Monday morning. June 23. 5:10 in the morning. I realize there is no milk in the house to make the morning cup of tea. I think of walking out. Then on a whim, I take the car out. On the way, I see the neighbourhood watchman going back to wherever he goes after his final round. I offer him a lift and he hops in. "Khan Sahib, let us go for a cup of chai." I change my plan from milk to a cup of chai with him. He accepts the invitation.
On the way, he shows me the spot where he sits when he is not doing his rounds. It is a chair outside Sanam Arcade, near the Mozang bus stop, on Ferozpur Road. As he is taking me through his nightly routine, there is a knock on my window and then a hand yanks open the door. The next instance, one boy is pointing a pistol at us and the other demanding my mobile phone. Suddenly, my hands go up in the air, just as in the B-grade movies. Damn. I hope I get out of this one alive.
My next worry is that I have recently acquired the habits encouraged by another medium: the newspapers. After reading countless stories of robberies in the back pages of national dailies, I have stopped carrying my mobile phone at night. Now I am worried that the absent phone may irritate them into shooting me smack in the middle of my forehead. Scary thought. The fact that I am being robbed in the presence of the night watchman is every scarier. Suddenly, Khan Sahib thinks of something to say when they point the pistol at him. "Oh I am just a poor watchman. Don't worry about me." They leave him alone. He steps out of the car and decides to watch from a metre's distance what they do to me.
One guy searches my car for the mobile phone while the other stands pointing his gun at me. The steel barrel of the pistol glints in the beams of trucks coming from Kasur and beyond. Giving up his search for the phone, the retriever turns to me. His trained hands wander in and out of all the pockets of my chinos and bring out all the cash, coins, and used tissue papers I am carrying. He does not bother with counting or separating and thrusts everything down his shirt pockets. A van honks its horn somewhere and, for the first time, I see fear in the expression of the pistol-toting man. "Hurry up," he growls to the retriever, who is busy doing a final check of the glove box. "Ok. That's all I can find," announces the explorer of my car and pockets. With that, they are on their bike, pulling away already.
The first wave of relief is short-lived. After realizing I have been left alive and still with my car, I suddenly have a wish to rev a deadly torque and do a hit-and-run on them. But I am afraid they may hear the groan of the engine coming for them and start shooting at me. But these are afterthoughts, the video-game revenge of the brain trying to normalise its hold on reality. Suddenly I remember Khan Sahib, who is already opening the door and settling back in the car. His face is gleaming. I ask him why he is so happy. He pats the pocket of his shalwar near his crotch: "They did not search me. My mobile is still with me." "Where is your gun?" and "How come I got robbed in the presence of a watchman?" I am trying to hold back my anger. "A gun is only useful if you are the first one pointing at someone's forehead. After that, every other person's gun is useless." I get my share of hold-up wisdom.
Many hours later, searching the internet, I come across something that may be handy after the hold-up: a stun gun that looks exactly like a mobile phone. With two small batteries, this device can generate a non-lethal shock of 800000 volts to stun the person. I sit staring at the computer screen in a post-traumatic haze. Is this another fantasy or the beginning of practical brutalisation of my psyche?
Published in The News on Sunday
dated June 29, 2008