Shashi Warrier | No bump in the road if the better half rides...

Our lives have changed so much since the pandemic started that some things we thought normal a few years ago seem extraordinary now

These are strange times. Our lives have changed so much since the pandemic started that some things we thought normal a few years ago seem extraordinary now. Every trip to town, a trip that we made casually until early 2020, is now an expedition that we plan like a trip to the North Pole. We stock up on masks and hand sanitiser and air purifiers, and plan our stops to minimise exposure to the virus. We still manage to get into trouble, but I find reassurance in one thing that hasn’t changed.

Let me explain. A few days ago, my wife Prita and I went to town after a gap of a few weeks. We use our four-year-old car so little these days and take so much care over Covid-related precautions that we sometimes miss changes in traffic regulations. Prita was driving, as usual, because I prefer two wheels to four, and we were both surprised when a traffic policeman signalled us to pull over.

We stopped, and Prita rolled down the window before rummaging in her handbag for her licence and other papers. The policeman, who had taken up position by the door on the driver’s side, took one look at her and politely told her he didn’t need to check her papers. The number plate, he said, was defective, for it didn’t have a nationality marker, and there was a fine of Rs 500. After she paid the fine, he gave us a receipt, telling her very considerately that if another cop stopped us for the same offence in the next 24 hours, we wouldn’t have to pay another fine.

Then he took a walk around the car, inspecting both number plates closely, and told us that only the front number plate was defective: we’d replaced the rear plate, when it developed a crack sometime last year, and it was in line with the new rules.

While we were driving around trying to find a place where we could get the defective number plate replaced, I couldn’t help remembering other occasions when Prita got preferential treatment from policemen. The earliest memory was from over two decades ago, when we lived in Coimbatore. We were on a bike, riding out to Guruvayur to visit her mother. Hoping to beat the rush and get there for breakfast, we left home at the crack of dawn. At the outskirts of the city, though, we ran into a traffic policeman stopping passing vehicles to check for papers.

This was in the days before they got rigorous about insurance and emissions, so all we needed were my driving licence and the bike’s registration certificate. We had neither. Due to a strange combination of circumstances and forgetfulness, I didn’t have a valid driving licence, and I’d forgotten the bike’s registration documents at home. There was a line of a few vehicles ahead of us, waiting to be checked, and the policeman took his time getting to us. By the time he arrived, Prita had raised the visor of her helmet. The cop took a good look at us.He saw a fat bearded man and a slim woman, kitted out with helmets and gloves and jackets, on what was, by the standards of the day, a powerful bike, all loaded up with luggage for a long ride.

He looked dubiously at me for a moment, then at the growing line of vehicles behind us, waiting to be checked. Then he decided to save some time. “Do you have your papers with you?” he asked.

I didn’t want to lie, so I shook my head in a vague fashion that could mean yes or no. He interpreted it to mean that yes, I had my papers with me, and he waved us on. I couldn’t help thinking then that if I’d been alone, he’d have taken a different view.

And then there was that time a few years ago when we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant in Mangalore. I had a couple of drinks with dinner, but we weren’t worried because she was driving anyway. We finished up a little before eleven, when the restaurant was due to shut its doors, and left a few minutes later, full of good food and good spirits, looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

A kilometre from the restaurant, at a major traffic junction — with very little traffic because of the lateness of the hour — was a police checkpoint where a group of policemen were checking whether drivers of passing vehicles had been drinking or not. Prita stopped close to a bright street lamp, and the interior of the car was clearly visible to the policeman who stepped up to check us, breathalyser in hand. He saw Prita in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger seat and jumped to the conclusion that she was driving because I’d had a couple and she hadn’t. He waved us on, hurrying to check the next car.

Home was only a couple of kilometres away, and in just a few minutes after the leaving the checkpoint we were near the lane to our house. The street lamp at the mouth of the lane was off and the approach was pitch dark. As we approached, Prita complained that it was so dark she couldn’t see where to turn. It was only then that the two of us realised that she’d forgotten to turn on the car’s headlamps. We’d driven all the way from the restaurant in the dark, and even the policeman at the checkpoint hadn’t bothered about it!

So, like I said, one thing that hasn’t changed is that when Prita and I are together, traffic policemen don’t hassle us. It seems she’s my respectable half, and I’m not complaining!

Next Story