Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Good night and take care... (just a bad dream)

Last week, we heard the tragic news of an attack that left my grandaunt fatally wounded and my granduncle fighting for his life. Someone broke into their house in Lucknow and bludgeoned them to death, even as my cousins slept in a room next door. I am still unable to come to grips with the absurdity of this violence. Did someone go this far only to "decamp" with a few thousands worth of cash and gold? What did such a docile, retired and charming couple do to deserve such a ghastly end?

Today my dad called to say that a cabbie for Wipro BPO suddenly accosted him in Pune and accused him of bashing into his cab. As evidence, he pointed to the missing rear-view glass. Oddly enough, there was not a scratch on dad's car and neither did he experience any "contact". The behaviour and circumstances of the accusation pointed to a well-planned extortion attempt. Thankfully, the cabbie was forced to retreat when the security and other people from the apartment complex came around to support dad.

Under the trying circumstances, dad did not think to take the cab's number or driver details. He did, however, note the ID card details of the other person in the cab. He did not look very presentable but carried a Wipro employee ID card. We thought the matter was closed and all's well that ended well.

At 10 in the night, the cabbie landed up at the doorstep of this old couple. What kind of security we pay for, that allows anyone to merely walk up 5 floors late at night, is a separate post. How the cabbie discovered where my dad lived is another scary thought. But there he was. Once again, dad decided not to get intimidated by someone clearly out to play the aggressor. Once again, a bit of yelling and crowd-gathering made the cabbie beat a retreat. Once again, the shaken parents did not get his details or even a cell-phone mug-shot. They just shooed him away and locked themselves in.

It is now past midnight. I am 1000 miles away from those who protected me all their lives. The people I love most in this world are asleep in the next room. The people I love more than most are, probably, tossing in their beds... their hearts skipping a beat at every rustle and noise in the darkness. All I can do is... nothing!

In India, going to the cops is worse than facing the mafia-- so that is not an option. The only security is anonymity. Today, my parents lost their cloak of invisibility. If the person was indeed from Wipro, we are hoping a call to their helpdesk will sort it out in the morning. If he was a ruffian posing as a cabbie, will we live in daily fear of his footsteps? His visit to the house was a clear message.

In the best case, he will take the cash tomorrow and leave us alone. In the best case, he will damage our car and leave us alone.

Until then, a most peace less night awaits us all. This is the land where I pay taxes and cast my vote. Yet, in this land petty goons are free to behave larger-than-life because, let's face it, it is THEIR representatives that we vote to power. As my favorite comic book says: Who will watch the watchmen...?

Even the most nastik of us, at such times, can only say: Please God, make this go away....

Update 24hrs later: We have found the cab number is MH 12 DT 1638. Once we sent that information to Wipro BPO, they confirmed it was one of their fleet. Just knowing that is such a relief! Many thanks to Mr.Mirza, the HR person who went above and beyond to assist us during the entire dreadful episode.

We are now waiting for the cabbie to arrive and take his money, and leave us alone.

While this story seems to have a happy ending, maybe there is still a moral in this. Especially for the brave-hearts managing the runaway population (I won't say 'menace') of call-center cabs on our streets. We spent 2 anxious days because a foul-mouthed person invaded our home. Irrespective of who is at fault, intimidating an elderly couple in their own house at midnight is just not OK. Instead, cabbies should be instructed that in case of minor accidents, the matter be reported to transport coordinator. Let them take it forward with some decency and professionalism. In the absence of regulation and law, it is up to the BPOs to display sense of social responsibility.

Thanks for all your prayers and best wishes. Hopefully tomorrow morning this will just be a bad dream...