Chief of police in my bedroom
By Etan Doronne
23 Mar 2010
I arrived at this Gujarati town after a friend I met in Phavagad told me about it's traditional craft.
Phavagad is one of many Hindu temples built on top of a mountain. It takes 2400 steps to climb it and the same on the way down. So on the same evening, upon my arrival to this town, one of my knees was worn out.
By this time I was 3 months into my travel in India. Knowing rickshaw drivers tend to take foreigners to the more upscale hotels available, I asked mine to take me to a basic one and quoted the rate per night I am willing to pay.
The place we arrived at had a room only in the upper, 2nd floor. I made my way up the stair case with severe pain. The room looked very basic which was by then a familiar sensation, however I could not see my self in my leg situation going through the stair case torture for the next few days I planned to stay there.
Once down on the street next to his rickshaw, the driver told me that there are only two other hotels in town and both are well above street level. For a few moments I was standing there puzzled but not in fear, as I already experienced letting things happen in India tends to resolve any threat my mind can come up with. Then the driver said: "there is a Jain dharamsala which is on street level (a religious guesthouse for Jain pilgrims) and you can tell them your situation, maybe they will let you stay there"
So off we scootered on our three wheeler through the narrow alleys bustling with people enjoying the evening eating at the local stalls or just chatting in front of their homes on this cool summer night.
The two receptionist (maybe Jain volunteers) listened to my story and luckily accepted me. I got a room that was a couple of good stars above what I had just seen a few minutes back and cost only a little more. I had probably showered and soon got into my comfy bed after this long day.
I woke up to the sound of strong and persistant knocking on my door. Half asleep, in my pajamas, I jumped out of my bed and opened the door. Within the next few seconds a police officer and a crowd of followers all stood in my room. The police officer pulled two chairs facing each other and asked me to sit, as he sat in front of me. All other 15 or so people just stood around us.
First things he asked me: who am I, why did I arrive and so on. Then he asked to see my passport. Right after he told me that I would be taken to the police station. The police jeep was parked outside. I had changed my clothes and stepped onto the jeep. I have no clue how I managed asking to snap a photo, as you can see the police officer standing with the receptionists at the entrance to the Dharamsala.
The short ride ended in the unpaved police parking lot. Once inside his office, I could realize this officer was actually the chief of local police, judge for yourself by his spotless glass desk (and this is dusty rural India, remember !)
First drop in tension came as he ordered tea for me. Then he went on the phone and again I took this photo. Just now, while writing these lines I try to figure out what was I, as a suspect, thinking and feeling that within all this international investigation I felt comfortable and safe enough to take photos. But then you can see the subjects in the photos, though official, don't seem aggressive.
While he was on the phone, another man, a civilian, came into the room. After the officer got off the phone they seemed to both discuss the persons issue.
Then the officer turned to me and explained me my options: I could either go and register at the district town that is 50 km away or will have to leave the town the same day.
Being experienced with rural transportation I knew by now that 50km equals a minimum of 4 hours on a local bus.
I explained the officer I had only arrived for aout 3 days and traveling to the district town will already use up a whole day. The officer thought for a moment, then spoke in Gujarati, with the man standing there and then turned to me and told me that man will show me around town and that later that evening I will leave.
The person, as we became to know each other while walking to his motorcycle, was working in that same craft which this town was known for which is why I arrived there. So, of course, the first station would be his workshop. He seemed to be satisfied as well, as this oportunity wit a rare foreigner is also a business oportunity, a chance to practice English and to be seen around town riding with a foreigner. However he was experienced enough not to get overly exited about it. And let' not forget he was also on a police mission...
After being in his workshop, where several men were sorting and creating with natural materials we went on to his home, where he had shown me some of the more precious pieces along with photos of commissioned works that went nationwide and abroad. Later he had to get back to his business and I was left alone to roam.
My abrupt morning jumpstart was easing down into the daily pace of an Indian town but yet I haven't the slightest clue why I was going through that in the first place.
That evening, walking down the streets, many eyes where following me. This was already familiar to me from visiting several off the beaten track and sometimes off the map town and villages. Everybody was curious about this odd 'bird' landing in their place. I just hoped I do not see the officer in one of these alleys and nobody tells him the beast is loose :)
Later that evening, upon returning to my Dharamsala, I finally got the details from the two receptionist/volunteers:
A couple of days ahead, there is a ceremony planned and it will be honored by the prime minister of the state of Gujarat. This ceremony celebrates the completion of underground gas and water piping project. Up until that time this town, as so many other towns and most villages, had to carry it's water from a well or pump it to a rooftop tank. They also had to have a mobile gas tank in the kitchen hooked up to the burner. So it was a coming of age celebration.
In this light, it seemed a bit odd that a single foreigner would land in a town that hardly gets any at all. The first suspicion that came to the mind of the police was a terrorist planning to hit the prime minister.
And that was the full story that made me laugh and in a few moments it became contagious, we all did.
The dharamsala people told me I could stay another night and leave more peacefully the next day.
So I did, and as I approached the central bus station the day after, to hop on my bus our of town, I saw policemen linning up the whole area. I climbed onto my bus and hoped it will take off before the chief happens to cross by...