Quite a few years back. somewhere in the late 1990s, I had shifted to a new home in the city.
It was a rather huge township with around 27 buildings, you know one of those types where you dont really know who stays in your own society.
I was quite new to the place and obviously I didnt know anyone in my own building, much less in the entire township.
The township sprawled over a few acres and had a massive wall around it.
There were two gates for Entry/Exit to the township and one of them appeared to be permanently locked. All the people used the other gate which always remained open. Anyone could get in and out at any time.
One day as I was driving back from work I noticed a rather frail man sitting outside the main gate of the township wearing brown clothes, his shirt out, wearing chappals. As he saw my car approaching he quickly jumped up and saluted me.
I smiled at him giving him a mock salute in return and drove in through the gate, even as I thought to myself that for the size of the society that we were, we had a really shabby looking Watchman.
This soon became a regular feature. Whenever I was driving in, the man used to stand up and salute me with a big smile on his face and I used to return his smile and salute.
He did the same with every car that went in through the gate.
As the days passed, I noticed subtle changes taking place in the man. First his shirt started being tucked in. Then a belt made its appearance. Soon he was wearing shoes instead of chappals. His hair was combed and he looked quite sharp.
The smiles and the salutes continued.
One day, as I drove back from work, the gate, which always had remained open, was closed. The Watchman sat on a chair besides it. As he watched me drive close, he quickly got up from the chair and opened the gate, giving me a smile as I drove in.
This became the new procedure now. The gate used to remain closed and the Watchman used to open it as the cars came by. I did observe that the smile remained, but the salute had disappeared, though this was not a big deal and one didnt really expect a salute in the first place, anyways.
Time passed and one day I was returning from a weekend trip. I saw the Watchman sitting on his chair besides the closed gate and smiled at him.
The Watchman slowly got up to his feet and came towards me with a book in his hand.
“Saab, Entry Karna Padega”, he said, indicating that I had to enter my name and flat no. in the book in his hand.
Now, I have always been a person who thinks that rules for the benefit and security of the Society should be followed. So I smiled at him and entered my details in the book.
I noticed that the smile was not returned, but I suppose the extra work must have made the man a bit grumpy.
This was now the new norm. The gate was opened only after one had entered his details in the book. And the smile had now disappeared completely.
Time passed and people got used to the new norms. There was some general cribbing but people adjusted.
The new norms however didnt stop there.
Every few days some or the other new security measure would be added.
Guests were refused entry in the Society, even when we had ample parking space for guests. So they had to park their cars outside. Only Society vehicles got in.
People were asked to open their boots, which was thoroughly inspected by the Watchman before they were let in.
The watchman even started asking the people to roll down the windows so he can peek inside and open the glove compartment of the car.
If it was night, one had to roll down his windows and the Watchman shone his torch in everyones faces as if he was Sherlock Holmes on a quest.
The salutes and the smiles had disappeared since long, as if they never were there in the first place.
The Watchman, in his crisp brown uniform, shiny black shoes and a smart haircut had now become a formidable force to reckon with.
Then came a day when I was coming back from the local Mart, the grocery bags kept on the back seat of my car.
The Watchman strutted towards me.
I went through the routine of signing in the entry book, opening the boot for him to check it, rolling down the windows, opening the glove compartment.
The Watchman cleared his throat authoratively and said, “Saab Bags khol ke dikhana padega” (You will have to open the bags and show me)
“What?”, I said, getting rather irritated, “Why exactly do I have to open the bags and show you?”
“Security reasons”, the Watchman said, with a smug look on his face.
That was about the time when I lost it.
“Why the @#$! do I need to open my bags and show you what I have got and am taking to my home?”, I exploded.
“Saab, Security Reasons. If you dont open the bags, I wont open the gate”, the Watchman replied calmly.
Thats it !!! I had had it. This had gone way beyond my tolerance levels.
I got out of the car and walked into the society straight to the society office.
The society office was at quite a distance from the main gate, in the middle of the township, so it was quite a walk.
“Who is the Chairman?”, I demanded, as I angrily walked in, also realising that this was the first time I had actually made an official approach to the society and I didnt even know who the Chairman was.
The guy sitting at the desk was a gentle looking person, perhaps in his late 60s or rather fit early 70s.
He looked at me calmly and said, “I am. Whats the matter? How can I help you”
“Mr. Chairman, can you tell me why exactly are we made to go through such security measures everytime we enter the Society?? Are we thieves? Are we terrorists? I mean, it was okay till the Watchman was checking the boot, but now he wants to check our grocery bags? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!!”. I was quite pissed and my voice was getting raised with every word I said.
“Calm down sir, Calm down”, The Chairman said trying to pacify me, “You say someone wants to check your bags? Where?”
“AT THE MAIN GATE”, I shouted, “Why dont you get off that chair and come with me and I will show you whats happening”.
The Chairman slowly got up from behind the desk and took up a walking stick as he hobbled towards me.
“Sorry, I dont get out of the society much. Just an occasional walk in the garden. I do most of the society work sitting in the office. Its been ages since I have actually been out of the society. As I am retired I get ample time to do the society work”, the man said, giving an excuse for his slow pace.
“I am sure you are doing a fine job, Mr. Chairman, and I do appreciate you spending so much of your valueable time for the society, but this checking of grocery bags is way out of line”, I said, calming down a bit looking at the state the man was in.
By the time we approached the gate, the Chairman was holding my hand for support and we were having a nice general conversation about the society.
We finally reached the gate and I was about to burst out again as I saw the smug face of the Watchman standing besides my car, when the Chairman placed his hand on my arm, indicating me to stay calm.
He walked over to the guy, looked him up and down and asked in a very calm voice, “Bhai, who are you? Why are you standing here? Who in the world made you the Watchman of this Society?”
The Chairman then turned towards me and said, “We fired our last Watchman for sleeping on duty….that was around one year back. We have never appointed a Watchman ever again. The gate of our Society is supposed to remain open. We dont have any restrictions on people coming and going as they please. This guy ….. I think he just self appointed himself … and people like you … you never bothered to check it out”
The old man turned to the guy and said in a surprisingly strong and firm voice, “No one has appointed you as the Watchman as our society … Get Out of Here!”
I shifted out of the society after I moved to another city and I dont really have many memories of that place. But this particular story always remained firmly imprinted on my mind.
Everytime I see a self appointed Watchman of any society, of any community, I always ask him, “Who has appointed you as the Watchman of our society?? Get Out of here !!”
Disclaimer: This post goes out to all those people who think they are the Watchmen of our Society, of our Religions, of our Communities…. We dont care who you are. You do not represent us. We did not appoint you. GET OUT OF HERE!