Crossing the Line

Open Space
I was called to collect my media accreditation from the authorities… only to be told later that it had been cancelled.

My Sunday began uncharacteristically early, with a phone call from a police inspector. He gamely offered to drop in at home to ascertain if my desire to shoot the XIXth Commonwealth Games could be seen as a threat to national security. Soon enough, men in khaki turned up, and after two successive interrogations by them, I thought I was done for the day. Till the doorbell rang and an imposing man introduced himself as my morning caller.

Burly by build, his face draped in a bushy moustache, he was wearing a flowing white kurta with a checked green scarf thrown around his neck for good measure. My earlier visitors, he announced airily, had been mere policemen. He was from the Crime Investigation Department, the CID. With the matter of hierarchical authority duly settled, he entered my house and took charge.

He warmed up with some basic questions in Hindi, the routine stuff that the cops had jotted down as well: where I worked, how long I had lived here, and other sundry details of my eventful life. By this time, my husband had joined me in the living room in a misjudged show of solidarity. It’s the CID, I told him. A mistake. Spectacles agleam, he promptly shot my inquisitor a question, “Sirji, how is your job different from a policeman’s?”

Taken aback at this sudden role reversal, my visitor adopted an aggressive new tone. “We are in plain clothes, aren’t we? We could have checked you out by asking people on this street, but we were decent enough to come to you directly.” With a grimace directed at my husband for his artless ways, I hastily testified to the earnestness of his query.

This appeared to mollify the man a bit, for he conspiratorially warmed to his theme: “We are the guys who can find out everything about you, without you and those being questioned ever knowing who is asking. We normally do this for ministers who want to know just who is trying to take over their ministries from under their noses!”

Not one to take a hint, my husband pushed on bravely, “What about the Intelligence Bureau?” (He had heard they would be our next guests). Letting out a booming laugh, the CID man said, “Oh, you wouldn’t even get to know when they come!”

Noting our suitably impressed silence, he went in for the kill: “And then there is RAW. All those bombs exploding in Pakistan…?” he hinted darkly. I must have looked rather incredulous at this revelation, for he added a soothing rider: “Not done personally, of course, but through others who can’t be linked back to them.”

Mercifully, my husband excused himself from the proceedings at this point, somewhat overcome by all the cloak-and-dagger stuff. Which served as an opportune moment for the inspector to ask, “If you don’t mind, madam, do you get along with your mother-in-law?”

Dumbfounded, I found myself considering just how truthful I needed to be…

As I stuttered, “Yes, of course, why do you ask?” he assured me that this was all in a day’s work for the CID. A bizarre image crossed my mind. Of two women pushing past Sushil Kumar and using the wrestling mat at the Games to settle matters with each other, as an aghast nation looks on.

To my relief, the CID man helped himself out of the door, swung onto his bike and disappeared mysteriously from my life.

About a month later, with just ten days for the Games, it was payoff time. I was called to collect my media accreditation from the authorities… only to be told later that it had been cancelled.

There were way too many applications, it seems. And that was that.