Do You Know Who I Am?


What happened at Shashikant Bar and Restaurant on May 21, 2004, could happen even in New York City. The only difference is that the culprits would have been brought to book. Not in India.

The day was slower than usual for Shashikant’s business. Most of the people he employs were out playing cricket. His uncle, a thin emaciated man in his sixties was at the cash register and he was himself busy inside. Two men sat drinking for a long time. Then they got up, paid for their drinks and went away only to come back after a quick while. They sat this time in the air-conditioned section and asked for food. The dishes they ordered would take a while they were told. They drank some more in the meantime and soon got restless and turned abusive. A brawl is a very normal thing in Shashikant’s business. “Some of them come really demure and shrunken in size but a couple of drinks after, they all ask the same question: Do you know who I am?,” he says. “In a place like mine, the conservancy inspector asserts himself, in a more up-market place, it is the municipal engineer, one step ahead is the municipal commissioner and in a five-star hotel, it is the minister. But it is the same question they all ask: Do you know who I am?” By the time he came to see what the commotion was about, the two men, off-duty Mumbai cops, had turned violent and without paying for their additional drinks, stormed out. A scuffle ensued. The two returned and threw money at the cash box and as Shashikant’s uncle tried to catch the money, one of them dramatically slapped him hard across his face. This got Shashikant’s goat and he tried to restrain them. The two fled the scene. Someone called the police. Forty five minutes later, the police had not arrived but the two men had called for reinforcement in the form of two criminals. One of them confronted Shashikant with a paper cutter and started slashing him left and right. Bleeding profusely, he ran into an auto rickshaw that rushed him to the Holy Spirit Hospital. He survived the brutal attack but only after being stitched up in one hundred and eighty places and given a blood transfusion.

Onlookers caught hold of the two men and handed them over to the police. When the cops realised that two of their own were at the root of this dastardly act, the two men were let off on bail and later, the case was hushed up. Shashikant valiantly returned to the business with the bandages still on and knocked at all doors for justice, only to realize that off-duty rampage by a criminalized force in uniform held the system in paralysis. Shashikant is just a blip in the larger scheme of things. Whenever you are in the vicinity of the place the next time, go and look him up. The man, in his late thirties, looks significantly younger. He speaks with the erudition of a scholar. He could have been a CEO of a large company for the intellect and the wisdom he exudes and should be a poster child for small businesses. He runs no dance bar and does not peddle hash. He is not seeking to be the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He seeks no dole, no favors; no SEZ land. The man built a business with hard work and created employment for 33 people who would not ever find a job with the Tatas or at Infosys. And he pays his taxes before he uncorks each bottle of beer he serves. What happened at Shashikant Bar and Restaurant on May 21, 2004, could happen even in New York City. The only difference is that the culprits would have been brought to book. Not in India. Slowly, bitterly, Shashikant realised that he was up against a system that serves only big business.

The evening customers are trooping in, activity is picking up at the tables. I need to leave him now to run his business. Before I leave, I ask him if he would like to ask me anything. The man looks at me with stoic silence for a moment and then slowly, with measured pain in a voice that left me silent, says just two words: Why me? I step outside and shudder for a moment. My mind can’t help wonder what the two off-duty cops and their stand-by paper cutter accomplices are up to tonight.

Comments
Abhishek Says
Tuesday June 8th 2010

Shashikant’s tragedy is touching. If years of hard work and honesty brings such fate, who will want it.

“Why Me?” – Shashikant isnt asking this. This is voice of a common Indian who has suffered enough that he cant fight back but only look at system with hope.

Lubna Says
Wednesday June 9th 2010

With power comes responsibility. And it is for each of us, whether we wear a uniform or not to realise this and act accordingly.
But as the saying goes: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In fact, this column made me think, I should say please and thank you more often. Being in power, whether by virtue of hierarchy or otherwise, means being more responsible and perhaps basics like polite words are the very basic necessities.

Dilip Says
Tuesday June 15th 2010

True leadership in the Indian context. Touching and inspiring! Thank you Sir.

Deepak Says
Tuesday June 29th 2010

This is becoming a common habit of the educated lot of this country to sit in the cushioned room of their centralized AC house and blame the judiciary of the country. Its very easy to compare a new york to a mumbai and talk endlessly about how NY is better and how mumbai is bad.

Just think once, what have you done to change this!!!. what has been your contribution towards it. We all remember our fundamental rights how many of us even are aware of fundamental duties entrusted upon us?

What happened with Mr Shashikant was bad, actually very bad, and it shouldn’t have happened, but what have we done other then writing this piece of news in a globally recognized language telling world the pitying conditions of law in our country. I agree that it is also important, but what rather is more important is to use your power to correct it rather than just talk…..Have we? if not, then i am afraid in my opinion we are no good then those who slashed him coz we aren’t comforting Shashikant either.

We need to change, sir, we need someone to dirty his hands unless we get one, trust me you can find 100s of shashikant across the length and breadth of this country.

Also, who said its not possible in NY? It is, what is rather little difficult in NY is for the culprits to get away. I am sure you would be aware of the reasons too.. the common people come forward to attend painstakingly slow process of election of Jury and hence contribute towards the law by doing their duty. Can something like that be happening in our country too..?? you belong to the top 5% of people in terms of your reach and power, can you take this baton up?? if not, then i am sorry to say this that this piece would again go down as another piece of fiction on a sunday paper… nothing more then that!!! read and forgotten!!

    Shashank Says
    Tuesday September 7th 2010

    Nice reply Mr. Deepak. But please explain me what a common man should do to reduce this if not stop this…

      Murukesh Says
      Wednesday February 9th 2011

      If you go very deep into all the problems in India(as against in west), it is the education that makes the difference.. educate your kids and help your neighbors to do that, if required. It will help bridge the gap between rich and poor and will bring more sense of justice to common population.

    Ekta Says
    Friday September 10th 2010

    Well said!

Uma Says
Sunday July 11th 2010

It would have made a lot of sense for the onlookers to have gifted the culprits with good bashings before handing them over to the so called formal law and order system

Saesha Pillai Says
Monday July 26th 2010

Sir, that was touching. Truly an eye opener.

Praveen Says
Sunday September 5th 2010

First Of all,I would like to thank Sir for bringing such heart touching incidence to the forfront. Its We,the individuals who are afraid of the change.We all want change but don’t have the voice to raise questions.We all are selfish & care for ourselves only .For a better society we need to change.

Wednesday September 8th 2010

I believe that one has to be strong on his own first before being optimistic towards the system. The system may it be indian or any other country will always have some loop holes. It will not always take care of every other person bringing in his or her problems.

Power lies at the barrel of the gun. The world will always fear the powerful. Once you have it you have a choice how to use it.

Feeling Sorry for Shashikant will not do any good. Taking revenge on the cops will also not do but to see that no more shashikant goes through the same is Better.

jayram athavale Says
Monday November 1st 2010

I too always wonder why are we indians like this.Treating people equal is not in our genes . I also realise that the culture and society is built like this during thousands of years which cannot be wiped off with a wish.i have gone through your integrity policy .I appreciate your spelling basic values with examples.The solution lies in building values in the young society,be it a school,college,industry,or any other enterprise.ultimately good has to prevail upon evil only the time line is the question.mindtree’s effort is great .I am personally going to follow your integrity policy where ever I work . heart felt Thanks.

chandrashekar Says
Wednesday December 1st 2010

Its all shashikanth’s fault… He must choice either ghandi(peace) or bhagath sing(blood)… If peace suffer until the end… If blood fight until death of one side… I am sorry to say this but the onlookers are the worst part of the system…

Praveen Kumar Says
Wednesday January 5th 2011

Lets not blame on the person who wrote this article, it could help for people to realise that this also can happen in india and at the same time what would you do if you are in Shashikanth’s place…have you ever realised this.
I appreciate for writing this article and we as a new gen people would find a way to stop it. These days media plays a bigger role to identify such culprits who are in a good position and bring their name infront of people(this could be one of way to fix it)!!
Very Good script Bagchi…

Aditya K Says
Thursday June 2nd 2011

Touching… yet saddening as well.
Well written

john smith Says
Sunday July 8th 2012

I am a westerner with a wife who’s employer is an abusive bully who happens to be from India. When confronted he uses this phrase and I was curious to see if there was a cultural context for it – chilling. Here you are judged by how you act not what you are and respect is given or lost accordingly. A horses behind is still a horses behind wether a doctor or a janitor or a judge and we will all call you on it eventually.

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