Category Archives: Crime

The ‘lowly’ crime

If all crimes that survive and thrive in Mumbai were categorized into some sort of hierarchy, ‘chain snatching’ would be right below the bottom of the pile. Pick pocketing is now somehow associated with nostalgia, something that happened in Bombay. Chain snatching however is flung about like an example of all that is wrong with crime reporting, like it brings disrepute to the fraternity; like some gangrene infested finger that should someday be relieved if crime reporting is to be taken seriously.

There have been innumerable instances when I have heard this: ‘yeh chain snatching cover karne ki liye main journalism me nahi aaya/aayi thi’ while ranting about reporting. At times, the voice that I heard was also one emanating from my head. It is however one of the best things that can happen to you if you have to make up your mind to quit crime reporting, it’s the lowest denominator.

In fact apart from reporters, much to my surprise I have heard a ‘deskie’ who after quitting said ‘I did not go abroad to edit chain snatching stories’. So apparently chain snatching was all that was wrong with the world. Maybe one of the recent press club election nominees could have promised, ‘If I am elected, I will pass a resolution to ban reporting on chain snatching to get the votes of the crime reporters lobby.’ Maybe?

chain snatching

A cop once gave me a solution that he believed would help everyone: the cops, the journalists and the chain snatchers themselves. While over casual conversation when I asked him about the rising instances of chain snatching he smiled, move forward as if telling a secret that would be lost if said loudly, and whispered with an air of Confucian wisdom, ‘aap log report karna band kar do, chain snatching apne aap band ho jayegi’.

I momentarily thought that apart from dry days (story wise), I would not mind it and the cops would ofcourse be more than happy. But his notion of chain snatchers not snatching chains because we don’t report on it, like somehow they will forget about the ‘art’ reminded me of Gabrial Garcia Marquez and the stuff of magic realism. Later thankfully the cop guffawed like a buffoon indicating ‘he thought’ it as a joke.

Personally while reporting on the crime beat, I had my own struggles with chain snatching. Apart from the very many occasions when I have ‘gone with the crowd’, I also felt that it was one of the biggest crimes plaguing the city then. Chain snatching was so prevalent the police commissioners were talking about it publicly as their biggest headache.

I remember this phase when this movement ‘report chain snatching’ carried out a coup in my head and I recollect feeling good after I had reported a package – two-three stories- on the same. I remember telling friends and colleagues with missionary zeal how it was so important to report on it.

Then however after I had switched from the crime to the court beat, and I heard a press release was issued for the arrest of two chain snatchers, it tickled me. ‘Press release for chain snatchers arrest? Seriously?,’ I questioned myself slightly amused. The law of averages I realized had worked on me over time; the coup had failed, the zeal had gone.


Ways of seeing

There are at least five different ways in which tragedy can strike me at any given place at any given point. I think. May be, and most likely I am more paranoid than others in my clan, but reporting on the dark side of human nature comes along with its own baggage I would say. Scarred is too big a term but crime reporting will ensure that you know of many more ways in which things can go wrong, than you did before which is not exactly a good thing.

I remember having gone to this hill station with friends and found this beautiful isolated spot. I sat there for a few minutes taking  in the view, till my sub conscious mind, that by now has become a receptacle of all things bad, played spoilsport. I thought of how someone could come on a bike, snatch my mobile wallet etc and flee. Or they could push me so that I do not reveal to the cops how they looked. While I sat for some more time, the possibility being thrown up at that almost picture perfect moment was irritating.

Every time I pass the road connecting Marine Drive to Churchgate station, and cross a three star hotel located there, I remember how someone had jumped from the terrace and committed suicide. When I pass Hindu colony in Dadar, I do not fail to mention to someone, if anyone is along, or make a mental note about it myself for the umpteenth time how a woman who stayed all alone at an empty bungalow and was murdered. I am sure most of my clan have such ‘landmarks’, unwillingly.

In the backdrop of these things, the fact that my reference point, while taking directions for a place, is the local police station, more or less does not even deserve a mention. Like at most times, it was while answering a friend who asked me if reporting on crime affects me, that I realized a few things myself.

On most days crime reporters report on the dark side of human nature, which in comparison to the overall population is an aberration. But reporting on these aberrations everyday, over a period of time, kind of blurs that line and one, at a certain level, begins to think of it as a rule. That such things happen everywhere all the time. It would help the cops a great deal if we all thought this way !!

How many times have I, while entering my building or relatives building, tried to make a mental image of the building watchman, local help following the number of cases I reported in which a domestic help or the watchman turned out to be involved in a crime. In one way it makes one overcautious and can come in handy. But that is one way of looking at things. You get to see the others side, when you look at a serene view and it reminds you of a crime story.

Murders and beyond

It was 9pm on a Sunday. Its not that I like murders – or any form for crime for that matter – just to set the record straight, but when you come to know about a crime just when you are about to leave for the day; your wrath for the criminal grows many times over.

I was just about to leave office when news started floating that a man had been murdered at Dharavi. I was agitated for a moment, but then my industrious self got the better of me and I quickly called up the Dharavi police station to confirm the news. It has been more than a month, but the call bemuses me till now.

I did not want to directly call up the senior inspector or other senior officers as it was 9pm on a Sunday, and apparently people who are supposed to ‘have a life’ are assumed to be doing something out-of-this- world at that time of that day, and by extension are not be disturbed unless its something urgent. I was not sure a murder classified as something urgent for police officers after a few years in service or for us journalists after a few years into the profession.

So I tried the police station landline number which on most occasions turns out to be worthless. That bored guy- always the one who will answer your call at a police station landline will make one of the few excuses: I have just come for shift now and don’t know what crap you’re talking about or murder here: you must be kidding me or yes there is a murder but I cannot give you information, please call the senior (if I had to call him, I would not have ‘bothered’ you duh)or yes a murder has taken place and I have the information, but please come to the police station personally and get it.

Reporter: Sir my office is at (name the farthest place from the police station, if it is Colaba police station you say your office is at Borivali and vice versa). Bored Cop: So send someone from your office. By now pissed reporter: wants to say yes I am sending this pigeon from my office that has the paper logo embedded on its right wing, to help you identify which paper it is. Just fold the FIR copy to bits and tie it around its neck but says: OK Fine. Since it is late and by the time I would reach there the police station, edition would go to bed, so I thought what the hell lets give the landline a chance.

To my surprise the guy who picked up; I don’t remember the name now; but you can call him PSI Waghmare, More, Patil whatever makes him look like a gentle and helpful cop, because he turned out to be one. Errr.. for the innumerable Waghmare’s who have been helpful to be lets call him PSI Waghmare.

So PSI Waghmare has some excitement stored for me on a late idle Sunday night. This is how the conversation goes

Waghmare: Yes, a murder has been reported here. Take down the details.

Me: When where how what …etc (and get most of the information. One youngster has stabbed another one). Things go fine till I ask him WHY?

Waghmare: laughs….you asked Why?blog

Me: (surprised at the amusement)..yes. Why did he stab him?

Waghmare: (husky voice tone matching Al Pacino is a Son-I’ll-tell-you-it’s-a-tough-world-out-there) what is your name you said. (Mohamed). Aadnav (surname) ? (Mohamed Thaver), Thaver saab I have been working at Dharavi police station for the past three years. During the first year, whenever a murder took place, I would be keen to find out the motive. Why was he murdered? But now experience has taught me, (and then came pure gold) that here in Dharavi saab people don’t need a motive to kill other people. It has been a while now, and I have stopped asking for motives in murders. Some guy who is high on drugs is nudged by someone else, gets into an argument, someone fishes out a chopper and before you know it there is blood on the ground.

Me: Still I mean err…what led to the fight?

Waghmare: Don’t know son. It will be clear sometime later. And like I said it is not something that interests me. (Just when I am about to judge him) Poverty makes people do all sorts of things saab. I sometimes feel bad for people here but then this is how it is. Chalo saab I have to complete the panchnama (making a list of the things found on the murder spot in presence of five witnesses).

After he hangs up I am dazed for a minute for two. I write the copy. A part of it reads: The Dharavi police are now investigating what led to the fight, as currently the provocation is not clear. Not sure Waghmare would approve.

The ‘criminal’ lexicon

“Mohamed, will you do the bank robbery, as he is busy ?”, our immediate head asked me the other day. I nodded, “No problem, give me half an hour, I’ll do it”crime

Then I turned around to my computer. Turned around and wondered. Wondered that if the conversation was heard by around 99 per cent of the population, they would either think I was part of some weird social experiment a la clockwork orange or that I – and my boss- needed some serious counseling, quick.  

Crime reporter’s lingo is stuff that would make them seem more insensitive than the hardened criminals they usually write about, and on most occasions bordering on the loony.

My mail inbox screams of suffering, to put it dramatically. The subject line would normally read Kurla murder, Ghatkopar theft and so on and so forth. And then the messages exchanged between crime reporters are not things you want to read first thing in the morning.

“Buddy, I have been told to make this Matunga robbery big, will you do the Kurla theft for me,” is a routine example. “Of course I will, and take half of the stolen booty from both sides,” one could ideally say if you are a criminal. But you are not. So then of course there is no stolen booty, as a reporter, there are stories and there are follow ups and if the police are in a good mood, they will solve the case and a press conference will be called for.

Scandalizing further is the desperation that gets into my breed when criminals decide to take it easy once in a while and there is nothing to report. A routine conversation with a cop would go something like
Hassled reporter, “Sir kuch hain kya?”
Bored cop: “Sab thanda hain”
Hassled reporter: “Aisa kaise chalega Sir” (although said with a mock joking demeanor, the reporter knows how serious he/she is)
Bored cop: “Arey accha hain na, shanti rehne do”
Hassled reporter: ‘Come and tell my boss that’ (internal dialogue ofcourse)

While on most occasions we are reprimanded by our colleagues – and on some occasions rightly so – to not behave like vultures and ‘have some sensitivity’, at times it becomes hard to explain that when crime becomes a daily acquaintance, things shock you less over a period of time, which is not necessarily  a good thing. But then every once in a while, it is not a ’crime’ to look at the lighter side of your profession.