Enlightenment with a cup of tea at the dreaded Kachehri building in Simla
The “Kacheheri”, near the Telegraph office, for me was the place where the police put the thief’s behind bars, in a jail. My Amma would tell me, alter that stealing incident, that the police would put me in jail if I ever again got into the habit of stealing from Bauji’s coat pocket. I was especially afraid of all the policemen, who were in large numbers in and around the Kachehri. But as they say you end up doing things that you are afraid of so many times while coming back from the Lady Irwin school, we would take the route through “Kachehri” to have a look at the thieves put behind two rooms with a big iron lock on the door. The front facing of the room had big solid iron bars and there would be, always, one or two thieves inside. They were in the jail! We would be afraid of even looking at them and clutching each other’s small sweating hands, tightly. The policemen would seem to us like the bravest and strongest persons on earth to catch hold of the thieves. But the looks of the thieves would belie my imagination…they would be nowhere close to what I always thought of them like. The dakus in the movie “Mujhe Jeene Do” with big moustaches was my image of a thief. We would try to run away from that place as fast as our small legs would carry us. As I, like all other kids, was mortally afraid of the policemen, we would be in great fear of their presence near us. In our fearful state of mind, we would fold our hands in salutation to each and every policeman wearing red turbans, lest he may not lock us behind bars in that dreadful jail. Once away from the vicinity of the dreaded jail, we would get back the sprightly rhythm back in our gait and walk to the safety of our homes. I developed fear of policemen and the Kachehri because it had a jail.
Years passed on…I got into the rhythm of life, getting a teaching job.I came into teaching not that it was my first love but because it was the only job that I could get at that time and later I had no stamina left with me to try for another job. Having spent almost eight years of my life in an attempt to make it to an administrative job, I felt tired from doing any other job except teaching.
I had been into this profession for almost 2-3 years but the feeling of loss for not having made it to HAS still tormented me off and on. It was during one of such times that I happened to go to Shimla. Idling away my time near the Telegraph building, looking at the Kachehri and the policemen there, I was surprised when someone called me. Looking back, I found someone, with a happy look on his face, addressing me. On a closer look I found him to be Mr. S, a fellow contender for HAS, who had made it to HPS and was posted as Dy. S. P. He seemed very glad to see me though, honestly speaking, I was not so. I had the same feeling that is generated when you meet someone more successful than you and his presence reminds you of your failure. I had such a feeling when my class fellows made it to IGMC and I would walk to the Sanjauli college…and I was swept with the same feeling of dejection. I was overcome by the same feelings but there are certain feelings that are not to be spoken or shown so I reciprocated with a broad smile.
He was really happy. Rather happiness exuded from every pore of his being. He wanted to sit somewhere and have a cup of tea (and regale me as well with his achievements). I, too, welcomed the idea of a cup of tea. I thought it would be the Coffee house nearby but he suggested going to the Police Headquarter and sitting in the office of one Ms. U, who too, was in HPS and had her office there. God! I wondered, how would I maintain my composure when not one but two of them would be there to remind me of my failure. Having no choice, quietly and meekly, I followed him to the corridors of power. The narrow corridors are so intimidating especially if they constantly remind you of your failure. The wooden stairs were quite unlike other stairs I had hopped around throughout my childhood, they were completely matted or perhaps I was walking a bit, too, silently as if not to make any sound. My self-esteem was at its lowest ebb…I was literally dragging my body behind Mr. S who, full of energy and confidence leading me to the center of power, the office of Ms. U!
Inside the office I found her sitting majestically in her office. It was a beautiful saree that she was draped in instead of the Khakee uniform that I had imagined her to be in. I always admire women with brains, beauty is secondary but the combination of beauty and brain is a deadly combination. Here was Ms. U, a rare combination of beauty and brain and was occupying a seat of authority! Some satisfaction it would have been to see her in dull drab, but it was not to be! On the way to the office, we met a number of policemen who saluted Mr. S in a very respectful manner, which he would reciprocate with a slight, waive of his hand and a nod of his head. In the office, too, I found the same tone and ambience, adding to my discomfort. Whosoever would enter the room would say nothing more than “Yes sir” or “Janaab”. I was awestruck by the quota of “yes sirs” that they got in 5 minutes time. It was enough for me to feel jealous of their position! I cursed myself silently for having accepted the invitation to a cup of tea. The talk now turned to my profession and surprisingly both of them sincerely appreciated the teaching profession. I found even this to be a courteous appreciation done not to make me feel insignificant.
All the time I was comparing my work life with that of these two. And what I had missed by a narrow margin. I am lucky indeed if our department attendant would fill my water jug, or dust my room. It was so spick and span here in this office. I searched for a speck of dust anywhere but could not. Meanwhile both of them continued with appreciation of the noble profession of teaching.
It was plain courtesy that made me invite them to come to Hamirpur whenever they had an opportunity but wished them never to come as I had not as much as a peon to bring tea to my guests. I felt so small even to think of such a situation.
It was as if the providence wanted to make me appreciate what I had got that the phone on the table rang. Ms. U was sitting in a much relaxed manner, half reclining against the back of her office chair. But as soon as she picked up the phone, the teacher of body language in me could detect the drastic change in her posture, facial expression and even her delicate hand became alert. So much so that her exquisite silk saree, as if on a cue, was not making any rustling sound. It was a much superior officer, of the lady, that was calling. Her entire demeanor changed as if the officer in question was able to see her sitting posture as well. With a ramrod straight back and a polite expression on her face all that she said in the mouthpiece of the black phone was, “Yes Sir”, “Right Sir”, and sometimes just plain “Sir”. I was surprised and wondered what kind of communication is it? Don’t they say one single complete sentence to their superior? What made me laugh in my sleeves was that the other one had also become very attentive in his posture and his body language seemed to say without even saying anything “Yes Sir”…God how conditioned they had become to subordination in the uniform.
I was sorry for them. I tried putting myself in their shoes, sorry big police shoes, and had a revelation. Would I switch over my job with them? Never. I thanked God for making me a teacher. I thought of my students who smiled innocently at me, with me…and we all enjoyed the laughter. I missed my students from the core of my heart. I suddenly realized the freedom that I enjoyed in my profession. When I talk to my Director, it is on a one-to-one basis as we share a common bond together, love for students, as we both are primarily teachers. I can walk anytime to his office and talk about what bothers me and can have a cup of tea as well. So much freedom and so less “Yes Sirs” to go along with it! Where would one get such a freedom and a role to act as a mentor to young ones who look up to you?
My fear of Kachehri as well as the policemen was gone with the wind… I wanted to be back to my classes, my students and the real me. It was a revelation to me. I was so happy to have accepted an offer to have a cup of tea in the Police headquarters at Simla!