Monday, March 12, 2012

When Raj Kapoor Saved Me From a Russian Gulag


The following essay placed in the top-10 (humour) of the Youth Express Scribe Hunt for 2012
 
No one likes being cold, no one likes being scared and no one likes being alone. I was about to be all three in the middle of Siberia. As I crossed a busy road in the town of Omsk, I saw a giant policeman waving frantically at me. I immediately knew why he wanted my attention. As dumb ideas go, what I had just done was even dumber than my decision to spend the winter of 2006 in this snowbound town. 

I had just jaywalked. You see, Russian drivers, vodka notwithstanding, are surprisingly caring about pedestrians. Unlike in Delhi, they won’t try to run you down just because you crossed in front of their car. They stop and let you pass. In return, all they ask is for you to let them get through green lights without interruptions. By darting between cars, I had ruined that experience for at least two motorists. Now, the not-so-friendly cop wanted a not-so-friendly word.

At first, I pretended I didn’t see him. What was with these dumb ideas today? He was at least 6 feet tall and about half as broad; in other words, hard to miss. So I stopped and waved back. “Privet,” I ventured in broken Russian. “Minya zavut Pierre”. To the cop, this limited introduction was all the proof he needed that I could understand po-Russki perfectly well. 

A long explanation of my ‘crime’ followed. I was sure it was only an ill-judged jaywalk. But his ears were red and he wasn’t smiling. For all I knew he was charging me with treason. “Ya tourist”, I pleaded, half-truthfully. By then, a small crowd had gathered. He noticed it too. “Come,” he said gruffly in English.
People don’t usually scare me. Like the cop, I too am six feet tall and about half as broad. Still, I’d heard stories about Russian prisons. And this cop was about to take me away from the public eye. All I could think was “There won’t be any witnesses”. 

I followed him into a large police van. He motioned me to sit down. “Wait,” he growled and left. A lady cop sat next to a table laden with equipment. It was mostly radios and walkie talkies but all I could focus on was a black baton hanging from one corner. 

“This is it. He’s going to beat a confession out of me,” I thought. The lady cop, probably sensing my unease, offered a glass of water. I liked her already. But wait, was she just playing ‘good cop’? As I nervously twiddled my thumbs, the door opened. A squat, middle-aged officer walked in followed by Big Cop. Some gesturing and facial contortions followed. 

Then the older cop turned to me. “Passport?” he asked. His face betrayed no emotion. I was told to always carry mine when alone for exactly such situations. As soon as I handed it over, the older cop smiled. “Indie?” he asked again, his smile brodening. “Da,” I replied, slightly confused. 

Nothing, and I mean nothing, could prepare me for wht happened next. My passport in one hand and the big cop’s wrist in the other, the older policeman began to dance. And sing. “Awara hoon...! Davaye Indie!” he said encouragingly. “Awara hoon...” He wanted me to sing with him! 

I’ll commit sacrilege here and admit I’m not a Raj Kapoor fan. But I knew the song. So, I did as asked.
“Awara hoon,” we chorused a third time.  In my mind, I could only think one thing: “What the *%#@ is going on here?”   

Then the older cop stopped swaying. He seemed genuinely pleased at what had just happened. “I love Raj Kapoor”, he declared in a thick accent and handed my passport back. “You go! No problem”.

Had a popular 1950s bollywood song just saved me from a long, cold night alone in a Russian slammer? Or was my transgression far too minor for this gentlemanly Siberian cop to offend the memory of one of his favourite movie stars. I didn’t care to find out. With a silent vow never to jaywalk again, and a big thank you to Bollywood’s first international superstar, I sped off to my friends and a waiting dinner. Man, were they going to love my story!

1 comment:

  1. Very entertaining read - I remember you telling us this story...ma

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