“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” Fyodor Dostoveysky, Notes from the Underground
And so, just like that, Josh Lohia was Prisoner Number 32491 at the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai.
Despite the anglicised appearance of his first name, Josh (pronounced Joh-shh) was actually a hindi word meaning “energy and enthusiasm” chosen by his parents on account of his over-enthusiastic kicking and screaming at birth. In college, the name had morphed into JLo for a while. The nickname was a tribute to the sultry singer who had adorned his dreams and the posters of his hostel room during his engineering days a couple of decades ago. In fact, Josh still owned a couple of cassettes and a videotape of her debut movie Selena (even though he had no players to play them in). The tapes were probably lying somewhere in the 18 boxes of luggage he had stowed away at his parents’ place before he had decided to embark on his footloose ways.
A year ago, he had been a senior banker in one of India’s most prestigious investment banks. A month ago, he was enjoying the company of his parents at their house in Dehradun. A week ago, he had been on the train to Mumbai. And today morning at 7 am, he was at his favourite place in Mumbai – the Worli sea-face. He was standing there quietly watching the early morning crowd.
It was yet another of those perfect balmy mornings that Mumbai continued to churn out so regularly. Mumbai was undoubtedly at its best every morning from 5 o’clock to 8 o’clock. In fact, that was perhaps the only time people from other cities of the world enjoyed Mumbai. And Worli sea-face was packed with its usual faces. A thousand over-weight women wearing brand-new Nike sneakers and brightly colored salwar-kurtas (typical Indian pant-suits for women) with chunnis (flowing pieces of cloth to complete the ensemble) tied tightly around their waists. The more the determination to lose weight, the tighter the chunnis were knotted and the brisker was the walking pace. Of course there was also the occasional super-fit/anorexic woman with the trademark white iPhone speakers in her ears bouncing along in her spandex tights. And the groups of old men wearing shorts and t-shirts and laughing and chatting and bustling along with their friends as they began their day. No kids at all anywhere to be seen. Probably because they were all getting hurried by their maids into getting ready and going off to their schools. The moms likely were here walking with their friends and on their way to the gyms where they would pretend to work out together before they ate their egg-white-omelets. It was hard for Josh to imagine any of these women without at least 3 servants at home. One servant for the kids, another servant for cleaning or cooking and yet another for driving them around. The husbands likely were still sleeping in for a few more minutes before pulling on their ties and formal suits and rushing to another day at work. It was just another day in the life of urban India.
This was exactly the lifestyle Josh had run away from last year. Yet here he was again. Back to the past. A past he did not particularly care about. A past he was trying to escape. But not for any reason more serious than boredom. Definitely not for any reason that could land him in jail.
The good part, he thought to himself, was that he was only passing through. Today morning he had felt like coming here and seeing the early morning sea. Always something that he enjoyed thoroughly. And most importantly, he was on his way to the brun-maska-chai (bun-butter-tea) stall at the end of the sea-face. Why people in Mumbai paid 4 times the price to eat something that took no skill to put together was beyond him. The guy had made a fortune putting a dab of butter (Rs. 1) on buns he bought at City Bakery (Rs. 3) and serving them with tea packets dipped in watery milk (Rs. 2 tops) and selling it for 15 rupees. It was a clean 150% profit percentage. He had a small truck-load of buns delivered to him every day. Easily 5,000 buns a day at least which made it 45,000 bucks a day of pure profit. People lined up for them every day just like they had been lining up for the last 15 years. And no-one else ever thought of competing with him. In a country of a billion people with 7% unemployment (by official government figures which were probably understated) no one else had ever tried to put up another stall and compete with him. Josh had just never understood how that was possible. But it was what it was. The stall was still there today. A number of morning walkers replenished the 74 calories they had just burned in a 45 minute leisurely stroll by consuming 545 calories in 3 minutes. They even paid a 150% premium for the pleasure. The Right place at the Right time. That’s what had made this guy a fortune. Josh ordered his brun-maska-chai and paid him the exact amount in coins. Then he stood aside as the next wave of customers pushed their way through and pondered over the importance of being in the right place at the right time.
Ironically, he himself was in exactly the wrong place at the exactly wrong time while he stood there pondering over how capitalism and free markets had not made this little stall disappear. Lost in thought, he did not notice the police van that had just pulled up on the other side of the road. Or the pot-bellied policemen walking across the road with their sights firmly set on him. Even if he had, he would probably have thought they were here for their breakfast buns or for their daily cut of profits from this tidy little racket. But today they were not interested in the stall. Their interest lay only in the seemingly peaceful man who was standing at the furthest corner. A peaceful man looking out over the sea, eating his buttered bun and tea and ruminating about life, the universe and a million other disparate and disconnected things that he had no direct concern with.
Inspector Satish Goel was a proud man. He had spent his entire career managing traffic and had only recently been able to shift to the more respectable crime unit. His wife now boasted to her friends about how he was such an awesome policeman that he had been promoted to the crime branch. He himself just hoped he never really got into a position where he would be ordered to do anything that antagonized the underworld. The South Mumbai crime unit was actually a pretty good place to be for someone with such ambitions. Serious crime had moved away from there a decade or so ago. Even corporate offices were slowly moving towards midtown as they eventually did in every major city in the world. Maybe the criminals were the smarter lot and moved before it became too expensive. The only people left in South Mumbai now were the CEOs and the expatriates with their luxury cars and their expensive phones that cost more than a month of Inspector Goels salary. Filing lost phone and missing SIM card reports were the primary duties at the South Mumbai police station he was stationed at. And Inspector Goel did that business very diligently indeed. In the 45 odd days that he had been there, he had even recovered one of the phones that had been reported missing. The owner had seemed a little upset though. Turned out his rich father had already agreed to buy him a cooler phone by the time Inspector Goel turned up at his house to deliver the “lost” phone. The brat had almost denied that it was his phone. Inspector Goel however was not one to give in to the tantrums of a 15 years old and had firmly given the phone back and reported it as a successful case in the “lost and found” report.
But today was different. Today, Inspector Goel was here to arrest a serious criminal. This was a dangerous man who had cold-bloodedly killed 2 people last night. A clever man who had spent the last year in different parts of the country – according to his Facebook status updates. He had an alibi for every single one of the murders by having a public status update in another city whenever the crime was committed. This man made such a serious living off the crimes he committed on behalf of his rich and conscience-less clients that he no longer needed his petty corporate job to pay his bills. He should have been hiding from the law. And yet there he was, standing there nonchalantly dipping his bun in tea and watching the world.
Clearly the man was extremely arrogant about his power and the inability of the law to touch him. He was obviously far more dangerous than all those “lost-and-found” complainants who Inspector Goel now interacted with daily. But Inspector Goel was not a man to shirk his duty. He would do what needed to be done today.
Inspector Goel and his team of 4 pot-bellied constables crossed the road. They had their standard issue Smith & Wesson M&P 9 millimeter pistols drawn. It was an odd choice really. Odd because no other police force in India used the same weapon. Everyone else used Glock 9′s or Sig Sauers. The funny thing was that despite being made-in-America the Smith & Wesson were not even the weapon of choice of the US Government. American cops were supplied the faster shooting and more effective Austrian-made Glock 9 pistols instead. But the Maharashtra government clearly knew better than the US government or every other police force in India. And so it was that 4 Smith & Wesson pistols came to be pointed at Josh Lohia.
He had not seen them coming at all. He had not seen them take up positions and point their weapons at him. He had not seen Inspector Goel beaming broadly in the background at the prospect of catching this incredibly arrogant criminal. He had not seen them because he had been busy retrieving the last piece of his bun that had fallen into the tea he was dipping it into. It was always the tastiest piece.
“Hands Up !” said Inspector Goel in the loudest and most authoritative voice he could muster up. Josh automatically assumed that someone next to him was being arrested. He checked his watch. It was 7:32 am. Josh turned around slowly to watch all the action and drama. 4 pistols were pointed straight at him. One of the four constables was already red in the face from the effort of crossing the road and holding up the pistol. All of them looked pretty excited. If it had been a scene in a Bollywood movie, it would probably have been blasted by the critics for serious overacting. It might even have seemed funny to Josh. But right now, nothing seemed funny to Josh. He had never seen a pistol before. He had definitely never seen 4 of them together. And he most certainly had never seen 4 of them pointed towards him from a couple of feet by a bunch of overweight, ugly, excited police constables. And behind them was a tiny little man wearing stars and epaulettes that indicated that he was the leader of this team.
Inspector Goel sucked his breath in sharply and screamed loudly again, “Hands Up!”
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