A Bihari in Cambridge

With a British Police Van

-Amitabh Kumar Das

When I was a kid, I heard a lot about the Cambridge University. Elders in my family talked about Cambridge in hushed tones. I thought that “Cadbury” University existed somewhere in the world. Just imagine the excitement of a seven-year old. Cadbury University. Students eat chocolates day and night and duly receive degrees. I looked forward to studying there when I grew up. When grown-ups in my family enlightened me that it was Cambridge, not Cadbury, my sweet dreams came crashing down!

Fast forward to 2011. I was an IPS officer with 17 years experience. The Ministry of Home Affairs picked me up for a mid-career training programme, officially called MCTP 4. And I had to undergo this training at Cambridge, of all places!      But first came the passport hurdle. For the uninitiated, Indian passports come in three colours. The blue passport is for the Aam Aadmi (Common Man). The white passports are for officers. Diplomats carry red passports.  I, as an Aam Aadmi, was the proud owner of a blue passport. But for an official visit to the UK, I needed the coveted white one. I surrendered my blue passport at the Regional Passport Office, Patna and took with me the “Surrender Slip” to the National Police Academy in Hyderabad. The NPA people arranged for me a white passport.

In Hyderabad, it was a trip down the memory lane. I recalled 1995, the year I first reached the NPA as a trainee cop. A small town young man from Darbhanga in North Bihar. A bundle of nerves. After months of rigorous training and countless falls from galloping horses, I was transformed into a tough, khaki-clad police officer, ready to take on the mafia in Bihar, my home cadre.

In October 2011, I boarded an Air India flight to London. In mid-air, I started to vomit. But it was a blessing in disguise. A drop-dead gorgeous air -hostess immediately rushed to help me out! Her looks distracted me and my vomiting stopped. The plane landed at the Heathrow Airport. It was as big as a township. I, a bhola-bhala (noble) Bihari, burst into cold sweat. Mercifully, some helpful white guys deposited me safely in a bus sent by the Cambridge University.   From London, we were taken to Birmingham, a big industrial town. Young ladies welcomed us and presented us umbrellas. Nobody should trust the English weather. I was allotted a room at the Birmingham University hostel. The room reminded me of small hotel rooms in Paharganj, New Delhi. Next morning the TV in the room broke the news that Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi had been butchered by rebels! Visuals of a blood – soaked Gaddafi were disturbing. The food at the hostel mess was awful. Bland English food with no spices. Pork sausages and grilled beef. How I missed litti-chokha, Bihar’s signature dish!

Birmingham residents are crazy about football. Football hooliganism is a big headache for the local police. Fans of different football clubs fight pitched battles. Beer cans are used as missiles. A British police officer, his chest puffed up with pride, boasted that the police controlled as many as 20,000 spectators during soccer matches. 20,000? I have served as the police chief of Deoghar, now in Jharkhand. There more than 1.5 lakh devotees visited the Shiva Temple on “Somvaris”, the holy Mondays!

From Birmingham I reached Cambridge where Newton studied 800 years ago. The bus-ride was heavenly. The lush green English countryside took my breath away. I remembered Wordsworth and looked for daffodils! In Cambridge, I was put up at the majestic University Arms Hotel situated at a corner of the Regent Street, the main thoroughfare. But the English food again brought tears to my eyes. Suddenly, the old slogan Hindi, Chini Bhai-Bhai came to my mind. Shortly afterwards, I was digging into the Kung Pao chicken at a Chinese restaurant. I blessed the Chinese despite the Sino-Indian border disputes!

With a Londoner Cop

I wore a hat and a “London Fog” overcoat, a gift from my dear brother Harshu. As I moved from one shop to another, an Englishman told me that I looked like a detective of the 1970s! I took it as a compliment. A shopkeeper showed me the location where Amitabh Bachchan’s movie Paa was shot. Then I came again to London. The London of my childhood nursery rhymes! Where the pussycat came to look at the Queen and frightened a little mouse under her chair! But I couldn’t see the Queen. We were taken to the House of Commons where the British Police Minister addressed us. There was so much to see in London. The Big Ben, the river Thames, the Trafalgar Square, the London Bridge. Many IPS officers rushed to the British Museum to have a darshan of the legendary Koh-e-Noor diamond. The Koh-e-Noor story is fascinating. When Nadir Shah invaded Delhi, the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah hid the famous diamond inside his royal turban. Somehow Nadir Shah came to know about Koh-e-Noor’s hiding place. As a token of friendship with the Mughal ruler, he exchanged turbans!

I visited the Indian High Commission in London. Everything was so familiar. Gandhiji’s portrait, the Tricolour and the Hindi-speaking staff. As I relished chai and pakodas, my home-sickness went for a toss. I saw Indira Gandhi’s bust, unveiled by Margaret Thatcher at the High Commission.

London Olympics (2012) preparations were in full swing. Londonwallas’ enthusiasm knew no bounds. Old ladies, bent with age, thronged the main stadium. Excited as school girls. Laughing and chatting till their dentures came out!

We paid a visit to the New Point prison near Cambridge. The jail was so comfortable that one of the IPS officers joked that he was going to pick someone’s pocket to stay there. I interacted with a robber s family. The robber’s wife and two daughters were there to see him. The elder daughter wondered as to how the Indians were talking in English!

We celebrated Diwali in Luton, a township near Cambridge. There were so many Gujaratis there that I mistook Luton for Ahmedabad! Finally, my UK sojourn came to an end. I received a certificate duly signed by Cambridge authorities. But by now, I was highly homesick. When my plane touched the Jai Prakash Narayan International Airport in Patna and I heard the double-meaning Bhojpuri songs after many months, I couldn’t hold back tears of joy!

(Amitabh Kumar Das is an IPS Officer.)

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