2012 Stories : Beat Up Life

I wouldn’t say the full-blooded punch to my jaw took me by surprise. In fact, to be fair, I had been closely following it’s trajectory. That was the only thing I could see, my eyes, my entire concentration was stuck. And yet surprise it was. I was in the universal human submissive position, palms up, mewling and protesting Hey, Hey, Hey. The civilized world usually stops here for a talk. The human gorilla brandishing that fist didn’t. I am 6’2″ tall, the guy in-front had at least 3 inches on me, and had a (body) build like a bar bouncer. One glance at him and my brain had decided my course of action for me. There was no sense fighting this guy, I would only succeed in annoying him further, and he could make me hurt. There were others who had swarmed up alongside him, and surrounded me, but my eyes were affixed on the big guy. It was him I thought I needed to reason with.

The fist connected. I was shocked. He had put in his entire running start and all of his shoulder into it. Ameet later told me, after all of it was over, that when someone tries to punch you in the face or in the jaw, you need to duck. At that moment, that just didn’t occur to me. I was shocked that I was punched even when I was not showing any aggression at all. But at the same time, in the back of my mind, I was shocked that I took that belligerent punch right on my jaw and I was still standing. If I had witnessed the scene, seen this happen to someone else (and I thought this at that instant too), I would have thought, “Oh fuck, that was a big punch“. It didn’t stop at the first one either. I had raised my hand, retracted a few steps, loudly apologised again and again, asking him to stop, yet he kept abusing out loud, and kept punching. There were others, around me, behind me, hitting my back, my sides, but I was taller than most of them, so the sensitive bits were supposedly protected. From the corner of my eyes, I could see Ameet being similarly surrounded by about 6-7 people, but my own immediate focus was on the gorilla with the sledge hammer blows aimed at my jaws. I didn’t dodge a single punch. In total, I took about 12-15 punches, all of them really hard, right on my jaw. One of the teeth broke and split, another spliced, my upper lip was later grotesquely swollen. I was later told by someone who knew about shit like that, that the guy must have been an amateur, as professionals really know how to tear into flesh with just a well directed punch or two.

At that moment, after the initial few punches, the emotion that replaced shock was to my further surprise, exhilaration. Here I was being beaten up, publicly humiliated, I wasn’t raising a hand to defend myself, and instead of anger, I was feeling exhilaration. I gather that it must have been adrenaline coursing through me, but it felt good on a lot of different levels. In a way, my anger was being beaten out of me, my pessimisms were being proved right, and I was feeling that I deserved this. But more than that, I was alive to the notion that I was beyond the line, so to say, this is not how notions of civilizations go. I felt good.

Fight club might be the first thing that pops up in your head. But I had just read a book called Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford, and that’s what popped into mine (here, I reproduced an excerpt from the book of what I was thinking about). A gonzo american journalist in England studying football hooliganism and crowd violence, Bill Buford had produced stunning prose describing just what it felt to be inside of a circle of violence, with a crowd beating on you, with a bar fight, and so on. The words from the book, such as the one instance where Bill mentions that the initial overdose of adrenaline/ fear rush that a normal individual experiences at the start of a physical altercation is many times higher than the stupidest/weakest of thugs who have been in a street/bar fight or two. Just by knowing what to expect, the thug performs better. It was weird for me to be thinking coherently words, scenarios, experiences from the book, but I can attest to a stunning clarity at that moment mingled with a certain gladness to be in the situation. A gladness that I had crossed over, at least for that moment, even for that moment, the continued ignominy of taking a humiliation/threat and stepping back because that is what civilized, safe, and impotent people do.

I suppose that if there is a beginning to this story, it would go back to January this year. I had moved my motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Bullet from Bombay to the apartment I am staying in at Bangalore, and I had just bought a new helmet worth Rs.1400 (new city, new beginnings, blah blah, you know the drill). The motorcycle used to be parked at the designated spot in the basement parking of my apartment complex (right next to the lift). I haven’t locked a helmet to my motorcycle for the last four years, through riding in Calcutta and Bombay. Never felt the need to. Always felt it would be cheapness for someone to steal a helmet, and paranoia to worry about it. I didn’t lock it in Bangalore either. After all, it was parked in my own apartment’s basement parking, protected by guards.

Balderdash. One fine day a week later, gone. Poof. I blamed it on myself. I was sheepish about it too. Big bad world. How could any poor motherfucking thief resist the sight of unprotected, shiny new helmet. Told myself I would have done the same thing. Made a little hue with the guards, asked questions, but didn’t expect much. It was my mistake. Then went on to borrow my sister’s old, discarded helmet as self punishment. Let me tell you about this old helmet. It was in tatters, it smelt of rat pee, and it looked so run down that one wouldn’t pick it up from the road. I didn’t lock that one either. Figured no one would bother stealing this. It was really as bad as that. A couple of weeks of riding around Bangalore, leaving the helmet on the motorcycle at very public locations, cinema theatres, public parking spots.

It again vanished from the parking lot of my house. I was definitely angry this time. This was not done for profit, but with an intention to irritate. Accosted the guards, told them there was no way they didn’t know. My building only has a single entrance leading into the parking lot, and the lifts to go higher up to the floors above. It is manned by three security guards at all times, their seats being right in-front of the gate.  They were quick to blame the guy who comes in to wash cars. I circulated this bit of news across my living community (they have a web community – this is Bangalore, after all), and found that such small thieveries had happened before as well, to two other people. No one had complained. I didn’t bother either. It was my mistake. I won’t keep helmets downstairs anymore. I bought a new one, and would whisk it upstairs every time I would ride back (despite having got a chain lock – let’s not provide temptation at all).

A month or so later, I came down to see that someone had inserted a screwdriver at the sides, broken the lock, sat down patiently, cut the wires, and taken away the battery of the motorcycle. I was numb that first evening. What do I do, where do I park my bike, if not at home? And what use spending on the motorcycle, when the assailant could just do it again the next day? It translated into white rage by the next day, and after thoroughly abusing the guards, I went on in search for the mythic administrative office of the apartment complex. Nobody ever picked up the phone at the office, and no-one important was ever seated there. The next day, I created a ruckus loud enough for someone to come down to the office to speak to me, and though initially he was curt and rude, when I insisted calmly that I need to file a police complaint, his tone of voice changed. He requested me to write down the complaint on a piece of paper and that he would discuss it with his Chief of security and get back to me by evening. I did. Duly mentioned that this was the third time robbery from the same vehicle (none of the other parked vehicles were affected, apparently). They blamed the darkness around my parking spot. There was a fused tube light right behind it, but it hadn’t been replaced in a long time. Also, there had been proposals to install security cameras which my petition accelerated. Everyone was promptly asked to deposit Rs. 1000 for the cameras. I tried again and again to mention that it is just an illusion of safety. Under the direct gaze of three guards, someone has calmly come, kneeled down the side of my bike in apparent darkness, and for an undisturbed 20-30 minutes got about breaking locks, cutting wires, taking a heavy bullet battery out of the complex. I enquired at the price anyone could fetch with a second hand battery like that. I was told Rs. 200-300. It cost me Rs. 2200 to replace a new one. I then parked it at a make shift spot directly behind (two steps, literally) the guard seats. I then warned them that if anything gets stolen now, it would just confirm my suspicion that it is one of the guards who is doing it, or getting it done under his supervision. I remember threatening them again with police action. I however, did not make a police complaint.

There was a lull in the proceedings for a couple of months. I didn’t even notice the next bit of sabotage until much later. A friend pointed out that it appeared someone had tried to cut through the steel crash guard in-front of the motorcycle. I was dumbfounded. Again. It appeared that one side of the steel structure had been sliced through and he had been interrupted in the middle of the task (my version). That would have made a hell of a noise. Slicing off a steel pipe would take effort! I didn’t notice the absence of the front number plate until much later.

Same set of arguments with the guards. They had been getting more belligerent with each incident, instead of being abashed, they would ask “Why does this happen only to your bike?”. And me, in my rage, I would ask the same thing back to them. That it is their job. I didn’t complain. Busy time in life, not much of loss of property/ inertia.

Cut to November end. I was out on a Saturday night for drinks and dinner at a friend’s place. Returned back on Sunday morning at 4:00 am. Parked it at the usual place behind the guards. Didn’t go out on Sunday. Didn’t go out on Monday. Came out Tuesday to keep an important appointment, was making general conversation with the guards, asking them for a piece of extra cloth to wipe my bike with (I joked that I had stopped keeping dirty rags near my bike as even they are stolen – true story). While cleaning the motorcycle, I noticed that the silencer, the whole exhaust pipe was missing. Somebody had sliced out and stolen the exhaust pipe! I had never seen something like this.

No anger at all on that Tuesday. I did not remonstrate with the guards either, like every other time. I didn’t even go out. I came back, calmed down. On Wednesday, I reached the administrative office, and got back to the original request of wanting to go to the police station and requesting the security in-charge to accompany me to the police station (because I did not know Kannada, because I wanted him to be able to answer the questions asked by the police, because I wanted the motherfucker to face the music). He went back to his tried and tested answer, wait till 5:30 evening, will discuss with building secretary. I came down at 5:30 with Ameet (who was visiting, and who had heard these stories right from the very start, and was as aghast and pissed as me). The “security in-charge”, just as “guards” are honorary titles given to nincompoops with no special skills for the same. To borrow a phrase from George Carlin, I have long been convinced that they do not provide any security, but the illusion of security, which is far more dangerous. The security in-charge had fetched two active members of the society (who had spear-headed the installation of security cameras). They were opening the set up for the first time, discovering how to play back footage (the scrolling was horrible, you could not choose to start the video at a particular time, there was no option to fast forward – and no body knew shit). The guards were crowded around the computer system, and we spent an hour and a half helping them in accessing the video footage of Sunday morning at 4 am. In the rush (of actually some activity), I helped them get to that point (I was told that I would have to go through all the video footage of the three days if I wanted to see anything), without thinking much about the Why and then when I did realise, I was further dumbfounded. The guards had asked the security in-charge to go back to the footage of me driving my bike into the parking and to see if the silencer/exhaust pipe was still present when I rode in. The implication was that I had got it stolen somewhere else/ had cut and sold it off myself, and was trying to sully the innocent reputation of the low life vermin that were those guards. I lost my temper and abused the shit out of them. Told them they should be beaten by shoes, and if they had any shame about the way they do their jobs and earn their money, they should quit and walk away, because the police would definitely stick a bamboo up their asses. And similar epithets.

Logically speaking, (and I was still using logic with the assholes), the motorcycle will not start without the exhaust pipe (Edit: I was wrong apparently, the mechanic did manage to start the bike without the silencer). Also, if it would start (say, presume), and that I rode it into the building (the video showed me riding in at 4:05 am) was proof enough that it was all good. If it was not, the loud, torn bass of the exhaust would have woken up half the neighbourhood at 4 am. I can’t believe that I had started reasoning with them protesting my innocence in the matter.

I do not see myself as a person with class issues. Au contraire, I think I do a pretty good job of blending with people of all classes. I have worked as a sales guy and I pride myself on this particular ability of mine. I was shocked to my core at hearing of the Wadala lawyer murder by a watchman, but I felt that that could never happen to me. I could scold, I could be rude because my cause was just, because they WERE responsible.

The security in-charge refused to accompany me to the police station (he was shit scared), and I kept insisting that he do. Meanwhile, the two members mentioned that the Chairman of the committee is missing and he should be down here and taking responsibility for this (they took me aside to convey this; apparently there was an undertone of discontent between the committee members towards the performance of the Chairman, who never did shit). Every ten minutes, the security incharge would go up the elevator to the Chairman’s house, get some instructions and parrot it to me. I insisted on being taken to his house (I didn’t know the man, his house, nothing), and I respectfully rang the bell, spoke sweetly, requested him to come out for a little chat. He shooed me away as if I was a dog, “Come tomorrow to the office”. I spoke, loudly this time, that I had spent 2 hours earlier in the day at the administrative office (where I have never heard of him coming down), and anY]other hour and a half in the evening looking at videos, and would he please step out for a few minutes. He was in his underwear, with his wife and kid playing alongside. He asked me to wait downstairs, we did. He came down, and was very rude to start off with. Then he began talking about the security cameras without hearing a word of the fact that we had spent a good bit of time looking at the (useless) footage. Then while Ameet was talking to him, he suddenly turned on him and said, “Who are you ? What the fuck are you doing here? Get lost.” (a lot more rudely. Ameet doesn’t stay in the same apartment complex, he was visiting my house and he had come down to give me company). I gave a loud warning call (“AYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”, a sort of don’t go beyond that line, don’t be rude, we have been speaking to you nicely, please reciprocate.)

He pushed me.

It escalated very quickly from there. I grabbed his hair, real hard, banged him up into the wall. Never let go. He grabbed my shirt and tore it (every single fight I have been in my life, every single fucking one of them, someone first tears off my shirt). People (guards) were out trying to protect him, and Ameet took on a few to prevent them from hitting me. I hadn’t yet let go. My glasses had fallen off (half my mind on those). He even tried to grab and squeeze my balls, to no effect. A tumble  here and there, a slamming on the floor, and it ended.

He shook his head, stepped far ahead from both of us, and while brandishing threats, started making phone calls. He “ordered” the guards to lock the gate (to prevent us from getting out, to prevent anyone from getting out in-fact).  He was speaking of police, so I thought might as well push it to that level. I am the fucking aggrieved party here. All this happened in-front of about five of the senior apartment committee members. Nobody had moved a muscle.

We had about ten minutes in between of a thumping adrenaline rush through my ears. We were walking around the immense parking area, with the gate closed. I made a quick call to my sister, detailing the scene (might have to go to the police station), asked Ameet to make a quick call to an acquaintance/friend who could perhaps help (he had done some work for the BJP during the elections). Because of the barred gates, there was a crowd that had developed outside the gate.

This was when the two vehicles stopped outside the gate and about 7-8 people jumped out (apart from the 6-7 guards that had gotten around). I had eyes only for the gorilla. I didn’t raise my hands once (except to protect the back of my head), didn’t duck any punch. Ameet gave them a chase around, but he got a nasty kick in the middle of his chest for his efforts (it still hurts apparently, three weeks after the incident). This public beating spectacle went on for about 15 minutes during which time about 50-60 people from the apartment, women, children, old men, and young breadwinners of course, all watched everything, without making any attempt to stop anything. The two guards who I had taken apart earlier in the evening were out beating me too. One had a stick, the other kept trying to manufacture kicks (“You should be kicked by shoes”), both took pleasure in showing me that they were beating me up. I was surprised at the venom.

I blocked all attempts at aggression. Kept requesting everyone involved to let it be, to let us go. After it all ended, they pulled us roughly in a corner and the Chairman came close to click both of our swollen faces. He also kept saying things like “Outsiders, Saale Bihari, Yahan aa kar gandugiri karte hain” as he lashed with his feet.  While kneeling down, I noticed that two men had gotten into the crowd, and came close to me to speak. The Chairman was excitedly pointing the two of us out, and the cop who started speaking to me was deeply disappointed that I could speak English and was not a gunda (his words). After asking me to change into another shirt (for which they escorted me to my flat), and telling me things like “Gundey log se aap log kyon lad ke aaye hair? Abhi hum kuch nahi kar sakte jab tak wo case wapas nahi lets. Usko jaake sorry bolo.” (Why did you pick up a fight with ruffians? Now we can’t help you unless he takes the case back. Go and apologize to him). My sister had already started hyperventilating and gotten together a couple of her friends, who were all hyperventilating together. Leaving her (and I insisted that she stay back seeing her condition), we were bundled into a car (the same car that the gorilla had driven himself in), and taken to the police station (as a way to “get out of this situation”).

At the police station, we were taken inside to the station in-charge’s cabin who discussed with the cops in Kannada, didn’t speak a word with us, and we were taken out and asked to go sit by the lock up. The crowd that had earlier beaten us had accompanied us in, and the Chairman, along with someone holding his egotistic balls in his hands was adamant on getting us punished. I later learnt that his wife and kid had been downstairs, had seen him getting beat up.

Sitting there at the corner of the lock up, bruised and hurting, and with a sure scene of spending the night in the lock up behind, I looked up to Ameet and in quick succession, first said sorry, and then said “Bahut maza aaya” (I loved it!). He looked at me and nodded. “Mujhe bhi“, he said.

It was a blur sitting there, a lot of commotion around, every word in Kannada, all of this fuss over us, and we were never ever asked to speak once, never once asked for our version of the story. We pieced together much of the story later. Apparently the Chairman and his cronies had sauntered into the station in-charge’s cabin with a swagger and ordered him to take action against us. The station in-charge had had a bad day at work, and he didn’t like the tone of voice. He instructed the cops to slap both the parties with Section 268, for causing public nuisance. That helped us a hell of a lot, in that it implicated the other party too.

Meanwhile, my sister and her friends arrived and they went into the station in-charge’s cabin and started crying. He threw them out. It was 9 pm. The friend we had summoned came over, though he wasn’t allowed to talk to us. We were pushed into the corner, seated on the floor, like convicted criminals, while those that had beaten us up swarmed around the place. For the entire duration that we were at the police station, about 5 hours, no-one was allowed to speak to us. The report was written in Kannada, and I was summoned to just mention my name, my father’s name, and address.

The friend called over a Municipal corporator (who owed him personal favours). He came over to the police station. He spoke to the cops. He spoke to the other party (and confirmed that they were petty gundas from the locality). Everyone’s tone softened. Money changed hands. Cops benefited from both the parties. The Chairman came over to me to say that I should be calm in life, “nahi to zara sa dimaag kharaab ho to kya ho jaata hai, dekho”. I agreed, apologized again.

The matter was dismissed.

We came back to my house, poured a lot of whisky to mask the pain. We decided that we had been lucky. The surrealism of the public beating (that no-one did anything to stop the proceedings), the shame of it was a good thing. If it was not a public spectacle, if it had not been the basement of my own apartment with about 50-60 of my neighbours watching, if it had been an empty waylaid side-road instead, the end result would have been, could have been way more bloodier.

We were lucky. After being a victim of robbery, five times, after being beaten up publicly, after being abused for being an “outsider” in Bangalore while being kicked, after being forced to spend five hours at the local police station with head bowed in a corner, I was lucky.

The motorcycle still stands at it’s usual spot (I haven’t gone to reassess the damage since that day), without the silencer, those guards are still employed. Nothing changed.

I spent three hours on the phone with my mom (trying to calm her down) the next day. My sister had conveyed every juicy bit. I promised I would do nothing anymore, that I was deeply sorry, that I had been beaten for my troubles and that was prize enough for my troubles.

I was (secretly) proud that I had taken each punch and not fallen down. I did split a tooth though.

———————————–

Postscript:

It is remarkable that I finished writing the above yesterday and read this story in today’s newspaper, Woman groped by mob, slapped by constable after incident

The woman, a theatre artiste and playwright, was driving home from work when she stopped at the traffic light at the junction. A speeding motorcycle rear-ended her car, damaging the bumper. When the woman got down to check the damage, the rider started abusing her using vulgar language. Soon a group of passersby joined him and started teasing and abusing her, she told The Hindu .

The terrified woman saw a traffic policeman standing across the road and rushed to him for help. To her utter shock, not only was he indifferent but he grabbed her by her shoulders and pushed her aside.

Encouraged by this, the mob started groping her. The traumatised woman said: “I tried to explain to the policeman that the rider was at fault, but he was rude.” She quoted the policeman as having told her, “You don’t know Kannada. You don’t belong to this place.” Worse still, he then turned to the erring rider and encouraged him to leave the scene. Through all this, the mob that surrounded her continued to humiliate her, the victim said in her complaint.

Not willing to let off the rider so easily, she mustered enough courage to physically stop the man leaving. At this, the policeman dragged her to the side and slapped her. The woman immediately took out her mobile phone and started taking pictures of the motorcycle rider. Her ordeal then turned worse, when the mob started pulling at her clothes and jeering at her.

While one among the crowd removed his shirt, another man, wearing a lungi, exposed himself, she said. Many in the mob made indecent gestures, she said. In the melee, the rider escaped.

Her trauma lasted some 15 minutes till a patrol vehicle reached the spot and the crowd melted away.

One thought on “2012 Stories : Beat Up Life

  1. Pingback: 2012 Stories : The Reading Flow | Gonzo

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