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P G Wodehouse and the little town of Pondicherry in India could both boast of a French connection.

The former began his stint in France in 1934 at Le Touquet, but was detained and interned by the advancing German army in 1940. When he was released in 1941, he went on to live in Paris from where he left for USA in 1947.

As to Pondicherry, it was in 1674 that the French East India Company set up a trading centre there. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India. With some intermittent breaks, Pondicherry remained one of France’s colonies in India till 1954.

 

Policemen surely play an important role in many of Plum’s narratives. A majority of them happen to be in the service of the Queen. Some are also of French origin. Thus, to a lesser mortal like yours truly who happens to be a fan of his and is normally found polluting the Pondicherry landscape, a museum showcasing the history of our gallant policemen there does hold some attraction. Add to this the allure of looking up policemen’s helmets of various kinds at closer quarters, and the gig becomes a must-do.

The challenges

The police force in Pondicherry comprises not only the higher rungs of officers in Central or State government services but also the humble constabulary which ensures that the laws in force are rigorously implemented without a flaw on their personal reputation and character.

 

While tracking down criminals, they spare no effort. It is their upright and proper conduct which upholds the might of the Law. Their career pursuits may not be of much interest to either the Scotland Yard or the DGSE, but they happen to be meticulous in their approach. The force believes in gender parity and has exclusive outposts (wo)manned by the delicately nurtured.

Much like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, often they face the challenge of walking the thin line between performing the duties assigned to them and kowtowing to the wishes of their political masters, much like a cop in Plum’s narratives who has no recourse but to yield to the wishes of his Justice of Peace.

Yet another serious challenge the constabulary in Pondicherry has always faced is that of keeping a strict eye on its multi-ethnic society. In order to be able to understand the psychology of the denizens under their watch, its members need to be fluent in several languages. In a write-up dating back to 1943, Monsieur Le Chef d’escadron Petignot, the then Commandant les Forces Publiques de I’Inde Francaise, speaks of the Indigenous police constabulary being entrusted with ensuring administrative police and judicial police in most parts of the territory where all the castes and almost all races exist, having to make enquiries in as many as eight different languages – French, English, Tamil, Hindustani, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Oriya – indicating the extraordinary situation which this police force was required to function in.

Of French policemen and weapons

Fans of P G Wodehouse fondly recall the pursuits of Pierre Alexandre Boissonade, Commissaire of Police, in French Leave, as also those of Monsieur Punez, one of his underlings. They would be disappointed to learn that the former never made it to the coveted post of a Directeur de la Police at Pondicherry. Had he done so, he would have found himself on familiar ground, what with the place being akin to the fictitious French resort of Roville, duly infested with troubled lovers, impoverished aristocrats, millionaires and servants. To his surprise, he would have also found expatriates of all hues, sizes and shapes, spiritual aspirants, retired French army personnel, the annual July shoppers which descended on the town with sackfuls of the green stuff, the weekend youth who popped up merely to soak in the spirited ambience of the place, heritage enthusiasts, environmental activists, busy physicians, egoistic academicians, robbers, swindlers and argumentative fishermen.

The deftness with which Psmith handles a situation which involves the use of a revolver in Leave it to Psmith does make one wonder as to the kind of weapons which the police force in Pondicherry used to rely upon to keep the ambitions of its criminals under check.

The enticing proposal of a pinching technique

A saunter down the Police Museum at Pondicherry does clarify some such doubts, as the photographs accompanying this write-up amply demonstrate.

Of particular interest to yours truly was the display of various kinds of ‘kepis’ in use by the police force in Pondicherry. One could not pinch any, of course. But a soft glow of inner satisfaction was surely experienced at being allowed to fondle one for a few minutes.

A close examination revealed what could perhaps be a better technique of pinching one of this kind, if ever one’s Guardian Angels offered an opportunity to do so – the backward shove, followed by a vertical anti-gravity push, while using one’s non-twiddling thumbs to hold the desired object from the front side.

Bertie Wooster would surely approve.

 

(Note: For a history of the Pondicherry police force, please refer to http://police.puducherry.gov.in)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets)

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