Heading out of Guwahati, the state capital of Assam, I was flagged down by a police officer standing beside the highway in the shade of his truck. Normally roadside police stops range from a minor inconvenience to moderately enjoyable. They actually flag me down simply because I'm more interesting than most vehicles and they're bored. Almost all of my interactions with the state have been surprisingly pleasant, even in the notoriously corrupt central Asian republics. I sometimes even get a cup of tea, and Assam is famous for tea, so I slowed myself to a halt.
This guy though was immediately behaving aggressively. Without responding to my greeting, he demanded to know where I was going and where I'd come from. Following my explanation He grunted disapprovingly and began trying to open one of my panniers. I got off the bike, opened it for him and asked what it was he was looking for. Ignoring my question entirely, he started firing off some more of his own about the bike and the luggage, which I dutifully answered. He continued to try to poke around in my bags, which I asked him to stop because he was being ham-fisted about it. He made me show him the contents of another pannier, then another, then my bar bag, which he again tried to reach around in. I was getting irritated by his attitude and demanded to know what he was actually looking for and his reason for stopping me, it was clearly just because I was a tourist. We both knew full well I wasn't a terrorist.
He pretended not to understand my question and continued to poke at things unproductively. He moved back to the (already concluded) interrogation about my stay in India so I voluntarily showed him my passport and visa, pointing to the fact that I had a valid visa, stamped and in date, and beyond that he could kiss my arse. Looking at it wasn't enough for him though, he wanted to hold it. I politely refused “I'll hold onto this thanks mate. I don't really trust you and, if I'm honest, I don't really like you.”. My patience had already run out.
Officer “Jeherul Islam Beg”, as his name badge read, then demanded to see the photos on my camera, I complied and immediately felt dirty for agreeing to this unjustified order. He started asking questions about the people in some of the pictures, I told him they were other cyclists I'd met, “you said you are alone” he remarked, “I am.” I said, I couldn't be bothered to explain that there are other cyclists and that I might have met some of them between England and India. He asked me how much my camera was worth so I ended the slide-show and told him I was going, as this search had no purpose and I only expected this level of crap in Central Asia, where, ironically, I didn’t actually get it. He moved in front of my bike, held the handlebars with both hands, looked at me and said “money”.
I had had a feeling from the outset that things were heading in this direction.
“I've got about fifteen hundred rupees and twenty US dollars” I said, as if I understood his single-word statement as merely a query regarding how much I was in possession of.
He tried again; “GIVE me money”.
“Nope. That ain't happening. I don't owe you any money”.
“Give me money and you can go.”.
“I'm going to go anyway. I was actually on my way to the police station. While I'm there I'll report you too.” I pointed to his name badge to remind him he was identifiable.
“No report. Give me money.”
“Listen, I've done nothing wrong, but if you think I have to pay something, then OK, arrest me. We'll go to the station and I'll pay there.”
He got more aggressive and a little desperate, “Give me MONEY” he barked.
“ARREST ME” I replied again.
He took his hands off my bars, possibly to take his aviators off to show how serious he was with some man-on-man eye contact, but I didn't hang around to find out, I pushed past him back onto the highway, hoping he didn't shoot me in the back.
Within a kilometre of our altercation, still fuming from the experience, I happened upon a police station. There's quite a few of them dotted along the highways. This one was signposted as Police Superintendent’s Office, which was nice. I bounced angrily down the gravel slope at speed, locked my brakes, skidded the bike round and parked neatly in a single swoop amongst a row of motorbikes. I was quite pleased with the maneuver and secretly hoped someone had been watching. I located an officer who spoke a bit of English and he led me upstairs into an office where I described my experience to who I believed to be the Superintendent, he was interested in my story and got me to fill in a little form. I was then taken to another room, which turned out to be the office of the actual SI. Who turned out to be female.
I hope my surprise at her gender was undetectable. If not I feel a bit bad. I was shocked to see a woman in a position of authority in India, it's not that I feel it is a role that should be commanded only by men. I've barely seen any women in charge of motor vehicles or shops here, let alone a police force. She took my complaint seriously and called some people. I couldn't understand what she was saying but I could tell she wasn't best pleased. Putting the phone down she told me she was unhappy that this had happened and promised it would be dealt with.
Walking back to my bike I marvelled at my parking. It was so perfectly parallel to the other bikes in the row, I questioned whether I really had done it in such slick fashion. I was also wondering whether any real justice would come of me bothering to take this time out of my day; it was getting late and I still needed to find a hotel in the city. Whilst I readied myself to hit the road a truck appeared through the gate. I hung around to watch as my nemesis climbed down and started to walk towards the stairs. He tried to avoid acknowledging my presence and there was an uncomfortable silence. Or there would have been, if I'd not been heckling him on his walk of shame.
“Hello tough guy! I think your boss wants a word!” I grinned. “She is pissed mate, she's gonna throw the book at you.”. He ignored me. But I could tell from his demeanor that he knew it was true. I was satisfied, so I left. Hoping he didn't shoot me in the back.