Last week’s piece, “What do we (Mumbaiites) have that Delhi doesn’t!” saw a spate of comments. Among the usual points discussed (our local train service, the better weather, etc), one thread that stood out was how “safe” Mumbai is and how helpful our policemen are, compared to Delhi.
As with so many things, I guess we take our local policemen, regular or traffic, for granted. They are there, all the time, plugging away, doing their jobs, part of the background, coming into focus only when they screw up or when we suddenly need to interact with them, typically when there has been a robbery in our homes or work-places or we’ve been in an accident, or during passport verification.
Two days ago, early in the morning, I was doing a street run along all the spidery limbs of King’s Circle (more about that in the next few weeks). Whether it was around Five Gardens, or along the main road to Sion Circle, or towards Dadar, there were a large number of police constables and inspectors on the roads, as part of their Republic Day duties. Each time, I passed one by, I would smile…and he would smile back. I waved at a few on their motorbikes and they too…waved back. They had cordoned off Five Gardens because of the parade that was to pass through, but each time some student had to get across to his/her school, they would help, especially at the Ruia Naka signal where most vehicles refused to stop, irrespective of whether the signal was red or green (it was early morning and a holiday, but that again is fodder for another piece).
We live in a world of stereotypes and we love to slot everyone into categories. And so, thanks to Bollywood, policemen are either bumbling idiots or venal and corrupt. If at all we are able to withstand being influenced by this rubbish, the newspapers don’t make it any easier. Almost each day sees an article on some police atrocity or another, or their unhelpful nature especially when it comes to filing FIRs, or how corrupt they are. Once in a while, there is article, also usually unsympathetic, on how stressed and out-of-shape our policemen are, with a higher incidence of cardiac disease, diabetes and depression.
Big surprise there! Our policemen and women are also humans like us, living in the same milieu and environment that we do. They cannot escape being who they are and how they behave, as much as we cannot change who and what we are.
And yet, on the ground, they are polite and nice and try to assist to the best of their abilities, especially if we address them nicely and politely as well. Most Mumbaiites who’ve stopped and asked for directions or help even at odd hours, should be able to vouch for this. And perhaps it is just this one quality that allows the city to be considered “safe”. If you have the ability to approach your local policemen when you are worried about your safety or are “lost”, then that says a lot…about our policemen and policewomen and our city. And apparently, this is just not the case in Delhi or many other parts of the country.
And so, considering that none of us is a saint as well, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to say a small “thank you” to our local policemen and women, who while battling their own demons and issues, do in their own way, contribute to making our city a shade better place to live in.