Three men and a bike

This is a small crime story involving youngsters. So, to protect their identities, we didn’t ask for their names.

Recently, three guys, all engineering college students, were caught when they were about to steal petrol from a vehicle in our apartment complex. The trio, who had sneaked into our complex, otherwise looked decent, and more importantly docile, which kind of allowed some of us to showcase all our bravery. If they had looked like regular thieves — all rowdy-brawn — many of us, I am sure, would not have even ventured out of our houses. Middleclass valour usually comes out in full vigour against people who are generally down in the dumps.

Anyway, shortly after the three lads were caught, more than half of the apartment complex gathered and started offering advice and ideas to no one in particular but in the general direction of anyone with ears. It was just like a corporate meeting, but not that totally without purpose. Here I must point out that is the same residential complex where scheduled important association meetings have to be cancelled due to lack of quorum (and where people seem to know their neighbour’s email id better than their actual name). But cometh a crisis, cometh the resilience of the common people. And it took just a small crime for us to unite and quickly get down to attempting actions that were mostly, well, pointless.

Hand them over to the police, said one resident angrily. ‘These boys should be taught a strong lesson,’ he followed. What the boys had tried to commit was indeed a crime. So there was no question of defending them. But some of us weren’t sure as to how the cops would handle a case that involved 50 to 100 ml of petrol that was about to be pilfered, while people who are connected with a Rs.1.76 lakh crore scandal are basically roaming free.

The talk of police on such occasions is usually the cue for the inveterate name-dropper to get going. It is an unwritten rule that every group has at least one name-dropper. Our group was an exception to this rule: We had at least five. ‘I know the Assistant Commissioner. He is a cousin of one of the guys who used to be a vendor of my previous company’, said one. ‘The DGP, no,’ began another, ‘he was a classmate of my uncle’. These back-stories generally come with some much caveats, for instance the vendor alluded may not be alive at all or the DGP in reference could be from the neighbouring State, that they are best ignored much like the news item on the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN.

‘Why go to the police? Our apartment complex security personnel are good enough to handle these lads,’ said another resident. I don’t know what prompted him to say that. Because the words ‘security personnel’ may generally conjure up images of burly men with ripping muscles and faces that are the world’s most emotionless ones, outside of the one that Arjun Rampal has. But that is exactly the wrong kind of image when you are talking of some of the security men in our apartment complex. Our security guys were strapping probably around Quit India Movement time. And I have a lurking suspicion that one person among them might have even participated in the Mutiny of 1857.

We must inform their college authorities, opined one woman resident after the idea to involve our security men had met with as much enthusiasm as would the title card announcing the names of the car drivers who worked in the film. ‘These guys would have joined after paying capitation fees. The college cannot be held responsible for their actions,’ somebody replied, which I hoped was in jest, because neither the first suggestion, which in itself wasn’t all that smart, nor the second, which was totally stupid, had any correlation. It was like someone saying ‘Kyoto and Tokyo are two different cities’, and someone else pointedly responding with ‘but South Africa has three cities as its capital.’

You are a journalist, what would you suggest, someone asked me. I paused for some time to streamline my thought process that had been honed over the years through the dint of reporting various crisis events (the last such critical assignment was, of course, watching Singham-2). I looked at the young boys. Impressionable they may have been, but what they had attempted was a breach of law. And I am a stentorian by nature, too. So there was no question of me being sympathetic to them. ‘We must,’ I said in a firm but even voice, ‘decide this collectively’, which if you are clued into the world of newspapers is the euphemistic translation of ‘I, personally, am clueless’.

To cut a long story mildly short, it was finally decided to call the parents of the three guys, tell them what happened, and leave the rest of the things to them. The parents duly came, berated their wards in the strongest of words, manfully apologized for the wrongs of their children, and eventually left. They must now drive sense into their children and not let repeat what had happened. It is a tough task.

But we had the tougher task: We had to drive sense into our security men and, of course, tell them as to what really happened.