Sunday dusk, at the Marina beach. Near the police booth next to the Gandhi statue. A lady was dissolving into hysterics. An occasional gasping howl.
Most of us didn't know what was going on. Maybe somebody had stolen her purse. Or worse, molested her.
The young policemen next to her looked about helplessly. Someone gave her a bottle of water, which she gulped; but spilt most of it on the grass.
There was a man holding a child next to her. He was quietly talking to another policeman. The lady started howling and ran here and there among the grass, screaming at the sky and the sea.
I looked at her in confusion, as did some of the public. My cousin's wife, standing next to me, muttered, "I think she lost a kid".
Oh God. The man with the small child must be the father. He has to look for his other child, without losing his grip on this one. Or his grip on sanity, as his wife was slowly going to pieces.
A sea of humanity, full of life, our beloved Marina, suddenly seemed a terrifying dark abyss. What do you do in this scenario? Could the police lock down the beach? Not a chance. Could they search for and find the child? What are the odds? Could we help? Or would we make it worse, if we tried?
The policemen must see something like this every time there is a large public gathering. What would be the psychological effect on them, if they had to see or experience something like this once or twice a month?
Our media, social consciousness, society often portray the police as heartless or brutal. Or incompetent. Or corrupt.
The woman at the beach had come a complete circle, still shaking and in tears. The man with the child was just standing there and slowly looking about. There were two policemen, one inside, one outside the booth doing nothing. Is our media and film industry correct? Are these guys in khaki uniforms just thugs working for white veshti crooks?
I remembered a school day incident when I came home at 8pm instead of 4.30 because I was angry with my father for scolding me severely that morning. I only returned home because I didn't know where else to go. My anger hadn't cooled, I wasn't hungry, I wasn't tired. I came back home because I didn't know what else to do. I spent the time between 4 and 8 in Nageshvara Rao Park. I rarely ever went inside the park, even though I walked past it back from school every evening. My favorite place was the playground across my house. If my parents had to search for me, where would they look?
Anyway, when I returned home, my father said nothing. I don't remember his expression. My mother wondered why I was so late but immediately laid out a plate and served dinner. I don't remember either parents' expression. I was too self absorbed in my own righteousness and justified anger. Only my grandmother was expressive, but I only vaguely remember her happiness. It is one of the great fortunes of my life that I don't remember much about the incident.
All this flashed through my mind as the drama played out on the beach. I wanted to leave, I didn't want to know how this tragedy would unfold. That kid would never be found... He would be exploited by a beggar gang or worse a criminal gang. Or worse.....Irresponsible parents, useless police, I thought. Even if they wanted to help what the hell could they do?
A policeman in a khaki uniform came running up the grass with a child in his arm. The woman screamed at the child in Telugu. I don't know the words, but we all understood......Where did your run away...after all, its the child's fault, he was irresponsible.
Apparently some of our police can do the impossible. They can find a needle in a haystack, a lost child in a sea of humanity, in the dusk, in fading light, when we can barely see each other.
There was no applause. Nobody yelled at the woman. The father didn't collapse in emotion. The rescued child didn't cry. The policemen did not get any public appreciation. No cameras flashed though everyone had a mobile phone. No journalist showed up. The policemen didn't break out into smiles of relief and pat each other on the back. The watching people went back to their previous activities.
And we left.
We simply left.