Tuesday 10 August 2021

Garvit Sharma, ShortStory 2021 Longlist


Khatri came to work every day at 8 am and sat within the confines of his 6×6 cubicle, made out of cheap, corrugated plastic, located right at the center of the intersection. He barely had any work to do for the first ninety minutes, which he usually spent scrolling through his social media feed. He did have a lot of work to do during the remaining hours, which he also occasionally spent scrolling through his social media feed, depending on his mood and on the traffic. Today it was New Year’s Eve and the winter chill was, well, chilly. It was the kind of chilly which didn’t really freeze your balls but certainly forced you to come up with your best Kejriwal cosplay. That morning Khatri had wrapped his new crimson muffler (which he had received the previous month for his 32nd birthday) around his neck once, only to realize that three quarters of its length was still dangling from his chest like a pair of, well, unfrozen balls. So, he had wrapped the muffler around his neck a couple more times and had hoped it would shield him from the cold. He had then taken his phone out to click a selfie. His lock screen wallpaper was a photo of him being awarded a trophy by his superior officer. Khatri posted the muffler selfie to his Instagram: #NewMuffler #Hardwork #BeingDutifulForTheNation #Winter.


The cubicle at the intersection did not have a roof and barely kept him warm. His shift had been going on for almost 13 hours now. He had spent most of the day, like any other day, trying to keep the traffic moving in an orderly fashion, occasionally threatening a jaywalker or a wayward motorcyclist with his bamboo lathi. He may have only been a traffic cop but he did wear khaki pants which naturally rendered him prone to using his lathi in not-so-legal ways. In his quest to keep the traffic moving, he had once smacked the rear of an eleven-year-old boy with his lathi ‘ever so gently’, which in police parlance always translates to ‘poori taakat ke saath’. When the little boy had protested, Khatri had slapped him against the back of his head. He had felt a sliver of guilt later that night, but nothing he couldn’t brush off. He had meted out his ‘ever so gently’ treatment to countless people over the seven years of his employment. It was his job after all, or so he thought.

Khatri was waiting for his watch to strike 9, which is when Kumar was supposed to come relieve him of his shift. There was not much traffic on 31st December this year because of the pandemic. Good for me, Khatri thought. He was glad that he’d be spending the arrival of the new year with his family. Being a traffic cop in Uttar Pradesh was a fairly challenging ordeal. Not only did people not move in their designated lanes, they objected when someone told them that they were not moving in their designated lanes. Khatri often thought that the installation of traffic lights would do wonders for his mental health. He could then devote his energy to harassing law abiding citizens on the streets and extracting bribes from them. Not that he ever did so. Harassing law abiding citizens, that is. There were enough rule breakers to extract bribes from, why bother the 2, or maybe 1, person(s) who actually followed the rules? Khatri was quite upright in that regard.

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket at six minutes to nine and whipped it out. He was expecting it to be a text from Kumar, who was probably going to be late for his shift again. Fucking Kumar, Khatri thought. However, it was a notification from Zomato which read ‘2020 ho gaya purana, ghar pe khana kyu hai pakana?’ He was convinced that both Swiggy and Zomato had hired the dumbest intern to draft their notifications. Whoever this intern was, he most certainly deserved to be smacked ever so gently on his rear with a lathi. He was in the process of putting the phone back in his pocket when he heard the loud screeching of tires and the subsequent (and even louder) sound of a crash come from behind. He turned around immediately and noticed that a black sedan had crashed into an electricity pole. The pole had got bent at a sharp angle from the impact of the car and was lurching dangerously over the vehicle. Sparks emanated from where the wires were attached to the top of the pole and cascaded down towards the car dangerously. Khatri rushed towards the vehicle, hoping that the occupant was not injured. He noticed that the car was a Jaguar. He reached the front door and peeped inside, only to find that there was no one there. Surely this is not a self-driving car? Those things will never work on Indian roads, Khatri thought aimlessly. At that point the pole suddenly came crashing down and smashed the windscreen of the car along with the entirety of the roof. He walked around the car, trying to look for the person who was driving it. He saw a boy, not more than sixteen years of age, lying supinely and helplessly on the pavement alongside the front passenger door. He was trying to call someone on his latest iPhone but no one answered from the other end. Khatri gently approached him and said hi.

‘You little piece of shit!’, the boy retorted. Khatri was taken aback.

‘I’m sorry?’ Khatri replied

‘You caused the accident!’

The cop had never been so confused before in his life. He decided to call for help before talking to the boy who had now started bleeding from his left ear. This could be the sign of a concussion. Khatri called the emergency number and was informed that an ambulance was on the way.

‘How the fuck am I responsible for the accident?’ Khatri now focused his attention on the boy.

‘You were looking at your damned phone instead of controlling the traffic!’

‘There were no other vehicles on the road. How exactly was I supposed to stop you from crashing into a goddamn pole?’

‘The car is ruined. Dad will kill me.’ cried the boy.

‘What’s your name?’ Khatri asked.

‘Never mind what my name is, dumbass’ the boy replied.

‘Look, there is no need to be an asshole right now. You are bleeding from one of your ears, which means you might have a concussion. Your right leg is bent at an angle right legs are not supposed to be bent at. Or left legs. Or hands, for that matter. I suspect it is broken. Did you crash against the steering wheel?’

The boy nodded feebly, losing some of his arrogance upon hearing the words ‘concussion’, ‘bent leg’ and ‘asshole’.

‘This means some of your ribs might be broken too. You are not exactly in a position to be sassy with me right now. I will ask you one more time, what is your fucking name?’

‘Ranveer’, the boy replied.

Why am I not surprised? Khatri thought. A spoilt little brat who drives a Jaguar and blames others for the disasters he got himself into is named Ranveer. Why am I not surprised, indeed?

‘How old are you, son?’

‘I’m 21’.

‘Don’t bullshit me, you little prick. How old are you exactly?’

Ranveer looked at Khatri, almost pleading with his eyes, begging the cop to not take his investigation into that direction.

‘I’m 18’.

‘Nuh-uh. No way you are of legal age. I’ll ask one final time, and if you don’t tell the truth I’ll walk away, call off the ambulance and leave you lying here like the little piece of shit that you are. How old are you?’

‘I’m 15’, Ranveer replied.

‘Attaboy, now we are talking.’

Khatri pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pockets and lit one up. He tilted his head towards the sky and billowed the tobacco smoke into the air through his nostrils. So much for my new year plans, cursed Khatri under his breath. He was done with the cigarette and was about to light up a second one when he heard someone shout his name from behind. He turned around and saw Kumar rushing towards him.

‘What the fuck happened here?’ Kumar asked breathlessly.

‘This boy here rammed his car into a pole.’

Kumar looked at the boy writhing in pain on the pavement, pitying him.

‘He doesn’t look very old, does he?’

‘Fucker’s only fifteen.’

‘Fifteen and driving a Jaguar? At that age my father wouldn’t even let me leave home after 8.’

‘Kumar, if your father had his way, he wouldn’t even let you leave home now.’

‘Shut the fuck up. Have you called for help?’

‘Yeah, ambulance is on its way.’


The ambulance arrived, but like all things India, it took its time. Two paramedics scrambled out from the rear of the white Maruti Omni along with a stretcher.

‘Where’s the victim?’ the taller of the two asked.

Khatri and Kumar pointed to other side of the car where Ranveer was lying, who had now started bleeding from the other ear as well. Both the cops were now sharing a cigarette.

‘Those things aren’t good for you’ the shorter paramedic blurted out.

‘Not exactly the right time for you to be giving unsolicited advice, shithead’ Kumar replied, sounding irritated. ‘And what took you so fucking long?’

‘There was a lot of traffic’ the I-judge-people-who-smoke-especially-if-they-are-cops paramedic replied. He then lifted the boy with the help of his partner onto the stretcher. All four of them then lifted the stretcher and deposited it in the back of the van.

‘Bullshit. There’s barely any traffic today. What took you so long?’ Khatri said, feeling more and more exasperated. No one is willing to answer any questions correctly in the first attempt today.

The two paramedics looked at each other, feeling uneasy.

‘You can answer me later. Start the van.’

The paramedics jumped into the rear of the van and Khatri went on to sit next to the driver.

‘Why are you going?’ Kumar asked Khatri.

‘My shift is over anyway. Boy’s only fifteen, man. I think I should be with him. I’ll call his father on the way and then go home.’

‘Should I come too?’ Kumar inquired.

‘No, you do your shift’

‘There’s barely any traffic.’

‘Just stay here. I’ll handle this.’


The van started moving slowly, as if it was going on a leisurely morning walk. The engine protested under the constant pressure of acceleration. Too bad we can’t take the Jaguar, Khatri thought listlessly. The driver pressed down on the accelerator and the van found some pace eventually.

‘Which hospital are we going to?’ Khatri asked

‘District Hospital’ replied the driver.

‘So that should be around 30 minutes from here?’

‘In this van? 45’ the driver replied.


He turned around to the three people sitting at the back. He had sufficient questions for all of them to last 45 minutes, maybe longer. He first asked Ranveer for his father’s contact number, information which the boy was not willing to divulge. Sadly, he was in such a poor state that the lathi treatment could not be used on him. Khatri applied some more pressure and Ranveer relented. The cop called his father and informed him to reach the District Hospital immediately. Khatri was condescendingly informed by the voice on the other end that his son would not be treated in a random sarkari hospital and that it was Khatri’s ‘duty’ to take Ranveer to the nearest ‘state-of-the-art’ hospital. Hospital made by the State? Nope. Hospital made by private firm which is State-of-the-art? Hell yeah. Khatri informed the driver to change his route and take the ambulance to Fortis Hospital. The journey to Fortis would take about an hour, he was informed by the driver.

‘Amazing’, Khatri said.

The two paramedics at the back were busy implementing first-aid procedures on the boy.

‘You can answer my question now. What took you so long?’

The taller paramedic replied, ‘There was no petrol in the ambulance. Had to send someone to get it from the nearby petrol pump.’

‘Fucking brilliant this country is, isn’t it?’ Khatri criticized, being the most honest and competent cop in the country that he was. ‘No wonder we belong in the third world. No one wants to do their job properly.’

The ambulance moved along its route, zig-zagging its way through the traffic it encountered intermittently. He then turned to the boy and asked him how he got hold of the Jaguar. Ranveer informed him that it was a gift from his father.

‘You got a Jaguar for your fifteenth birthday?’



‘Twelfth. Got it three years ago, have been driving it ever since.’

Wow, Khatri breathed. When he was twelve, the most interesting object he used to play with was his dick. And this boy was driving a Jaguar. And also probably playing with his dick, who knows. Maybe that’s what caused the accident.

‘So how did you crash into the fucking pole?’ Khatri asked.

‘Was using my phone’ the boy replied.

‘Of course. And you accused me of causing the accident.’ Khatri laughed.

‘I’m sorry’ Ranveer said.

Khatri had not expected an apology from the boy, and was pleasantly surprised. He decided not to harass the child anymore. He would try to treat him politely for the remainder of the journey.


The ambulance reached the hospital and drove into the winding driveway. Khatri hopped out of the van and helped the two paramedics pull out the stretcher. Having done so, he backed away and let the two men push the stretcher into the hospital building. He had just lit up a cigarette when he saw a man in his mid-forties charge towards him like a bull. Before he could move an inch, a tightly clenched fist had landed squarely on his jaw. Khatri lost his balance and toppled over backwards. He tried to get up but was too disoriented to win the battle against gravity. He stayed on the ground, which is exactly what a person does when he is unable to stand. It was at this point that the attacker probably realized that he had other limbs which could be used for senseless violence. The man brought down his foot with full force against the cop’s right thigh. Khatri shrieked and cursed in pain. The man didn’t stop and kept on pounding until Khatri managed to grab hold of his leg.

‘You caused my son’s accident, you motherfucker!’ screamed the man.

‘What the fuck is wrong with you and your son, huh? I didn’t cause his accident! He crashed against a pole!’ Khatri shouted, pulling at the man’s foot and causing him to disbalance.

‘Nonsense! There were other cars on the road and you failed to control the traffic because you were busy on your fucking phone!’ the man yanked his foot away and took a few steps back.

This entire family is mad. Surely there must be a psych ward at this hospital. The father-son duo is in urgent need of treatment, or being put down. One of the two. Preferably the latter.

‘When did your son tell you all this?’

The father was is no mood to answer these questions. He spat on Khatri and started rushed towards the hospital to meet his son.

‘There’s a fucking pandemic going on, you son of a bitch!’

But the man was gone. He had disappeared behind the opaque front doors of the building. Khatri tried to stand up on his feet. He was still groggy from the blow he had received on his jaw. He crawled to a nearby bench and propped himself up with immense difficulty, his right thigh almost snapping under the pressure. He just sat there, breathing heavily, and touched his jaw. It had swollen considerably. He felt the warm trickle of fluid against his neck and traced his fingers along the stream. He looked at his fingers and noticed blood.

What a fucking day, Khatri thought. Family must be waiting for me at home and here I am, sitting on a hospital bench, bruised and bleeding. He pulled out his phone. The large black screen came to life and he saw the photo of him receiving the trophy from his boss. The little plaque on the trophy read ‘Awarded to Gopal Khatri for being an honest and diligent traffic cop’. All he had done to warrant this award was call an ambulance for an old man who had collapsed from his bicycle a couple years ago during winters. He had helped the man sit on a bench and had given him some water. The activity had been recorded on a CCTV camera and the clipping had been shared widely on social media. Hoping to cash in on the event, the government had given him a trophy and promoted him out of turn. It was nothing but a case of out-and-out PR done for the purpose of refurbishing the image of the traffic police. When did the boy text his father? Khatri thought. Must have been during the journey to the hospital. So much for that apology the fucker had managed to make. He called his younger brother on the phone and asked him to pick him up from Fortis Hospital. Naturally, he got swarmed with several questions. Why are you at the hospital? You sound hurt, Bhaiya! Is everything ok?

Khatri screamed into the microphone, ordered his brother to shut up and asked him to come immediately. He disconnected the call and put the phone back in his pocket. Several minutes passed away and Khatri grew more and more impatient. His ego had never been bruised this way before, neither had been his body. No one had been so violent with him like this in the past. He thought of that little eleven-year-old boy he had once smacked with his lathi for no justifiable reason. He felt a small pang of remorse welling up inside him. He thought of the old man he had given some water to. Any feeling of pride refused to take shape in his heart. He felt cold. That is when he saw the boy’s father come out of the hospital and walk towards him. Khatri had regained some of his strength by now and was seething with rage. His thigh hurt excruciatingly but he managed to limp towards the man. He smacked the man in his belly with his closed fist, ever so gently. The man screamed and fell backwards.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ the man said

‘Another sham apology!’ Khatri screamed.

He was about to kick the man on his thigh, exactly where he himself had been kicked multiple times earlier, but he stopped midway when he heard what the man said next.

‘I’m sorry, my son lied to me! He lied about you causing the accident. There were no other cars on the road. I’m sorry.’

Khatri dropped down to the ground. Both men just sat there, writhing in pain because of the unnecessary violence they had inflicted on each other.


Khatri was sitting shotgun in the silver Wagon R. ‘No questions’ is the first thing he had said to his brother upon seeing him. His brother suggested that he should get some treatment at the same hospital. Fuck it, Khatri said. They were on their way home. Khatri had always imagined himself to be an honest cop. This New Year’s Eve was different, though. Each blow he had received from the boy’s father had reminded him of the countless times he had abused his power and used his lathi on innocent people. Each blow had successively cracked his self-image of being an honest cop. He couldn’t stop thinking about the night he had received that trophy. How he had reached home from the ceremony that day, and had kept the trophy in his drawing room cabinet for every visitor to see and admire. How proud he had been. He had known that receiving the award was a PR stunt by the government, but deep inside he had always felt that he had actually deserved it. He didn’t feel deserving of it today.

The Wagon R stopped outside his house. His parents were waiting inside, probably worried sick. The two brothers got out of the car. The younger one rang the doorbell. Khatri knew his parents were fully capable of carrying out interrogations which could put CBI officers to shame. He braced himself for the thousand questions he would have to answer. And he would answer all of them, but not before he removed the trophy from the cabinet

No comments:

Post a Comment