Going home last Saturday, fully equipped with enough electronics to take over half of France, I was as shocked as someone fully equipped with enough electronics to take over half of France would be. To fully understand my shock, let me explain the context to you.
I've said in several columns that I live quite far out from Colombo, in Chilaw. For those of you who are not familiar with the geography of Sri Lanka (if you, for example; buy your Waraka dried, from Odel you might fall into this category), this is about two hours or so North of Colombo – passing the airport.
And when I take the bus home – which is almost everyday when I miss my staff transport bus – for some reason or the other, I need to first go to Fort, and then take my bus home. The Fort bit is what's interesting and frustrating.
Before entering the "Bus Stand" (NOT where you stand for the bus, but where the bus stands for you), there is a checkpoint where everyone has to open their bags to be checked, moon or shine. It has to be noted that I always carry my laptop with me wherever I go, and most of the time I have a pretty chunky camera with me as well. As of last week, the chunky camera has been replaced with a complete camera bag containing a bulky camera and a couple of lenses. So to the untrained eye, I might look like someone who is equipped with enough electronics to take over half of France.
So far, the experiences of my bag being checked have not been even remotely funny. The people who man the checkpoints are not police officers, but civilians. They wear something which looks like traffic warden aprons. A part of Civil Vigilance Committees, they are. But the annoying thing is, these people think they are proper cops. I need to explain to them why I'm taking a laptop with me, and tell them that the blinking light is not the countdown timer for the detonator, but an innocent indicator that tells me the computer is, in fact, sleeping.
But, to make life easier for them, the police officers are also not that different. It's really the host of ignorant questions that make life difficult. I remember this one time, where they actually wanted me to take the computer out and show it to them, when it was raining cats and dogs! I flatly refused and an argument ensued. They threatened to take me in and I said "Please do. I'll open it in the station if you want, because it's not raining there."
And then, recently, I was taken by surprise.
Scenario – Saturday 9.30pm, a short, dark, stalker-looking bloke with two bags enters the bus stand, eyeing the last Chilaw bus that is about to leave. One bag has a laptop and a host of wires and cables, the other, a big bulky camera and a couple of lenses.
Probably a journalist of sorts? Better ask and check though. "Sir Paththareda?" (Are you from a newspaper?) "Ow" (Yes).
A decent, non-ignorant and courteous police officer who was manning the checkpoint, I salute you sir. Absolutely no pun intended.