Late last night I saw a full-fledged brawl between ten men break out in the middle of a main street. Somehow, though, this wasn’t the place where I came into contact with the Mumbai police.
The night had started promisingly. We headed down to South Bombay to go a birthday party of a friend. It was nice to escape the smoky bars of Bandra and get a change of scene.
Everyone was having a good time, but as the early evening deepened into late night, there was a knock on the door. In walked two serious-looking men dressed in khaki from their yellow-embellished hats on their heads all the way down. They were police officers, and they were not there to join the party.
It hadn’t seemed to me like we were actually making a lot of noise – the party was just fifteen or twenty people, and while we did have music on I hadn’t noticed it being overly loud. I got the sense that we were about to be the subjects of a shakedown.
Our hosts went outside to try and talk to the officers. We had turned the music off and we were all prepared to leave, if need be. I later found out that the officers had tried to start with a game of bluff- first they wanted to take us all to jail (for what?). Then they were going to take just the host/birthday boy and his set of speakers to jail (seriously). Of course, they really just wanted a bribe.
Another friend at the party, who grew up in Bombay, tried to intervene. She thought if the cops were paid off then it just contributed to the culture of corruption. She appealed to their sense of Indian hospitality, telling them that since some of the guests at the party (ie: us) were Americans who had just moved to India, it was inhospitable to create a scene at the party. Sadly they were unmoved by this line of reasoning (although she did take down their names and vow to report them).
They were, however, moved by a payment of 2,000 rupees (about $42).
As the police left we figured it was late enough at night that we should probably leave as well. A group of us going back to Bandra hopped in the car to make our way north.
The only time in Mumbai when there is little to no traffic is in the middle of the night, so I was surprised when, only fifteen minutes into our journey, we started slowing down. I looked out the window – a huge fight was taking place.
We were on the Worli sea face on a three-lane road, but only one was moving. Parked cars and a group of men fighting one another occupied the rest. They were taking a no-holds-barred approach: a few were swinging at the others as fiercely as they could while their friends tried to hold them back. Another friend had stepped out of the fight to direct traffic (how thoughtful!). But the fighting was brutal.
I noticed, as we slowly drove by, a few brightly colored Lamborghinis and Ferraris parked at various points near the fight. I had to imagine this was a drug deal or mafia related incident (unless otherwise very wealthy people decide to stop traffic and pick fights randomly in the middle of the night). The people fighting didn’t notice or bother any of the cars on the road driving past. They just seemed to want to pick the most dramatic place to stage their showdown.
Of course, for this incident, the police were nowhere to be found. Who are they to get involved in an underworld dispute? After all, there are important parties to break up and get paid for.