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Unsubtle social order

While IPS officers lord it over plush offices that would do a CEO proud, humble constables and SHOs slog it out in bare structures, writing your complaints in a register with ballpens

Hierarchy: a system in which members of an organisation or society are ranked according to relative status or authority. Even today, an embedded practice which cannot be ignored or done away with. From the days of tilling to the present era of white collar work, no matter how much you run, it will come and bite you where it hurts.

The dominant way of showing this is through cement, wood and steel structures that we call offices. Some have cabins, some have cubicles — some, with the growing need for space and population have just a table and chair which they share, to toil over.

The police force is one such workplace where the old-school pecking order is even more evident. There the police constables huddle in one tiny little room under a fan, jotting down complaints on their still beloved register with a Reynolds pen. While DCPs rule the roost with their spacious air-conditioned meet-and-greet spaces.

On a warm afternoon, the waiting area of the Delhi Commissioner of Police (DCP) office is a good place to hide away. Before the renovation began, a room allocated as the waiting area had stained sofas, a rickety old fan and a couple of oddballs chilling. Plus a runner with his legs up, taking a break from whatever he had done that day, and before his DCP showed up.

Now, the waiting area of the New Delhi station is torn down, and in the open, making lounging a distant memory. This DCP’s office is a huge white expanse where at all times there’s a visitor sitting in one of the chairs making the other feel like the unwelcome kebab main haddi.

But what is unbeatable — and if his colleagues were to see it, a bout of jealousy would abound — is the station that upholds law and order in the Lutyens area. Reeking of old world charm, the Parliament Street office of the DCP and PRO is fit for a CEO — wood panelled flooring, fancy chairs, yellow lighting adding to the ambience, et al. But even more fascinating is his little back garden lounge visible through a huge window. It’s reminiscent of a beer garden that pubs in London glory in. One can sit and drink beer, light a cigarette while debating about the quaking economy after Brexit.

Here, of course, it is doubtful that such divine lounging would be going on. Perhaps a cup of tea and biscuits instead.

Just to paint a more vivid image, the tiny little garden space has a round table and chairs with an umbrella — protection from the sun and rain, of course.

Perhaps this office’s glamour was even more pronounced when the man greeted us in his tan suit, with a pink pocket square. A tad much for a DCP? Well maybe he had an event to go to, or simply likes to dress well.

Two Joint Commissioners’ offices I’ve visited, both had huge flat screen TVs playing Aaj Tak. A little bit more fancy with larger tables keeping their visitors at double the arm’s length distance away, their offices are interestingly not bigger, the décor just better. Maybe it’s individual taste maybe it’s the wife’s influence, greater at a later stage, or maybe it’s from the travels, acquiring pieces or gifts.

Let’s now come to the SHO — there are 150 police stations in Delhi, all headed by an inspector who has presumably a gazillion matters to look into. The offices of these SHOs have half the space compared to that of their higher ups but occupy as much space with their plastic chairs. At least three rows of chairs — if not more — audaciously speak of the innumerable visitors this person gets. One can see the difference between the two already. One never speaks without the others command to the media, and does not get chairs made of wood like his authoritative figure.

Then there’s the Kamla Nagar police station SHO’s room, dingy and ominous, sharing space with the ACP’s office, with stairs smelling of piss, with stains despoiling it too.

But even they would reconcile with their workspace if they went a little to the exterior of Delhi. Like one police station I visited on the Yamuna expressway. Before reaching his office, the laidback look was quite gawkable when a constable wearing a lungi greeted me. The SHO’s office had a bed inside — long hours, presumably — and was sitting in his vest to cool himself off. Though it falls in the Delhi-NCR region, it’s doubtful that closer home any SHO or constable would be caught on duty in that attire.

The only commonality between them all is the wooden plaque with the names of the predecessor and a blank spot for the end of term for the current one.

It’s safe to say that these four walls have kept the fight for supremacy alive, whether amongst themselves or for those who enter these hallowed precincts.