally the traffic constable gets to us. 

“You can pay it online”. He tells K. Good. Now we can get away fast. But K replies –  says – “I can pay it in cash here”.

“Then you will have to wait”, the traffic constable tells us. 

“No – we will pay it online sir” I interject. Mercifully K sees reason and accepts. 

“Register your mobile number” The traffic constable tells K. K gives his number. The cop registers it. He does the ‘you can leave’ nod. We could leave. But then K has more questions. 

“What if I somebody gave you the wrong number?” K asks. A cloud passes before the constables face. ”It won’t be so good for that somebody.” I get it. No more silly questions. But K has more. 

“But sir why this big checking today ? Is it because of Valentine?”

“Partly, but also it’s the second anniversary of the Pulwama attack. There are threat reports”. 

Wow! Pulwama was an infamous terrorist attacks in Kashmir. I remembered it. But what had that got to do in Mumbai? K looked perplexed. I was sure he would ask what I was thinking. Instead he asked – 

“Pulwama – Is that the hotel next to Juhu church?” 

The constable wordlessly gestures for us to go away. But not without K, the wise one’s parting shot – 

“And why are they targeting couples?” As if that wasn’t enough, he added – “After all they are only celebrating Valentine’s day”.  

I put my hand out to the stunned cop – “Happy Valentine day Sahab.”

Published by appamprawns

soni writes about children and people in controlled spaces, in his quest for appam stew. homi writes in the hope of being able to buy prawns to make patiyo.

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