Thursday, December 03, 2020

SARBAT DA BHALA

He stands wearing his riot gear. It has been 72 hours since he left his post at the shopping mall checkpoint to rush to police station, grab whatever he could from the stores for the gear and reach the border. The body armour is torn at many places, the shoulder straps and the belt just about holding it together. The helmet is beginning to feel like a load.  The shield and the cane are the supports he stands against for now.

His back is beginning to give trouble. He has been meaning to visit a doctor for a check-up, but the one day he was away from checkposts and chowki in last two weeks, he was assigned a VIP duty. Why can’t they just stay inside even during corona, he thought. His wife is worried sick with all the news of policemen catching corona. When did he go home last?

His cousin Binder called yesterday. He is coming with the group from his village to protest.  He hopes Binder isn’t at the forefront where they have been firing tear gas since morning. All that noise has given him a severe headache. He rubs his temple. Gopal, his colleague, fainted this morning – what with all the standing since God knows when! He looks around, he sees tired faces. When is he going home, when is this getting over?

‘Attention.’

An officer is speaking. He tries to focus on the words. He can’t make out orders. He will do what those standing next to him are doing. He is a robot anyways. In times like these maybe all of them are. They follow orders even when their heart is not in it. Basic animal instincts of survival take over. Adrenaline helps.

And when it is quiet again, he will reflect. The journey from the village, selling his share of the land for that payment to get the job, a daily struggle to stay afloat amidst never ending duty and a hope, that maybe his children will fare better. Binder’s son got the visa. Binder sold a part of his land to pay the agents. His own daughter wants to go as well. How will he arrange the money? Maybe his PF?

‘Look sharp. Sahab is here.’

He straightens is spine. That pain! And he stinks. When was last he had a bath?

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