In the early seventies, we were setting up a manufacturing plant in Bhopal, the capital city of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Since it was a joint venture with the state, interaction with government officials was but natural. As the Managing Director of the company, I used to stay over long periods every month in Bhopal. It was then that I met Bipin Pandit, a very cheerful young man, the dynamic City Superintendent of Police at that time.
He could impress anybody with his personality and was wedded to his profession. Madhya Pradesh was infested with dacoits at that time and he was known for his daring raids to enforce law and order there.
We soon became friends. I visited his house often and had dinner there but he refused to accept my invitation to dine at the hotel where I stayed, lest someone point an accusing finger. It was only later, when I had my own premises, that he started coming over. His wife was also a very charming lady and we gelled very well.
One evening, he phoned me and said, “be ready, I want to show you Bhopal by night!”
I was quite intrigued, did he actually mean to show me the nightlife? The reality was that he was in the habit of turning up at different police stations at odd hours of night and surprising the station-in-charge and his staff just to keep them on their toes. It was around 2.30 am that I asked him whether he was going to get me something to eat. Oh, certainly he was, and so I had my first and last dinner at a police station well past midnight!
A most amusing incident took place another time. As was his vaunt, one late night Pandit picked up the phone and rang a police station to check whether things were alright. The constable at the other end said, “sir, everything is ok. But some gentleman from a particular locality is repeating calling for help, saying a snake has entered his house.” Upon being asked what he did, the constable just said, “sir, a snake entering someone’s house does not amount to a criminal offence!” Pandit then asked him what he would have done had the snake entered his own house. “Of course killed him, sir”, was the reply. And pray, if a neighbor had sought your help in a similar situation? “Ofcourse, I would have helped him.” Then please, think of this guy as your neighbour and help him. Matter over, Pandit went to bed.
But more was still to come. The next morning, Pandit went to the police station and asked for the case file. Read on : “Past midnight a gentleman from a certain (particular) locality called repeatedly, asking for assistance (help) saying a snake had entered his house. No action was taken since a snake trespassing someone’s house does not constitute a criminal offence. Later, our C.S.P. Mr. Pandit called and as per his directives we went to the complainants house. Indeed, a snake was found and as per the directive of Mr. Pandit, we killed the snake. Now, just as the snake’s entering someone’s house did not amount to a criminal offence, our killing the snake is also not a criminal offence. The file, therefore is closed!” You can judge the expressions on Pandit’s face! Talk about bureaucracy!
My brother, who was the Chairman of our company, also used to visit Bhopal once in a while. Pandit’s wife only knew both of us by our surname. She could differentiate us by only our eating and drinking habits. Whereas my brother was a strict vegetarian and a teetotaller, I was quite the opposite. So, on one of my visits, Pandit told to his wife that Thakore is in town and will be coming for dinner. Not knowing which Thakore it was she quite innocently asked whether it was the ‘drinker’ Thakore or the ‘dry’ one? When I learnt about this I had a hearty laugh and would subsequently often tease her about it.
Years went by and Pandit rose dramatically in ranks. He then became the Assistant Director General of Police and was posted away from Bhopal in charge of a few districts of Madhya Pradesh. We of course kept in touch, but meetings were now rare.
Then, we planned a tour of the interiors of the state to see a tiger sanctuary. I went with my family by car and Pandit and his wife joined us in his police jeep. My son who was teenager then, was quite thrilled sitting in an open police jeep with everyone saluting at the appearance of the jeep. With Pandit leading the way,e we got a chance to see the police armoury too! In the forest, he had reserved an old British era circuit house a hamlet of barely a dozen inhabitants! As a matter of fact, there was no civilisation within a radius of about 12 miles – it was all so quiet and peaceful. With no electricity at the time, the room had an old fashioned “punkah” pulled by a rope by a person sitting outside, to circulate the air! Unfortunately, I fell ill there and my wife and I could not go deep into the forest but my children did see a tiger in the wild.
Pandit retired a few years later as the Inspector General of Police, commanding over some 73,000 policemen. He then moved to Dehradun, where he had built his own bungalow. As luck would have it, my younger daughter also married into a family residing in Dehradun and so we met there a couple of times. Then, during one of my later visits when I enquired about him, I was told that he had sadly passed away.
So that was the end of another great friendship. That ever-smiling, cheerful face of Bipin Pandit is hard to forget.