Friday, August 14, 2009

Second Chance

Imagine you are working in front of a bunch of your customers. One of your customers heckles you and you get angry. Very angry. So angry that you throw a very hard 5.5 oz. round object in his direction with all your might. But fortunately for your heckler and the other customers around him, it hits no one. You are incensed. So you pick up a metal spike, which is lying conveniently close to you, and try to use it as your next missile. But thankfully, you get taken down by people who think you have gone too far. You are handed a punishment, but life goes on.

A couple of months later, you are not considered for a new project by your biased employer, when you should really have been an automatic shoo-in for the project. So you whip yourself up into a rage again, get into your car, go to the office and burn the bloody office down. That will show your employers not to mess with you.

In a normally functioning world, it would be safe to say that the chances of your ex-employers hiring you back again would be as much as the Taliban hosting a Victoria's Secret fashion show in Kandahar. But if your name is Mark Vermuelen and your employer is the Zimbabwe Cricket Board, you will find yourself opening the batting for Zimbabwe in around 3 years after you destroyed the Zimbabwe Cricket Board's Headquarters and their National Academy building.

And just in case if you are thinking, how did he get away from 25 years of prison for arson? By pleading not guilty due to mental illness. To be precise, "partial complex epilepsy and impulsive behaviour disorder", brought on as a result of having his skull fractured by a cricket ball, during a match against India.

This is really not an attempt to judge the seriousness of his injury or judge how much that had to play a part in his actions thereafter. I do sympathise with him. I mean poor Vermuelen was so unlucky that he got hit by a cricket ball on the same part of his skull twice in a year, even after wearing a helmet. That is more than enough for brain damage. Granted he has had anger management issues even before the injury (uprooting the stumps and locking himself in the dressing room because he was given out), but then maybe the injury just exacerbated the problem. From what I have read about him, apart from his outbursts, he seems like a fairly nice guy.

But what amazes me is that the Zimbabwe Cricket Board hired him back. Especially with the kind of history the Board has. This is a board run by the cronies of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. A man whom history will definitely hold responsible for reducing Zimbabwe to what it is today. When the life expectancy of a people drops from 60-something to 30-something over a period of just a few years, you know that something is terribly wrong in the country. On one hand, you have a Cricket Board, which is just an extension of the policies of Mugabe's government and on the other hand, you have Vermuelen, who is as stereotypically a white Zimbabwean as they come. Tall, blond and from an affluent family. And he has definitely not endeared himself to the board by his actions. The very fact that somebody like him can get back into the team after what he has done baffles me. Whether it is a sign of desperation on part of the Board or whether it is change in policies, one will never know.

But good for him. I am glad atleast something is going right for him. I hope for his sake and for the sake of others, that his psychological issues are really over. Good luck Vermuelen and more importantly, good luck Zimbabwe.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The recent controversy involving the arrest of a black Harvard professor in Boston made me think about the different kind of policemen out there protecting and serving us. Like in every other field, some are good men, the best you would want on the force, but there are always some who try their best, usually effortlessly, to sully the image that their brethren try so hard to shine. These are the jerks who nurture the general feeling of dislike of any kind of authority in the public to full-blown hatred towards the police.

Since writing good things about good people is anyway not very interesting, this post is dedicated to the jerk cop and not the good one. I have tried to categorize them as best as I can here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list, since my categorizations are based on first-hand experiences and second-hand accounts.

1. The economist
They are of the belief that any money on your person is present because of some mistake in the laws of distribution of money. But fear not, this mistake can be easily corrected. Very soon, you will find yourself taking money out from your pockets and handing it over to them. It does not matter how much the amount is, you should never have had that money in the first place.
I have had a few encounters with these type, but I vividly remember the first one. I must have been 19 or so. I was riding pillion on a motorcycle with my friend SN in Bombay. A 3-day college festival was in session and we were going to pick up something for some event. It was not SN's motorcycle and he was not very good at riding motorcycles anyway. So inevitably, the engine stalled at a traffic light and he just could not start it. Out of nowhere, a middle-aged cop appeared and pulled us to the side. This is how the conversation went:
Cop ordered SN in the local language (Marathi), "Show me your license."
SN replied in Marathi, "Here you go."
The cop looked at the license. "This is a learner's license."
SN smiled in agreement, "Yes."
The Cop turned to me and said in Marathi, "Show me your 'pakki' (meaning not learner's but actual full license) license."
I had no idea why he wanted my license since I was riding pillion. I was not aware that since SN had a learner's license, he was supposed to ride only with someone who had a 'pakki' license. My ignorance transformed into contempt and I replied with a slight hint of sarcasm in Hindi (which I am more comfortable in compared to Marathi), "I don't even have a learner's license let alone a 'pakki' license."
"Ok boys, I am going to have to impound the vehicle," smiled the cop.
We more or less had an idea where this was headed. So we started pleading. SN in Marathi and me in Hindi. We painted a picture as if the survival of civilization depended on our successfully obtaining the thing we were going to get.
The cop suddenly changed subjects and addressed me, "If you understand Marathi, why are you speaking in Hindi? This is Bombay and Bombay is in Maharashtra. This is Marathi-land. Speak in Marathi."
Although I wanted to carry on the fascinating discussion and point out the bigger picture to him that Maharashtra is in India and Hindi is the national language, so Hindi supercedes Marathi, I prudently desisted from it. Also, I had no idea what would happen if the boundaries of our discussion went beyond India. So I grovelled in Marathi, "OK sir. From now on, I will speak only in Marathi. Please let us go." If speaking in Marathi was what it took for us to be let go with the bike, then so be it.
With a sly smile, the cop said, "I can't let you go just like that. You have broken the law. You need to learn a lesson so that you remember not to do this in the future."
"We won't do this again sir. Is there some way we can be let go?"
At this time, all 3 of us knew what everyone was hinting at.
The cop continued, "I will have to fine you. Give me 200 bucks each."
"We don't have that much money."
"How much do you have?"
SN looked at his wallet and said "45 Rupees."
I said, "20 rupees."
The cop was disgusted. All this time had been wasted for 65 rupees when he could easily have spent his time much more effectively. But a man must make compromises. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And he seemed to be one who would not only make the lemonade but also sell the seeds of the lemon to some farmer. He decalred, "65 rupees! OK, I am in a good mood. Hand it over and you can go."
If the cop was so shameless to take a measly 20 rupees from me, I had to one-up him on shamelessness. So I pleaded, "I need some money for the bus home. Can I get 5 back?"
I expected a verbal lashing for sure. Is it not against the protocol to ask for change when you are bribing someone? But surprisingly the cop still had some good in him. Shaking his head and giving me a 5 rupee note, he said, "Here you go. Now both of you scram and don't let me catch you again."

That was my first amongst a few other encounters with this kind of cop. I was suprised that he still took that small amount from us. But I guess it is the principle of the matter. He believed that it was never rightfully ours in the first place, so it must have been easy to take it from us.

I have not found this type of cop in the US yet, mostly because small-time corruption does not seem to be as prevalent amongst cops here as much as it is in India. I must say though that Tanzania, the other place where I have had a couple of encounters with cops and have also heard some stories from people, surpasses India in this matter.

2. The monarch
This kind is much worse than type 1 mentioned above. Type 1 looks like a harmless schoolgirl compared to the monarch. This type of cop belongs to the school of thought that a cop is the closest thing to a king. Unfortunately they also believe that their kingdom is mobile and radiates to about a few 100 feet from them in all directions, no matter where they are. These are the kinds who slap you first, swear at you and then ask you your name. If you are fortunate enough, after the slap, you probably will get a chance to file the complaint for which you had visited the police station in the first place. They look at criminals and non-criminals through the same jaundiced eyes. Readily found in all parts of India, at some point in their lives, I would like to believe that most of these power-trippers have their egos squashed underfoot by criminals as well as non-criminals. I know of atleast 2 or 3 incidents when this has happened. But I also know of many incidents where people were just abused for no reason and I have been present during a few of them. I am sure the power-tripper is also present in the US and I have been fortunate enough not to meet any. Especially since every cop here, unlike India, carries a gun.

3. The over-zealous bureaucrat
These are the kind who fail to see the larger picture and will go to ridiculous lengths to uphold the written word of the law, irrational though it may seem. It somehow seems difficult for them to keep things in perspective. I remember an incident a decade or so back, when a police van full of (sorry to disappoint you) policemen came to a neighbouring building and took away some 10-11 year old children because they were making too much noise while playing cricket. The van must have been filled with atleast a dozen cops. The way they got down from the van was quite dramatic - very commando-like. And when they took the children into 'custody', their mothers and everyone else, except the idiot, who had complained about the noise to the cops, were livid. The women gave an earful to the cops but the cops said they had to do this since someone had filed a complaint. That same month, there had been a spate of burglaries in the neighbourhood, and we had never seen any cops, let alone a police van, anywhere in the vicinity of our neighbourhood. Someone pointed this out to the cops as they were leaving. The cops were too shamefaced to reply. The parents eventually got the chidren released in a couple of hours, but I wonder what the cops were thinking. Was it necessary to take the children away? Were they not children at some point in their lives or did they become grown super-dumb cops right from their mother's womb?

4. The free-loader:
This type is a variation of the economist. Instead of hard currency, they just expect things to be free - right from a taxi ride to the mid-afternoon snack. After all they are protecting and serving you. Since you can't protect them, atleast return the favour half-way and serve them. This kind is usually found in India and very frequently found in Tanzania. I have not had the experience of meeting this type in the US, but if stereotypes are to be believed, they may be seen hanging around donut shops.

5. The blind cop:
A crime may be happening right in front of their eyes. But they don't do anything because they can't see it. Of course they may have some vested interest in letting the crime happen. I am very sure this kind is found everywhere in the world. I was shocked when I first came across this type. I must have been 13 and I was out in the open market with my father, buying vegetables. Open markets in Bombay (India in general) are chaotic. Lots of vendors, lots of people, lots of noise. As my father was buying stuff from a vendor, a few feet away, a local goon was trying to extort protection-money from another vendor. He was threatening the guy quite clearly and I could hear every word of what he was saying. A few feet away from him, there were 2 cops nonchalantly reading the newspaper. If I could see and hear the man, they could definitely see and hear him too. But they chose to do nothing. Maybe their duty was over and they were just chilling. Maybe they were going to get a share of the loot later on. Or maybe, they were actually 2 blind men reading the newspaper.

Like I said before, there are lot of good cops who do the uniform proud. But unfortunately no matter what they do, the bad ones will always be there to wipe out whatever goodwill they create in society. But again, if not for the bad ones, this post would not exist and I would not get to tell my friends that in India the cops swear at you first and then ask your name whereas in the US, they address you as 'Sir' and then ask your name. In either case, after the 'niceties' are over, in the end you are bound to get screwed.