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.
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.”