A Chase of Cheers – Saibal Chakravarty

Mr. Lootgia Ram’s car had been stolen. And old Mr. Ram had gone crazy about it.

Uncle Samanta had taken up the case. Of late he had been trying his hand at chasing criminals. At sixty-one he was full of enthusiasm in his new interest.

“This must be the work of Karchori Lal,” he observed as he heard the news from Jaga, alias Jagannath, his servant and now assistant in his new job in the morning. “I wish I could get this assignment to teach the blasted fellow a lesson. Ever since he has come to this town, he has been picking up cars like a child does gas balloons and lollipops.”

Hardly had he finished speaking and picked up his cup of tea, when someone knocked at his door loudly. Jaga instantly opened it. It was none other than Lootgia Ram, the stocky, middle-aged share-broker, sweating profusely.

Babuji Servant“Sir, help me. Get my car at any cost,” he told Uncle Samanta. “I am told you are a detective. Do help me, please. My car has just been stolen by Karchori Lal. He hasn’t gone very far. I have a dozen cars. But this one was a gift from the Maharaja of Lalpore to my great grandfather. So, I value this old car. I am prepared to pay you whatever fee you want…. get my car by any means.”

“Come on, Jaga,” Uncle Samanta slipped his loaded revolver in his overcoat pocket and the next minute the three were out on the street.

They hailed a taxi and got into it. Uncle Samanta was in the front seat with Jaga. Lootgia Ram occupied the back seat. He needed a lot of space because of his enormous body.

“There, there,” Lootgia Ram pointed to a yellow Buick which Karchori Lal was driving along Chowringee. “My most priceless possession. “Chase it, quick.”

It was fun for Dourbaj Singh, the hefty taxi driver from Ludhiana. He loved to overtake cars. So the moment Uncle Samanta ordered him to drive faster he pressed the accelerator and the car shot forward like a bullet.

Karchori Lal, who had been handling cars ever since he learnt how to walk, increased his speed. He avoided the main road and took a zigzag course through lanes and bylanes.

Soon both the cars were out of the town. Karchori Lal was driving through markets, dingy lanes, terrorizing people gossiping at street corners, or enjoying mid morning tea at roadside dhabas (eating houses). Dourbaj Singh was undaunted in giving chase.

Uncle Samanta observed the situation for some time. Then he brought out his revolver and fired at the speeding Buick in front.

The car suddenly took a right turn and escaped the shot.

“My car, my car,” cried Lootgia Ram. “Get my car at any cost.”

“Be quite, please,” Uncle Samanta calmly said. “This is not the time to shout. You will get your car, of course. Sardarji,” he whispered to Dourbaj Singh, “a little more speed, please. Get me within firing range. Then leave the matter to me.”

Dourbaj Singh pressed the accelerator harder and shouted, “Jai Bajrangbali.” Closer to the car driven by Karchori Lal, Uncle Samanta fired and the bullet pierced the hood of the Buick.

Jaga cried, “Hurray.”

CriminalsUncle fired a second shot and it hit the car’s rear window. Possibly Karchori Lal was unnerved for a moment because the car seemed to stand still. The irrepressible detective then fired the third shot. It hit the mudguard. The forth went through the type of the car. The fifth smashed another window and the car came to a dead halt.

“Shabash (well done)!” Jaga exclaimed. “Oh, unbelievable, Sir. This is just like a Bombay hit film. I feel thrilled.”

“I, too,” grinned Dourbaj Singh.

Uncle Samanta felt as proud as Tenzing Norgay must have when he first set foot on Mount Everest.

Lootgia Ram opened the door of the taxi and rushed towards his car. He was keen to get back his car and also catch hold of the notorious thief.

But Karchori Lal was a cunning fellow. He opened the door of the car in a split second, ran like rabbit and vanished behind a vast jute mill go down.

Uncle Samanta ran behind him but the sly fellow was faster. He had no more bullets in his revolver, so he gave up.

“Sorry, I could not catch the thief,” he told Lootgia Ram. The old man had just completed inspecting his car. “Anyway, I have recovered your car, which was my job. Now pay my fees-a thousand rupees and the taxi fare. I want to get back to my office in the same taxi.”

“Your fees, my foot,” Lootgia Ram suddenly burst out. “You have damaged my car beyond repair. See, the tyres, the glasses and the hood are in a shambles. What will I do with this junk….?”

“But one must try all means to catch a thief,” argued Uncle Samanta, “and recover lost property.”

“I did not want catch the thief,” Lootgia Ram shook his head vigorously. “I only wanted back my car, not junk. What I will do with this? And you want fees? I will file a suit against you.”

He walked briskly to a taxi and before Uncle Samanta could say a word, drove past him saying, “You wait for the pleader’s notice, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Good day till we meet in the court.”

Uncle Samanta was totally flabbergasted. The next moment the hefty Dourbaj Singh pointed a finger to his taxi’s meter and said, “Please pay my fare, Babuji (Sir). It is four hundred and fifty rupees and forty-five paise only,” he said. And added with a grin, “Fifty rupees I can ask as baksish (reward) for getting hold of the car. That makes it five hundred in all. Pay me quickly. I must rush for lunch. I am feeling very hungry after this hectic chase.”

“Five hundred rupees!” Uncle Samanta was near fainting. “I have no more than fifty rupees with me.” He opened his wallet and showed it to Dourbaj Singh.

“What do you mean by fifty rupees?” Dourbaj Singh’s eyes became red with anger. “Are you joking, Sir?” he shouted. “I have burnt petrol worth three hundred rupees, Babuji. Five hundred rupees and not a paisa less.”

“Even if you cut me into pieces I can not produce more,” Uncle Samanta made a helpless gesture. “We are also hungry, believe me, Sardarji. We only had a cup of tea in the morning. It is that old man who cheated us. He was to pay me a thousand rupees and the taxi bill and see how he gave us a slip.”

“I don’t know any old man,” Dourbaj Singh shouted. “You hired my taxi, you are going to pay the fare. If you will not, then wait, I have a way to get it”. He rushed to his taxi and brought out an iron rod and raised it over Uncle’s head. “I am going to smash your head…”

“Sardarji, Sardarji, have pity,” Jaga cried and caught hold of Dourbaj Singh’s waist.

Just then a car screeched to a halt where the men were jostling with each other. Someone pointed to Uncle Samanta and a lanky young man, with long hair, wearing a polka-dotted bush shirt and baggy trousers, got down from it, followed by two men-one carrying a movie camera and the other a brief-case.

“Are you the man who was chasing the car right from Chowringee to Chakdah, firing at the thief and making the whole city watch a real-life drama?” asked the man wearing the polka-dotted bush shirt of Uncle Samanta.

Uncle Samanta looked puzzled at the sudden arrival of these gentlemen. He nodded.

“Ah, I am Swaraj Kapoor,” the young man stretched out his hand, “the film director. Possibly you have heard my name. I was shooting near Chowringee for my current film, Shaitan aur Bhagwan, when suddenly my attention was drawn to your car chase.”

Both Uncle Samanta and Jaga looked with admiration at Swaraj Kapoor, a famous film director. Jaga had seen his Toofan Mail Ka Dibba only the month before.

“I beg to be excused,” Kapoor was humble and dignified. “I shot your chase sequence right from start. It was so exciting that I could not check the temptation. I needed such a chase and a fire sequence for my current film. I did it with out your permission. Of course I am going to pay you if you kindly let me use it in the film. Gajanan…” He turned to the man with the brief-case.

“Yes, Sir,” he said.

“Pay him,” Kapoor ordered.

Gajanan opened the brief-case quickly and brought out wad of notes.

“There are five thousand rupees in it,” Kapoor said. “I hope this will do. Please sign this receipt.”

Uncle Samanta took the bundle of notes and signed the receipt.

“Thank you,” Kapoor took a look at the receipt and passed it on to Gajanan. “You saved me a lot of trouble. When the picture will be released I will send you some complimentary tickets. I will have to rush to the studio now, for some editing work.”

“Hip, hip, hurray,” Jaga jumped with joy the moment Kapoor and his party left.

“Jai Bajrangbali,” cried Dourbaj Singh and did a bit of bhangra on the road. “Oh, Babuji I am so glad. My taxi will be shown in the film. Oh, I can not believe what a good day it has been.”

And Uncle Samanta was so overwhelmed that he just could not speak. After a few moments he took out six hundred rupees from the bundle and gave it to Dourbaj Singh. “Keep a hundred rupees as bakshish, Sardarji. Now go and have your lunch please. You are already late.”

“Oh, long live Babuji,” Dourbaj Singh said. “But what do you mean by ‘go and have your lunch’. Babuji, come with me to my favourite dhaba, both of you. I will throw a party today. I tell you, you will have never tested such sumptuous paranthas and chicken curry anywhere before… Oh God, what a day! My taxi and I both will be shown in a film…”

He whistled the tune of his favourite folk song, opened the door of the taxi and all three got into it. It sped away as fast as if it was still chasing Karchori Lal.

∼ Saibal Chakravarty

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