There were half a dozen of them and I noticed they were particularly well turned-out—it’s not often that a photographer trails them on dark, cold Friday nights. It was their big day—the breathalyser was going to make its debut. I straightened as our first catch, a rickety Esteem with three young men, drew close.
A grand wave of hands and the car stopped. No license, no car papers. Perfect photo-op. The driver looked tipsy but seemed in control. The traffic inspector whipped out his...gun? No, that was the breathalyser and the inspector shoved it into the driver’s mouth. “Blow,” he ordered. Our prey blew hard. The cop pulled out the device and checked. No readings. Was it the cold? The cop and our friend tried again, and again, and again. No luck. The inspector banged it on his palm and tried—ONE LAST TIME. No. The cop then put the device in his own mouth and blew hard.
Mission failed. Someone suggested that the batteries were probably not charged. Soon, all of us—the driver and his friends, the six cops, and me with my chunky paraphernalia—checked into an ATM cubicle close by to charge the batteries.
The three men tried bargaining with the cops but they seemed the honest types. The driver came up to me and said, “What are you getting out of this? I come from a decent family. Why don’t you go and do the right kind of journalism?” He got me thinking. “Tumhe kya pata patrakarita kya hoti hai,” a constable snapped at the man. My wavering conscience steadied itself.
Twenty minutes later, the battery was charged. All of us spilled on to the road and the exercise was repeated. No luck—so it wasn’t the battery after all. By now, it was 11.30 p.m. The inspector called his senior, who was leading a similar drive in GK M-Block market, for help. The senior wanted the youths to be brought to him. So all of us got into the Esteem and our tipsy friend drove us down. The man was clearly overspeeding but the cops didn’t seem to mind.
As soon as we reached GK, I saw a dozen cops round up a young man. This one was clearly drunk. I clicked as the cop wrote the challan. But as I clicked again, the man charged at me, abusing, swearing and lunging for my camera. I managed to get my camera out of the way as we exchanged a good number of blows.
“Enough of this,” said the senior cop and directed our team to get back to our base. We locked ourselves in the Esteem. We were in a sombre mood. Within seconds, a speeding car from the other side rammed head-on into the Esteem, swerved, and sped away. The bonnet was crushed but everyone was safe.
Our tipsy friend went into a rage. “To hell with you cops and journalists. I am going to *&%$ this guy tonight.” And then, at over 100 kmph, we began our chase to track down the car that had just hit us. I clenched my fists and cursed my luck. Four kilometers later, the driver swerved and screeched to a halt in front of the other car. A couple in the car stared back at us—a car full of cops, a photographer and three youngsters swearing at them. Oops! We had chased down the wrong car.
We got back into the Esteem and drove back to Saket. I felt a pang of sympathy for the three men. The poor boys will have to shell out Rs 10,000 to fix their car and then there was the Rs 7,000 challan to be paid.
It was past midnight when we reached Saket with a broken car, a defunct breathalyser and me with my heart bleeding for the young men. I pulled aside the inspector. “Now, I don’t speak as a journalist and let’s assume you aren’t a cop. This damn instrument nearly cost us our lives. We ought to let the kids off.”
The only complaint booked that night was a five hundred-rupee challan for driving without seatbelts.