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  • Posted June 29, 2014 by
    Innisfil, Ontario

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    Reason and Humor in Police-Lit

    I recently saw a picture of a police officer grabbing a Delhi University student’s throat as firmly as upper-respiratory tract infection. The student was among a group protesting against some proposal of the university, and the long arm of the law was attempting — I suppose — to modulate the voice of disapproval so that it remained within the acceptable range of civil order.
    The squeeze to regulate the voice box made my mind reflexively cry out the words of Christopher Hitchens. He suggests that human voice is a triumphant note in the song of evolution. Even as esophageal cancer was shoveling silence on him, he wrote this: “… I feel that there must be a deep relationship [of vocal cord] with the word ‘chord’: the resonant vibration that can stir memory, produce music, evoke love, bring tears, move crowds to pity and mobs to passion.”
    This sentence figures in the last work of Hitchens, “Mortality”, which is chemotherapy for society’s malignancy of ordinary thought. Anyway, he goes on to say: “We may not be, as we used to boast, the only animals capable of speech. But we are the only ones who can deploy vocal communication for sheer pleasure and recreation, combining it with our two other boasts of reason and humour to produce higher syntheses.”
    Reason and humour. This declaration, seen alongside the public-necking image, made me wonder if cops can ever show both. So I pulled out two volumes from the modest rubble of my book collection — made up mostly of Hitchens; two of Ivan Turgenev’s small masterworks (“Fathers and Sons” and “First Love”); and a seldom disturbed mass of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”.
    The first book I opened to run the reason-and-humour scan was S A Huda’s “Inside Police”. In this 2004 work, Huda — a DG-rank IPS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre — presents an accessible and clear-headed account on the ways in which the force can be made better. For example, he cites a 1993 study to establish that chronic problems remain untreated: lack of necessary reception at police stations, indifference of personnel to victims, and difficulties in filing reports.
    Then the crucial Hitchens parameter: is the sensible tempered with the funny to create a higher synthesis in the book? Yes, and here is one example. It turns out that VIP security is the field in which absurdity is fertilized by serious intent.
    “The son of a VVIP was in a prestigious school at the Jubilee Hills locality of Hyderabad some time back,” writes Huda. “The information from fellow students was that two security men used to run along with him on the pitch when the protected person used to take runs in cricket. This was carrying VIP security to ludicrous extreme.”
    Just an obiter dictum: if M S Dhoni’s boys were allowed to use commandoes as runners for security reasons, our scores might be a tad augmented.
    Huda’s story acquires literary timbre in Salman Rushdie’s memoirs, “Joseph Anton”. In his fatwa years, Rushide travels to New Jersey to find on the airport tarmac a nine-car motorcade and an unfalteringly solemn Lieutenant Bob Kennedy, the man in charge of his security.
    At one stage, the bemused Rushdie (self-codenamed Joseph Anton) says: “Lieutenant Bob, this is a lot. The nine vehicles, the motorbikes, the sirens, the flashing lights, all of these officers. Wouldn’t it actually be safer just to drive through backstreets in a used Buick?” Rushdie records Lieutenant Bob’s response: “He looked with the pitying look people reserve for the chronically stupid or insane. ‘No, sir, it would not’, he replied.”
    The second book I was able to test against the Hitchens aphorism was ‘The Other Side of Policing’ by Maxwell Pereira, the former joint commissioner of police in Delhi. His engaging recollection of service years covers sensitive periods in Indian history like the 1984 riots. However, he like Huda, grounds gravitas in the marvellous futilities of life in the police force.
    For instance, Pereira describes how Sikkim, of which he becomes the first superintendent of police, launches a massive mission to find the Yeti. All personnel are enjoined to send periodic situation reports on the wireless. Usually, the reports are: “Searched everywhere! Himalayan Yeti not found.”
    This desperate vigilance, soon enough, programmes the men in an unexpected manner. “Around this period, the organizers of the Himalayan Car Rally decided to route the rally to cover India’s new state,” Pereira writes. Cops are now told to recce the rally path to ensure it is clear of rocks and is in no danger of landslides. One day Pereira gets a message from an “old havaldar” — “Searched everywhere, Himalayan Car Rally not found.”
    Tirukkural, a set of luminous Tamil maxims on life, love, and governance — in fact, on all human notions — says in the 562nd couplet: “Lift the rod firmly but strike very gently, it ensures long stay of prosperity”. The Kural was composed between 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE. It still speaks to us today, because it anticipated the Hitchens formulation of reason and humour together making an irrefutable argument. So, folks in the force, try a joke before the choke — such experiences make great memoirs too!
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