Monday, September 29, 2014

Waiting for the Trial to Start

October-December, 2011

It was time for another trip outside of Goa, having spent the past three months through the monsoon season there.  I submitted yet another travel application to go to the southern state of Kerala with my friend Naomi who was returning from Israel for a month.  I paid the 5000 rupees ($100) on September 5th and went to court in Panjim on the morning of the 22nd.  With Naomi arriving in the afternoon and our plan to go to Kerala looming on October 2nd, I hoped all would go smoothly.  Namrata, one of the junior lawyers, was there to represent me.  Within 25 minutes of the opening of the session my matter came up but I couldn’t hear what the judge or prosecutor said.  After half an hour more of waiting, Namrata stepped outside and she told me that we were waiting on the investigating officer.  Twenty minutes later my matter was up again and I was beckoned to go to the accused box.  By the time I got there, it was over and I was motioned to sit down.  I couldn’t hear a thing as the judge and lawyers spoke so softly.  Outside the courtroom, Namrata told me that the matter was moved to “orders” in the afternoon session at 2:30pm but I didn’t have to be there.

Good, as I still needed to scooter over to Pernem for my monthly check-in.  I felt like I was getting all of my judicial duties out of the way just before Naomi arrived.  At the police station my favourite cop Sachin was there.  He was being super “buddy buddy” to me, reminding me of how he let me have a hot shower in his area of the police station when I was in the lockup, which happened to be the day that I later found out that his falsification of the evidence was printed in the newspaper.  He said that he had given the okay for my trip to Kerala, like he was doing me a big favour.  He also said that I shouldn’t worry about the case as I won’t be guilty as it was only a small amount...”grams” he said.  He claimed that he was my friend and that if I have any troubles in India that I should give him a call.  Yeah, sure buddy, will do.

After the trip to Kerala and after Naomi had returned to her busy life in Israel, I met with the senior lawyers, Peter and Caroline, to discuss their strategy with the case now that they have had time to study the charge sheet. 

Peter is the head of the firm and he’s quite a character with partially slicked back wavy salt and pepper hair and wearing glasses.  In his mid-60s, he’s just taken up playing guitar in the last few years.  He has an air of confidence about him but from what I’ve learned of him it’s a deserved one.  He’s considered the best in the area for narcotics cases and has quite a track record.  I have only sat down for discussions about my case two or three times so far and I was looking forward to what he had to say about my case.

At first Peter asked me to point out what I saw in the charge sheet that could win the case for me.  I began to point out all of the falsities of time, place and the fact I didn’t know these panch witnesses.  He responded that then the case becomes a “he said” “she said” and that‘s not a recipe for success as it becomes a contest between whoever the judge believes, me or the police and their fake witnesses.

Instead he began to point out inconsistencies, omissions or incorrect procedures in the way the police framed their case.  He found that the police officer that performed the supposed “weighing and packaging” was only a constable and he must be at least the rank of assistant inspector (a one star officer, one rank below Sachin who is a two star sub-inspector). 

There are three pages of the police station diary from around the time I was arrested.  Sachin’s handwriting is so terrible in it that it’s tough to decipher it.  Peter pointed out that the station diary does not mention the fact that the officer left the station with the weighing and sealing kit and that is a mandatory entry anytime the kit goes out.  He wanted to get the next pages in the diary which weren’t supplied as they don’t go far enough forward in time. 

One document in the charge sheet has a stamp of the Assistant Superintendant Officer and another one has a different one but it does not have the date written in, which he stated that it most definitely requires.  There was also a missing Property Seizure Report which should have been completed at the station afterwards to match the Property Seizure Memo which was supposed to be filled out at the scene.  It’s not until the Property Seizure Report is completed that I would have a case number however there is already a case number on the memo which should not be there.

Peter said that when it was realized that narcotics may be involved, I should have been offered a gazetted officer or magistrate to be present before being searched.  Peter thought this was a major flaw in the case.

The date when the evidence was taken by the chemical analyst to the forensics department in Panjim wasn’t until late in the afternoon on Dec. 9, two days after my arrest.  This seemed odd to Peter, it shouldn’t have taken so long so what was going on?

So Peter found 4-5 anomalies in the charge sheet, any of which he felt could possibly get me acquitted but together it was quite strong in my favour.  He told me that he felt that I had a 90% chance of being acquitted and almost 100% chance that I would not serve anytime in custody.  Not as good of numbers he told me way back last December where he claimed 99% chance of acquittal, but they were still pretty good odds.

At the end of the meeting he did reiterate the issue with the NDPS court not functioning.  He thought I might be lucky and have the two pre-trial stages, “Arguments Before Charge” & “Framing of the Charges”, completed in the Sessions Court in Panjim but said my case would not be heard there in a month of Sundays.  With no timeframe known on when the NDPS court problem would be fixed, it was looking like I could remain in India a long time.

On November 1st my “Arguments Before Charge” (ABC) was to be heard in the morning session at the Sessions Court in Panjim.  One of the intermediate level lawyers from the firm, Salil, was there to represent me.  An hour into the session, all of the NDPS matters were presented.  There were two separate Nigerians charged with cocaine possession up before me.  My name and case number was called and I rose from my front row seat in the gallery and assumed my standing position in the accused box.  I strained to hear and understand the conversation between the judge and Salil.  Within a minute, I was told to step down from the box.  Okay wait, what just happened there?  That couldn’t have been the ABC...

Outside the courtroom Salil said that the judge had pointed out some problem with the “Vakalatnama”.  The Vakalatnama is a form that has my signature along with the lawyer’s to confirm that I agree to them representing me in court.  What?  I know I’ve signed that form in the past and we’ve been to court numerous can this be a problem now?  Salil told me that my ABC was delayed until December 16th!   Great, sure, what’s another 6 ½ weeks to wait?

I called Caroline and expressed my frustration and wanted to know why there was a problem with the Vakalatnama.  She said that there was no problem with the Vakalatnama and told me that the reason for the adjournment was recorded as “lack of court time” in the court’s daily record and that I should be relieved that I received a date in December as many cases were being pushed to January.  Yup, sure feeling pretty luck at this moment!

I returned to the court on December 16th and not shockingly, nothing happened again!  This time the judge wasn’t there, she was in some other court.  This woman was running at least three courts so no wonder everything was moving so slowly.  My new date was set for January 16th which I actually felt fortunate about as there were two other guys who received dates in mid February and mid March.  As I was leaving the courthouse I got a real glimpse of how monolithically slow the judicial system here is as I saw a guy sitting at a desk in the hallway sorting a massive stack of paperwork while wearing an industrial dust mask…the cases move so slowly that they actually become hazardous!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finally a Charge Sheet

September 2011

On the 24th of August Caroline told me that I would have to go to the court to pick up the charge sheet.  The next morning I tried in vain to get a hold of Vijeta and Caroline was out of the office.  Vijeta texted back at 10am saying that I should call one of the senior lawyers, Raju.  I couldn’t get a hold of him until 1:30pm, just as I was finishing lunch at a beachside restaurant in Arambol.  He asked if I could be in the Panjim court at 2:30pm.  What?!?  You’re kidding me...I’ve been waiting almost 300 days for this charge sheet and now you’re giving me an hour to be in court which is about an hour’s scooter ride plus I’d need to rent a scooter and put gas in it first.  Come on.  Raju revised it to 3pm so I quickly paid my bill, hired a bike and was off to Panjim.

I arrived at the Sessions Court in Panjim, a large three storey building painted in royal blue.  While waiting for Raju in the main foyer, Sachin, the police sub-inspector who falsified the report in my case walked by me a couple of times within a few feet of me.  I stared at him but either he didn’t see me or was avoiding me.  Raju came out and told me to head up two flights of stairs at the back of the building to Judge Nutan’s court.  Although the outside of the courthouse was a big improvement over the one in Mapsa, the inside did have a few areas that were pretty dingy and dirty. 

The Sessions Courthouse in Panjim:

Entering the courtroom, there was already a witness on the stand off to the left side of the judge.  There were about ten rows of stiff, upright chairs on either side of the middle aisle.  A wooden banister divided the gallery from the area for the advocates, stenographer and other court assistants.  Half a dozen fans coupled with all of the open windows attempted to keep the room at a comfortable temperature but they seemed to be losing the battle.  The judge was an overweight woman in her late 40s with big round glasses.  I could tell right away that she was a no nonsense type person.

The witness turned out to be a medical doctor who was listing off a myriad of injuries to the victim.  It was a slow process describing the locations and lengths of lacerations and contusions which were then repeated by the judge for recording by the stenographer.  I eventually heard the words “deceased” and “her” so I assumed it was a murder case of a woman.  I finally clued in that there were two accused sitting in a small cordoned off area on the right front side of the courtroom.  One looked to be about 25 years old while the other was in his mid 40s.

The doctor claimed that the victim died from asphyxiation and said that he could correlate one of the injuries with one of the accused as he was “polydettal”.  I made a mental note of this unknown word to look it up later.  They called the older of the two accused men over to the witness box and asked him to raise his right hand.  What the doctor had really meant was “polydactyl” the man’s hand had 2 thumbs.  So the bruises around the neck of the victim matched those that would be created by a two thumbed killer!  Insane, what am I doing in the same courtroom as these people?  I hadn’t even lit the joint I was rolling so I didn’t even give anyone harm from second hand smoke!

Close to 5pm, the ending time for the afternoon court session, I was called up to the accused box as Raju was bringing up the issue that the 25,000 rupee bond for my Manali trip back in May had still not been released.  Wait, I thought I was here for my charge, come back for that in four days son.

On August 29th I went to the court at 2:30pm and while waiting for my matter to come up, I sat through another bit of a murder case.  This time it was a police officer on the witness stand and he was detailing how a man had gone to see a female friend, they took a bus somewhere, had sex and then he choked her for her jewellery valued at a mere 34,000 rupees ($680) sad, life is cheap over here.

Vijeta was there to represent me along with another client.  She was finished with all of her matters with the judge and told me to wait to receive my copy of the charge sheet from one of the clerks at the front of the courtroom.  Ten minutes later, the clerk beckoned me to come up by the judge’s desk to sign for it while the court proceedings continued.  The clerk made a motion with her hands and I thought she meant for me to sit down so I did, in a lawyer’s chair.  Judge Nutan immediately scolded me.  I said sorry but forgot the “your honour” part and immediately stood up, signed the form and sheepishly returned to the gallery.  Good first impression with the judge Dave!

The clerk had pointed to a piece of paper when I was receiving the charge sheet that said that my next court date was November 1st, over two months away.

So I finally received this document infamously known as the “charge sheet”.  What was in it?  Well to quickly sum it up, a lot of BS.  It was 30 pages of legal sized paper with lots of the pages double sided.  It listed ten witnesses for the police: the three patrolling officers, another policeman who supposedly performed the weighing and packaging of the charas on the beach (which never happened), another policeman who would have been the middleman to the FDA, a scientific assistant at the FDA, two “panch” witnesses and of course the main star, the sub-inspector Sachin Narvekar who embellished the case.  The panch witnesses are supposed to be people of good standing in the community but I had no clue who these people were.  They were purportedly there when I was being searched, as third party independent witnesses.  In fact they are just paid a couple thousand rupees ($40) to show up in court and commit perjury.

A lot of the charge sheet was repetitious.  There was a statement from Sachin that states that he noticed me standing suspiciously next to the “Buddha” restaurant (which is the restaurant next to where I was arrested...but I wasn’t standing around) at 9:50pm yet it was actually 7:30pm when I was arrested.  So he approached me, I tried to run then he asked me what I was up to and I had no good answer.   He then introduced me to the two panch witnesses and asked me if I wanted to search them and the police (to prevent any planting of narcotics) and I declined.  On searching me they found 23 individual packages of hash in a tissue like paper in my pocket.  He called for a cop to come out from the police station with a weighing and sealing kit and they packaged up the evidence right there on the beach with “sufficient light”.  This complete statement is copied, hardly altered and then the different names of the police officers and panch witnesses are slapped on them for their piece of the complaint.  I couldn’t understand why they had bothered to fabricate so much of it.  Why not at least get the time and the place correct?

The FDA report lists the individual weights of the 23 packages and they are all completely different, ranging from 2 grams up to 32 grams.  If I was some kind of dealer, I wouldn’t be a very good one.  I thought it was also interesting that none of them correlate to what I was caught with.  I had bought a “tola” which is 10 grams and is the smallest amount you can normally buy here.  I had broken some of that off to make a joint but the closest to 10 grams is either 7.32 grams or 11.43 grams.  Obviously these were all pieces that the police had confiscated from other tourists from whom they had received bribes.

 One thing that scared me with the charge sheet which caused me to lose some sleep over the ensuing weekend was that my signature was on one form called the Property Seizure Memo.  When I was in the police station that first night I recall signing a few forms that I should have more carefully read first but I was frazzled.  Sachin claimed that one was for the fact that they were confiscating my passport and another was that I was being placed under custody.  Well I think he conned me by only partially filling out this memo before obtaining my signature as the front side listed data like my name, address along with that of the two panch witnesses and then on the back there’s a box filled in saying that they are submitting a sealed envelope with 210 grams of charas.  There are designated places for the officer and the two panch witnesses to sign but then all by its own at the bottom of the sheet is my signature.  For sure I didn’t sign with that information written above on the form.

My lawyers told me not to worry as they had tried and tested methods for dealing with the signatures that were obtained while I was under duress.  They also stated that they saw many holes and inconsistencies in the way the charges were presented so I was not to worry.  The majority of the cases that they defend in court are dismissed based on technicalities, mistakes made by the police in not following standard procedure.  It is best if it doesn’t become a “he said, she said” type of affair as the police have ten witnesses versus my two (the French couple I was with who provided written affidavits).

I guess I have to trust the experts... 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Month Lost for Twenty Cents

June-August, 2010

Returning from Manali at the start of June in 2011, I had the naive hope that the charge sheet would have been filed during my leave.  Six months had passed since my arrest but sadly it had not been completed yet and the police claimed that they were still waiting for the test results.  Okay, well at least 45+ days have passed since we sent in the Right To Information letter to the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and seeing has they have 30 days by law to reply, there should be some news there...but disappointingly there wasn’t.

The lawyers offered that we could submit an application to try and get my passport back in order to make it a bit easier for me to travel in India as well as facilitating some tasks like buying a SIM card for a phone or renting a scooter.  Here was another hurry up and wait.  I met a junior lawyer Namrata at the courthouse and signed the application.  Two days later at 9:30am I had to get the court order from the lawyer’s office in Mapsa and take it immediately to the Pernem police station.  The matter was going to be heard in court at 2:30pm and Sachin had to be there.  What?!? 

First off, this felt odd that I was essentially serving papers to the officer who had fabricated the case against me to make him go to court.  Don’t subpoenas work the other way around?  Then, as my luck would have it, my scooter wouldn’t start outside the lawyer’s office.  I walked it to a scooter mechanic who was luckily just a few blocks away.  After some tinkering, they diagnosed that a part needed to be replaced so it was best to call the owner.  I ended up taking a taxi to Pernem and delivered the papers at 11am.  Well it didn’t matter as the issue was not heard in court that day.  After numerous postponements by the court over the course of a few weeks, I was told that the court was not actually in a proper functioning state.

I found out more about this aspect of the NDPS Court (Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances) not operating over the next few months and it turned out that a judge recently retired and he was replaced by a new guy, PV Sawaikar.  After presiding over some cases at the start of 2010, a lawyer raised an issue that Sawaikar wasn’t properly vetted and didn’t truly have the powers to judge these narcotic cases.  So a higher court gave this power to an already very busy female judge, Nutan Sarvessai, in the Sessions Court in Panjim.  My lawyers told me that it was unprecedented that it had been so long that the NDPS Court was in this state.  Supposedly part of the reason for it taking so long was that the Goan Home Minister, Ravi Naik, wanted to put in a judge sympathetic to him as his son was a big drug dealer in north Goa and Mr. Naik did not want him to be arrested...can you believe that!?!  What luck I seem to be having with this, what I began to call the “Arambol Affair”.

So now the lawyers presented my application to the Sessions Court but in the end I was told that currently the judge only has powers to perform bail and remand decisions...great.  So this application ended up dying before being heard in court.

From mid June to the first week of July of 2011, I kept asking my lawyers about the letter to the FDA.  The junior advocate Vijeta finally confessed that the letter had been returned to their office, not once but twice!  In April when I had offered to take the letter to the FDA myself, she had mailed it to the wrong address.  It was returned and the lawyers resent it in early June but this time they forgot to attach the 10 rupee fee stamps required for all “Right To Information” requests.  The letter had been returned to the lawyers with a letter identifying their error.  Surely writing and sending this letter cost more than 10 rupees.  So I lost a month of time due to 10 bloody rupees...20 cents!  Incredible India.  To add more frustration, the letter back from the FDA asking for the fee had been sitting in the lawyer’s office for 10 days and it wasn’t until I asked Vijeta about it that she told me.  I’m not too good at getting very angry at other people but I let Vijeta know I was upset.  She claimed that they had been extremely busy but that’s a weak excuse in that if they had made a two minute phone call to me ten days prior I would have taken the matter into my own hands and delivered the letter myself, which I did in the end.

On July 5th, I collected the letter from the lawyers and took it to Panjim.  The FDA office was located up on a hill and was relatively easy to find.  I found the State Public Information Officer and was a bit surprised that she recognized my name.  I paid my 10 f’n rupees and went on my way.

On the way back through Mapsa, I stopped in at the lawyer’s office again and expressed my frustration with Caroline about the fact that I felt any progress had been delayed by 2 ½ months due to their errors.  She claimed that the letter was merely a tactic to try and put pressure on them to get the analysis done and that even if they responded within 30 days (as they must with RTI requests) it didn’t mean that they had done the testing.  She only figured that it would take about a day to do the actual testing and there aren’t that many drug cases in Goa so she didn’t know why it was taking so long.  I asked what the longest amount of time to get a charge sheet was that she had seen, and for just a charas case, mine was the longest.  Nice.

She suggested that I write a letter of petition to the High Court stating that I was stuck here, unable to work and that it had  been 7 months now and there was still no charge sheet.  I should also mention that the fact that Judge PV Sawaikar, the new judge in the NDPS court in Mapsa, didn’t have the power to pass rulings anymore was causing backlogs in the Sessions court which is a problem for many other people.  She thought that I should deliver the letter myself and ask them how long I should expect to receive an answer back.  I delivered the letter in mid July to the High Court and surprisingly received an answer back a month later that just said: “I am directed to inform you, to approach the concerned Court/Office for redressal of your grievance.”  Geez, thanks guys...the whole problem is that my “concerned” court wasn’t what was I supposed to do?

Only two weeks after I personally delivered the letter to the FDA, we received an answer.  The letter said that they received the sample on December 10, 2010, three days after I was arrested.  They finally tested it on June 24, 2011 and sent a copy to the Superintendent of Police Crime, Dona Paula in Panjim on June 27, 2011.  The lab test takes 5 days to perform but they took 197 days to do it, and didn’t have to say why!  Looking at the timings of the letters, the second letter without the 10 rupee stamps would have arrived at the FDA just about a week before they actually tested it.  Couple that with the fact that the woman there recognized my name, I think that when they received this letter they thought “Oh shit, where is this stuff we need to test?  We must have forgotten about it.  Oh, it’s in this back closet.  Okay, quick, someone test it.”

With that step complete, it should only take the cops a week or two to finally submit the charge sheet.  Oh, wishful thinking Dave.  Even with having Karen from the UK Consulate call the police multiple times to make sure they quickly did their bit, it took until August 23rd until it was filed with the court! only took 9 ½ months to get the charge sheet...

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Mistake in Manali

May, 2010

My travel application to Manali cost 5000 rupees ($100) and since I was going so far away up north and close to the semi-porous border of Nepal, I had to pay a 25,000 rupee bond ($500) and get what’s called a “local surety”, like I had to for my initial bail.  This is a local person of good standing who is basically vouching for you.  Seems crazy to me as how as a foreigner am I supposed to know someone well enough that they would help me like this?  Well, money fixes that.  For 5000 more rupees, some stranger will willingly do it so it cost me $200 for the permission plus $500 tied up with the surety that ironically I couldn’t be “sure” if I would get back.

I took a 24 hour train from Goa to Delhi and then had to wait until the following evening to catch a bus up to Manali.  Many backpackers stay in a district close to the train station called Pahar Ganj.  I grabbed a tuk tuk from the station and of course the driver immediately wanted to take me to hotels where he would receive a commission for bringing them a guest.  I quickly realized that this guy was going to have his work cut out for him.  Having no passport and visa, just a set of court documents, I was refused accommodation at the first couple of hotels.  Soon a couple turned into 8-10 hotels that this persistent driver took me to.  Finally we found one that was a bit sympathetic and after about half an hour of consideration and finally consultation with the manager I was given a room.  Whew.

While in the capital, I decided to visit the British High Commission to see if I could find out anything else they might be able to help me with.  Surprisingly the lady recognized my name so there can’t be that many other British Nationals in this predicament.  Unfortunately as I previously mentioned, there’s not much that they can do to help me at this stage.

In Manali I stayed at the Purnima Guesthouse which is owned and operated by the brothers that run the Olive Garden Restaurant in Goa where I was arrested.  On my first day I went with the manager and my friend Manu to the police station to get my court papers signed.  Manu was taking in photocopies of passports and visas (including mine) of his newly arrived guests, a task he performs every few days.  It was nice to have Manu there to talk to the officer to get my papers signed. 

What we didn’t think of was that we didn’t include a copy of the court paperwork with my passport and visa copies.  My 6 month tourist visa for India had just recently expired so eventually some other police officer going through them raised a red flag when he saw mine.  Three days after I arrived in Manali I was relaxing on the balcony outside my room enjoying the view of the river, forest and mountains.  Suddenly Pinku, the front desk guy who was also a waiter back in Goa at the Olive Garden, popped around the corner with a distraught look on his face.  “Dave, do you have anything on you?” he asked.  I immediately knew what he was insinuating and jumped up and into my room.  I had purchased two tolas (20 grams) of charas, ironically from the same waiter from my Goa episode who worked in one of their restaurants in Old Manali.  My logic was to buy once for my stay in Manali to minimize risk.  Well that was a mistake.

Two plain clothes officers came around the corner behind Pinku.  I met them at the doorway of my room, not having been able to dispose of the contraband in time.  They were inquiring about my expired visa.  I told them in a shaky voice that it was due to me having a court case back in Goa.  I showed them the paperwork and once they read that it was about charas they backed me into my room and closed the door, totally not legal but my heart was racing and my mind was not functioning correctly.  How stupid can you be Dave?  Caught again within 6 months.

“Do you have any charas here in the room?  If so, you’d better produce it before we begin to search.  If you give it to us now, you can stay outside.  If we search then you’ll be going inside.”

I nervously pulled the hash out of my bag under the bed and handed it to one of the cops.  The same guy asked again “So do you want to stay outside or inside?”  I realized this was the hint to pay baksheesh, a bribe.  I grabbed my money belt and proceeded to hand one of them three 1000 rupee notes (a total of $60).  The policeman waved his hand signalling that it wasn’t enough so I handed over another 1000.  He looked at the other cop who nodded and then incredulously they handed me back the charas and left!  Now why hadn’t it happened like that the first time?!?

This little episode with the expired visa made me realize that I wasn’t going to be able to travel to other areas of the state as we had only listed the Purnima Guesthouse in Old Manali in the application.  My lawyer Caroline had told me that it wouldn’t be a problem staying elsewhere and it hadn’t been in my previous trips as my visa was still valid then, but it’s a different story now.  It’s going to make any future trips out of Goa much more difficult too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The First Few Months of Waiting

January-March, 2011

After I was released from police custody I was told by my new lawyer Caroline that there would now be a waiting period for the police to officially file their “charge sheet” with the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances) court in Mapsa.  This would likely take about 3 months but incredulously there is no set time limit since I was out on bail.  If I was still in custody then there is a 3 month time limit.  Surely they should make a provision for foreigners on bail whose lives are in a state of limbo.  Locals can just go about their business waiting for this glacially paced judicial system. 

The first and potentially longest step is that the “stuff” was sent off to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the Goan capital of Panjim for testing.  Obviously if it wasn’t actually hash then there was no point in continuing with a trial.  The lawyer told me that I was lucky in that any other narcotic except for charas (hash) would be sent to Hyderabad where it can take up to a year for them to test it!  I think they need some more staff.  She thought the FDA in Goa would take about 3 months to process it.  Even this seems ridiculous, it should take five minutes...just roll one up, smoke it and if you feel a little funny, it’s charas!

So now I had to wait.

My bail conditions stipulated that I must remain in Goa unless I had specific permission from the court allowing me to travel within India and that I must check in at the Pernem police station once a month.  On January 22nd, 2011 I drove a scooter to the police station for my first of many monthly sign-ins.  The officers there had a difficult time finding the sign-in book and in the end they gave me a different one to the one I had signed each day for the first week that I was out of custody in December.  The officer opened the book to the appropriate page and put it down on the desk in front of me.  I signed and was starting to close the book to pass it back when the policeman grabbed it.  I got the sense that he was trying to hide something and then I saw the cover of the soft back book...and can you believe that it had on it...Bugs Bunny and some other Looney Tunes characters on it!  What a joke.

The day after I was released I spent the entire afternoon in the same restaurant where I had been busted writing out my ordeal of the past week on my laptop.  During the course of my mental dump I couldn’t help but notice that at some point while I worked away, every single table lit up a chillum, a pipe or a joint.  What?  That doesn’t seem fair.  If the cops wanted, they could fill the cells every day, but it seems that I was the sacrificial lamb for the police to set their tone for the upcoming tourist season.  Again, just like a bird dives down into the sea to scoop up a fish from a school, one guy’s got to end up in the belly, and I’m the one in the belly.

I had resolved not to smoke any more charas while staying in India but that didn’t last long.  I was constantly being offered a joint seeing as I was now a bit of a local celebrity.  Obviously it wasn’t wise for me to tempt fate so I kept declining but late one evening after celebrating a birthday of a new friend, the restaurant was closed and the lights turned off.  I was sitting at a table lit by some candles with a couple of the wait staff and a few other foreigners.  A fairly full moon bathed the beach in light and there wasn’t anyone to be seen.  One kitchen staff worker had rolled this cannon of a doobie and passed it to me to light.  I contemplated the situation and it seemed very safe and in a strange way I felt like I deserved it after all I had gone through.  We could easily see if anyone was approaching the restaurant and my hut was just 30 meters away out the back way.  So I threw caution to the wind and started to light the joint...but I lit the wrong end, I lit the filter!?!  Incredible.  I had just spent a week in jail for charas possession and I couldn’t even light a bloody spliff!  Yup, the police had really found the drug kingpin here.  The worker fixed my mistake and passed it back to me.  After about five minutes we did spot a couple of people walking down the beach, in our general direction.  “Okay guys.” I said, “There’s no need for me to be here, I’m off to bed.”   I began to walk through the dark restaurant and whack!  I had slammed my foot into a concrete planter and fell flat on my face.  Wearing only flip flops I did some nice damage to my right foot, perhaps breaking my little toe.  Wow, add injury to insult!

Seeing as I hadn’t seen much of India outside of Goa yet, I applied in late January to obtain permission to travel to Hampi and Panchgani on two separate trips.  Hampi is a popular place for backpackers with many temples and crazy rock formations while Panchgani is a hill station, a good place to paraglide.  The lawyer’s fee was 3000 rupees ($60).  As instructed by the advocates I booked return train tickets for these trips in order to show to the court that I had intention of returning.  Well the judge happened to be on holiday until the end of the month so I had to cancel my tickets and rebook for a later date.  In the end, my application was granted for Hampi but Panchgani would have to be sorted out when I returned to Goa.

After a fantastic trip to Hampi, I went to the lawyer’s office to sign my application for the Panchgani trip.  Four days later, once it had initially been processed by the court, I was told to meet one of the junior lawyers of the firm I have hired at the courthouse in Mapsa at 5pm.  I hadn’t been to the courthouse before so I was curious to see it.  It’s a large two storey dingy white brick building in desparate need of a coat of paint.  Inside wasn’t any better with dull sun faded yellow walls and cracks in the plaster.  I met Vijeta upstairs in a short hallway that split and led to two different courtrooms.  She passed me the application and told me to take it to the police station to get it signed by the inspecting officer (I/O) Sachin Narvekar, the guy who had falsified the reports of the amount that I was caught with.  Then I was to return it to the lawyer’s office in Mapsa.  What Vijeta did not explain to me was that all of this had to be done before 10am the next day so that it could receive the final approval from the court.  What?  How can this legal system be so monolithically slow in most respects and then demand this kind of rapid action?

Needless to say, the application had to be resubmitted and once again I cancelled my train tickets for Panchgani.  Thankfully the Indian Rail company doesn’t charge much for these cancellations.  I eventually received permission for the trip but not after having scootered two times to Pernem and five times to Mapsa, both around half an hour away from Arambol Beach in opposite directions.

On arriving to Panchgani, I went to the police station to check in as instructed by my granted application from the court.  Due to slim timing, I didn’t have the latest copy of the application but a copy of the previous one which was identical but with older dates on it.  Well this threw the police officer for a loop.  He spent about ten minutes searching through his tourist sign-in book, which isn’t for cases like me but is in fact for tourists staying in guesthouses who are registered with the police.  I told him twice that I wouldn’t be in that book as I had just arrived the night before but then thought I’d better shut up and let him do his useless search.  He then said I hadn’t been in Panchgani last week (d’uh) but wouldn’t let me sign in any book.  He told me that I would have to have Andre the manager at the Eco Camp (where I was staying) bring a copy of my passport and his form to be officially signed in.  I told this to Andre when I got back there and filled in the form, gave him a copy of my passport and visa and he went into the police station later that morning...problem solved.

Unfortunately in Panchgani I crashed my paraglider and ended up spending 11 days in a small hospital in a town called Wai (pronounced “why”!?!).   I had compressed a disc in my back and there was no way that I would be able to take the 2 hour taxi and 5-6 hour train ride back to Goa for some time as I couldn’t even get out of bed at this point.

Oh India, you seem to really love me.  Not only is your judicial system keeping me here but now I was physically confined to this hospital bed.  Even though I was in considerable pain from the injury, this was also another very low point for me emotionally.  I felt cut off from “my world”.  I had no phone or Internet access with which to communicate to friends and family.  My only one life line was being able to send and receive SMS messages on my phone from Naomi in Israel whom I had met in Arambol a few months before, and that meant a lot.

I spent a few days trying to get a hold of the lawyers while lying prone in the hospital.  In the end I was instructed to get a letter written up by the doctor and fax it to them.  I was called up the next day by the lawyer’s assistant Rebecca at 1:50pm and she told me that this letter had to be in their hands by 3:30pm in order to be taken to the court.  Well what to do?  I can’t get out of the hospital bed and there’s no doctor paging system...  I finally got a hold of the doctor and got the note prepared but then we found out that the fax machine at the lawyer’s office didn’t work!  What?  So we emailed it instead.  Another crazy hurry up and stop.

Once out of the hospital I remained in Panchgani recuperating for week before being physically strong enough to endure the trip back to Goa.  Once back I checked in at the Pernem police station and yet again I signed the “cartoon” book...too funny.  Nice official documents guys!

During April I continually asked the lawyers if they had heard anything about the charge sheet.  After numerous calls and text messages, I finally received this reply from Caroline: “The officer told me the analysis report was not received.  He said he would file immediately on receipt.  We can write a letter to FDA department if you will take it to Panjim asking whether analysis is done and if not why not.”

In India there’s an Act called the “Right To Information”.  Essentially anyone can write a letter to a government body and they have 30 days to reply to the inquiry.  I scootered to Mapsa and Vijeta showed me the letter she had drafted up.  I was planning to physically take it to the FDA office in Panjim but she suggested that she could just mail it and it would be there tomorrow.  I hadn’t been to Panjim and wasn’t looking forward to trying to find the FDA in a likely confusing Indian city so I agreed to her idea...which turned out to be a silly thing to do...more on that later.

Trying to exercise all of my options, I called Karen at the UK Consulate to see if she could put a little pressure on the police to hurry up with the charge sheet.  She spoke to Sachin and found out that they were still waiting on the test results from the FDA.  Unfortunately the embassies cannot do a whole lot in this situation.  They cannot influence the local judicial system or get any special treatment for their “helpful” little pamphlets tell you.

Around this time I found out from Caroline that the lawyer’s fees for my case, which is considered an “intermediate” amount (100 grams to 1 kg of charas is considered an intermediate amount) would be 150,000 rupees or about $3000.  Okay, no small change but thankfully I could handle that.  She also told me that their office shuts down for the month of May due to the hot and sticky weather that precedes the monsoon season.  So I might as well get out of Dodge...I worked on a new travel application to go up to Manali in Himachal Pradesh, in the north of India, for the month of May, hoping that when I returned that the Charge Sheet would be ready...again, how naive Dave.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Getting Out...Freedom! Sort of...

December 15th, 2010

I was up early on Wednesday morning probably thanks to a combination of the uncomfortable mattress, noisy guards and the excitement of it being my eighth and almost certainly last night in police lockup.  On the second day after I was first arrested, Sachin mentioned that if I couldn’t afford a lawyer that the state would provide one but I could be in lock up for 6-8 days.  At the time I couldn’t contemplate another two nights in jail but here I was, over a week later...I guess it can be done.

Dinesh and Shawn were both happy for me and Dinesh even paid the grumpy, old and seemingly always drunk man who usually brings the food to obtain some cookies which greatly added to the breakfast meal’s stale bun.  The morning could not end soon enough. 

Around 10:30am I was called out of the cell and was not pleased when I saw Sachin sitting at a desk preparing a statement for me.  It began by just stating who I was, passport number, address etc.  He then wanted to know what happened on the day I was arrested and I had finally wised up and stopped him there and said I wasn’t going to answer any questions without my lawyer present.  In disgust he ordered a guard to put me back in the cell...fine by me.

Unfortunately 11:30 came and went.  Soon it was after 1pm and lunch was delivered.  I was hungry but decided to only eat half of the meal, optimistically saving some room for some pizza that I craved to have when I got out.

Around 3pm I was told to collect my items in the cell and come into the main office area.  Caroline wasn’t there yet but they were returning from south Goa with all of the paperwork to get me out.  I guess they had to drive a long way and actually went to a judge’s house to get the deal done.  Sachin had me sit down across the desk from him and tried again to play buddy buddy.  He asked about my education and for some odd reason he wanted to know my university.  I told him “Ontario University”.  He also wanted my email address so I questioned back why he needed that.  “Just to pass on any messages or information or send pictures.”  Huh?  “No, you can contact me through my lawyer” I stated.

He then pulled out his digital camera and proceeded to show me a horrific picture of a dead woman by a railroad track whose leg had been severed.  Thanks.  “Want to see the photos of the woman who burned herself to death?” he offered.  “No thanks.  Immolation is just not my cup of tea.”

The minutes crept along but thankfully Sachin got up and left to his office.  I pulled out my book and tried to read but after every sentence I looked up at the entrance and then the clock.  When will Caroline arrive?  It can’t come fast enough.  Eventually she and Rebecca walked in...yes!  After a couple of minutes of perusing the forms with Sachin, I was told to sign the bail release.  Having learned my lesson from my first few days in lockup, I double checked with Caroline that I should sign it, signed it and then we walked out the door.  What a feeling!  Freedom!

I chatted with Zohar on Caroline’s cell and she had wanted to come to pick me up but she had missed Caroline’s call a half hour earlier to give her a head’s up as to when to leave Arambol.  I thanked Zo for the offer but since it would be another half an hour for her to arrive I declined her offer.  I just wanted to get away from the police station as fast as possible.  With Caroline’s help I was soon on a motorbike taxi riding off towards Arambol.  Since I was first taken to the Pernem police station in the dark, I actually had no real clue where I was in relation to Arambol Beach.  It was quite a nice ride along a twisty road by a river lined with palm trees and then up onto a plateau with longer, straight roads.  I couldn’t help but smile the entire ride back.  In fact I videoed myself saying “I’m free” in Hindi and also singing “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” (an Aretha Franklin song “Think” that was in the Blues Brothers movie).

The front of the police station in Pernem:

Happy on the motorbike taxi:

"I'm free!" (said in botched Hindi)

Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!

I paid the driver and then walked down onto the beach.  It looked familiar but also felt different.  I was looking at the place through new eyes and with an overwhelming sense of relief.  I immediately headed down to the water and walked through the surf with my flip flops on.  I wanted to wash off as much of that dirty cell from me as soon as possible.  As I headed south towards the Olive Garden restaurant, I saw three of the staff chucking a Frisbee around.  When they finally spotted me they yelled out my name and came running to me to give me some big hugs.  Wow!  What a feeling.  Heading up to the restaurant I was greeted by some more of the staff and then Zohar appeared with a small bowl of flower petals which she tossed in front of me.  More hugs, more smiles, more elation.  The French couple I was with when I was arrested, Daniel and Marie, had returned from traveling in another region just to see me.  A bottle of champagne was popped open to begin a fantastic night of celebration.  It turned out to also be the 50th birthday of a Portuguese woman Ana so it was in fact a double party...what an evening!

Back on Arambol Beach:

Greetings from my guardian angel:


The celebration dinner:

The next few days I had more ups and downs.  The gravity of the next phase of the ordeal, a trial, sank in.  I desperately wanted to get in contact with my sisters.  I walked to an Internet cafe on the main street on the second evening of my release hoping to catch my sisters via Skype.  I happen to pick a cafe I’d never used before and I sat down at one of the four archaic computers.  Just as I began to fire up Skype, the Internet connection was lost.  I thought, well, what to do?  So I just looked at the desktop on the computer and saw that someone had saved some pictures there.  I decided to take a gander because who knows, it might be a picture of some hot tourist in a bikini on the beach...well it was quite the opposite.  The first picture showed a large truck filled with bags that were identical to the bags of rice that lined the police station wall while I was incarcerated and there were the four rice smugglers with distraught faces while the three policemen in the picture were grinning ear to ear.  Two of the policemen were involved in my arrest.  What are the chances?  Of the myriad of Internet cafes I should choose this one, then pick this computer and then happen to look at the picture, which I assume was from the newspaper article of their arrest, of the men I had recently shared a cell with!

The Internet connection did not return so the following morning I woke up early and headed back to the main street to try and contact my sisters.  It was 9am and the main street was quite devoid of life but I saw this man way off in the distance walking my way and for some reason he looked familiar.  “Deano?”  I yelled out.  It was him.  I had met Deano a couple months earlier in France at the Coupe Icare Festival.  Wow, if I ever needed to see a friendly face it was now!  He had no idea that I was in Arambol, nor did I know that he was coming for a 5 week stay.  Another strange coincidence, but this time an amazing and emotionally lifting one!

I finally was able to get in contact with my eldest sister Julie and I explained what had happened.  Hearing her voice meant a lot and I was close to tears by the end of the call.  Knowing that the love and support of my family would be unwavering through this predicament was amazingly reassuring.  She was going to pass on the news to the rest of my family and comforted me by saying a phrase that our mother used to say to us: “Keep your chin up.”

One of my bail conditions was that I had to report to the police station every day for a week between 10am and 1pm and then once a month after that.  Thankfully it was a fun road to ride on a scooter, passing by small villages with windy roads snaking through some lush jungle that eventually ran alongside a beautiful river.  I was also required to stay in the state of Goa unless I had permission from the court to leave which the lawyer said shouldn’t be a problem.  Caroline told me when we first met at the police station that the whole legal affair could take upwards of 7-8 months to be resolved so I figured I was really going to get to know India.

Daniel and Marie were with me at the time that I was arrested so I went with them to a nearby small city called Mapusa (more commonly known as Mapsa) to see the lawyer.  They wanted to provide a statement in hopes that it might help me with my case.  We met the senior partner of the law firm, Peter de Souza and after speaking with him I felt a lot better about my situation.  He told me that I should not stress about the case and claimed that there was a 99.9% chance that I would not face any jail time and in the unlikely possibility that I did, that the sentence would likely be the eight days that I have already served.  He told me that I should go out and explore and enjoy India.  Wow, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders although there would continue to be a cloud over my head until it was completely resolved.   Who knows what the lawyer fees may end up costing me but that would be a small price to pay should my name be cleared and I definitely didn’t want to spend any more time in jail.

I endeavoured to take the positives out of this whole ordeal.  I gained a new appreciation for freedom and did realize that many people face a much worse situation.  Live and learn right?

I can’t say enough about my new friends who helped me through this initial and frightening stage of my ordeal here.  Zohar was my guardian angel.  She stayed longer than she expected to in Goa just to make sure I got out.  She came to the police station almost every day, helped me get a new lawyer and provided mental and emotional support.  Her friends Avishai and Noa also came to see me a couple of times.  Israelis sure know how to band together when the going gets tough and to stick up for what they believe in.  And then there’s the French couple, Daniel and Marie, who visited me on the first day, travelled back 10-12 hours in order to provide support for me and visited the lawyer’s office twice in order to give their statements.  Thanks have made a large deposit into the Karma jar.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Behind Bars

December 10th-15th, 2010

On my third day of incarceration, a couple more Indians involved in the rice smuggling scheme were added to the cell.  It was starting to get a little crowded.  I just kept my nose in my book.  Thankfully all of them left in the early evening and I was back to having the place to myself for a short period.

That afternoon one of my Israeli friends Zohar came to see me in my cell, the first time she was allowed to come out back.  She had some very disturbing news for me.  She had tried to see me the day before but was denied by Sachin.  She told me that my story of being arrested was in the newspaper.  In the newspaper?!?  They must be hard up for news in Goa.  The bigger and more disconcerting fact was that I had been charged for possession of 210 grams of hashish.  210 grams!  What?!?  There’s a big difference between the 10 I actually had and 210!  My heart sank in my chest and a wave of nervous adrenaline coursed through my veins.  My emotional rollercoaster plunged to a new low.

We both agreed that it was time to involve the Canadian and UK consulates.  I needed help.

Zohar had brought some food and water for me for which I was incredibly grateful but after she left my mind raced a million miles a minute trying to digest the information she had given me.  What a two faced bastard Sachin is!  He is a two star policeman, a sub-inspector and all I can assume is that he overcharged me in order to look better to his seniors in the hopes of becoming a full inspector with his third star.  Very few foreigners get arrested for drug possession in Goa as most people just pay off the police...stupid me, stupid me...why didn’t I think to offer those cops some money?!?

At this point my family back in Canada and the US were unaware of what had happened and I had hoped to be released from the police station in the first day or two to be able to call them personally but that wasn’t looking so promising.  It was Friday now and there was a chance that I would be spending the weekend in jail.  Zohar offered to contact them so I set about providing this new friend of mine with all of my confidentials: my bank card and PIN, my email and Skype password.  When I worked in an IT department of a high tech company I was required to use many different passwords for administrative accounts which often had “hard” passwords, the types that are random alphanumeric characters sprinkled with symbols.  I ended up using my administrative password for my personal email account as I had typed it so many times that my fingers pretty much just knew it from muscle memory.  What that meant though was that I drew a blank as I tried to write it out for Zohar on a piece of paper.  I needed a keyboard.  I asked the police officers if I could briefly use their ancient computer which was in the next room but they couldn’t comprehend my request.  What did I plan to do with it?  After about five minutes of attempting to explain the rationale, Sachin finally stepped in and allowed me to briefly go next door to figure out my password.  As I sat at the keyboard I couldn’t help but imagine the incredulous and flummoxed reactions that my sisters would have receiving a phone call from some strange Israeli woman in India stating that their little brother was in a mess of trouble.

Later that day I had two calls, first from the Canadian consulate in Mumbai and then from the UK one in Panjim, the capital city of Goa.  This seemed promising.  The UK consulate was going to take the lead since I had entered India on my UK passport and their office was much closer.  They passed on some names of lawyers and I told them to contact Zohar to get me a new lawyer.  These calls precipitated a comment from the three star and most senior officer of the station, Uttam, that I had the whole world checking up on how I was doing.  Well that was fine by me.

The afternoon crept along and with each passing hour my hopes of this being my day of release diminished.  It was even tougher this day as it was a Friday and so the prospect of spending the entire weekend in jail began to be reality.

I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the only foreigner locked up for days and days for this minor offense.  It would be so easy for the cops to fill this cell everyday if they wanted to.  I couldn’t help but think of a swim I had in the ocean a few days before I was arrested.  There was a school of thousands of small fish and then a seagull dove down and gobbled up one unlucky guy.  I couldn’t help but feel like the little mackerel in the gull’s belly.

Later Partekar, my supposed lawyer, came to see me and stated that the court demanded a 50,000 rupee surety ($1000) along with the home and work addresses of three blood relatives.  He asked me if I had arranged a local surety.  Of course I hadn’t, how was I supposed to do that from behind bars with no access to a phone?  Even if I had a phone, I’d have no idea who to call.  I was under the impression from our first meeting that this was a service he was going to provide for me but he stated that had it been a 25,000 rupee surety, sure, but no one he knows would want to touch a 50,000 rupee one.  I asked him whether he could call Zohar to pass on this news but he said he couldn’t.  I started to lose it.  What good are you Partekar?  How are you helping me?!?

At this moment I was taken out of my cell to go to the hospital for another medical check up to make sure I was still fit for police lockup.  Another guard, Santosh, could see my frustration and he quietly said to me that we would talk later when he was on duty.  He whispered that he didn’t like what was happening to me (with the inflated amount that I was being charged with) and tried to reassure me that in the end God would decide what was right.  Regardless, I was boiling over on the ride to the local medical center and it wasn’t surprising to me that my blood pressure was up.  A woman and a young man were also getting a medical exam.  I never saw the woman again but the guy ended up staying in the cell with me that night.

Shawn was a 26 year old Goan and an orphan who had been in jail for a couple of weeks on the charge of kidnapping.  He didn’t look like your stereotypical kidnapper; glasses, a thin goatee, 5’9 and probably about 140 pounds wet.  He recalled his story to me of why he was in jail.  He was living with his girlfriend who suddenly left him for another man in another state.  Shawn decided he wanted to get back at this guy as he was really into this girl.  He had her name tattooed on his wrist and a few days later he showed me another tattoo covering his entire back that had her face on an angel’s body!  Yikes.  Surprisingly, just knowing the guy’s name, his rough location and where he worked, Shawn found the new boyfriend’s profile on Facebook.  He created a fake Facebook profile, pretending to be a hot Russian woman which Indian men seem to go crazy for.  He befriended this guy and after a few weeks of correspondence online he even ended up talking to him on the phone using some kind of microchip he put in his cell phone that altered his voice to sound like a woman’s.  Not totally sure about this part of the story either but...  He convinced the guy to fly to Dabolim, the main airport in Goa, for a romantic encounter.  Shawn posed as the driver for this imaginary Russian woman and picked the guy up at the airport and along with three of his friends they got the boyfriend in the car, drove somewhere remote, beat the guy up, took some money from him and dropped him off on the side of the road.  That was it, enough redemption for Shawn.  Great plan, except the only problem was that the victim turned out to be a talented artist and was able to sketch the four culprits to a tee for the police and within 24 hours they were all caught!

Shawn and I chatted a bit but then were interrupted by an officer I hadn’t seen before.  He wanted to take my mug shot as he said that my bail application had been granted and I should be released the following day.  What?  Really?  Did Partekar really get the job done this afternoon?  Just outside the cell the policeman took some pictures with a cheap point and shoot digital camera of me holding a little chalkboard with my name, age and some other details. I was finding it difficult to suppress a smile as the news of my possible release had buoyed my spirits...but I did know at this point to not count my chickens until they hatched.

Saturday marched along and I killed some time by reading but also playing chess with Shawn.  We fabricated a set of chess pieces by carefully tearing bits of the old newspaper that covered our plates of food.  Luckily there was a pattern or 10” squares etched in the concrete floor.  We decided to play on a 4x4 grid so each square was in fact four chess squares so the board was about a meter by a meter in size.  It took a little getting used to, especially moving bishops or the queen diagonally, but it was definitely helpful in getting my mind to focus on something different than my predicament.

Our chess set:

Four pawns on the top, and from left to right, a rooke, knight, bishop and queen:

I was feeling a bit dirty but wasn’t going to wait for the off chance that I would be offered another shower from the two faced Sachin.  Begrudgingly I picked up a quarter bar of soap off the floor by the toilet.  In the other little room with the tap I pushed all of the garbage to one side of the room and proceeded to wash as best as I could.  I even ran the soap over my shirt and underwear and gave them a good scrubbing since I had a spare one of each that I could wear while they dried.  Ah, to feel human again.  Over the upcoming days that I remained in lockup I decided to work out in the mornings for at least half an hour by doing push ups, stomach crunches and a bit of yoga.  I even used a bottle of water as a small dumbbell to work on my shoulders, biceps and triceps.  I had to do many, many reps to feel anything but hey, I had time.  A healthy body equals a healthy mind.

Zohar called to tell me that she had contacted a new lawyer and we were going to meet on Sunday afternoon.  Awesome!  Time to get some action happening.  It could mean that the whole bail application process may start over again but if staying some extra days in lockup means that my longer term outlook is brighter with a good lawyer on my side, so be it.

On Sunday afternoon Zohar arrived at the station with the lawyer, Caroline and her assistant Rebecca.  Caroline was night and day different from Partekar and conducted herself as you would expect a lawyer to act.  She was very straight forward with me and asked some good questions and provided lots of information.  It was reassuring yet also became disconcerting when she showed me a law book that stated that possession of 100-1000 grams of charas could be punishable by 6 months to 10 years in jail!  My heart sank and my mind raced.  Zohar extended her hand to me to provide some support and I appreciated that.  Had the charge been under 100 grams, which it should have been, then I would be facing a maximum of 6 months...quite a difference!

Caroline stated that they would be in court first thing in the morning to get the bail application underway but that I should expect that likely I won’t be released until Tuesday.  That’s okay; at least things now seem to be moving in the right direction.

On my request Zohar brought me a couple of sweaters (one of which I lent to Shawn), my toque, socks and some earplugs.  It had been getting colder at night and with only a thin blanket I had been waking up a few times in the night due to the chill.  I seemed to be gathering lots of things in my cell and it was making my stay a little easier.  Thanks to a young guard Rakesh, I was able to exchange my book with another one I had in my backpack so I had more entertainment and now the warmer clothes and earplugs helped with getting a better night’s sleep (the guards were sometimes quite loud outside the cell and of course there’s always the threat of a cellmate snoring).  I enjoyed my conversations with Rakesh as they were on simple subjects with him explaining the nuances of cricket while I tried to teach him how rugby is played.  He even took a picture of me behind bars with my camera and I snapped a quick one of him.

Not one of my prouder moments:


Back in my cell I was once again feeling depressed and upset about my situation.  The gravity of the possible sentence I could be facing felt like an anvil around my neck.  Shawn tried to cheer me up by telling me that there was no way that I would face that kind of prison time but it was difficult to pull myself out of this downwards mental spiral.  I attempted to read my book but just couldn’t focus on the words even though it was a collection of true stories of Arctic explorers trying to find the Northwest Passage and what they went through was much worse than what I was experiencing.  Don’t think too much...don’t think too much...

That evening, after the standard supper meal, another guy was brought into our cell.  Dinesh, a 34 year old Mumbai resident who runs a dry cleaning store, was arrested for being the middle man in helping obtain a gun for a friend.  The buddy stated that he wanted it for personal protection but instead used it to murder a guy at a beach in the south of Goa back four months earlier.  It was a revenge killing with the victim having killed the murderer’s brother.  Shawn and I were in the middle of a chess game so after initially saying hello, Dinesh sat quietly and watched.  Over the next few days as I got to know him, I found it hard to believe such a reserved, religious and seemingly nice guy could be an accessory to murder.

Monday, my sixth day in the police lockup, was fairly forgetful except when supper showed up.  I joked with the other guys “Geez, I wonder what’s for dinner tonight?” and was quite shocked when it was actually something different!  It was rice with a spicy chickpea type!  It was definitely a welcome change although it did a number on Shawn’s stomach and I have to admit that I had a few pangs in my gut in the middle of the night.

Around 10pm I was taken for my third medical check up at the local hospital.  I was much happier on this check up than my previous since I was likely to be released the next day and my blood pressure reflected that.  Cows run free in this country and I noticed that they have a cattle guard at the entrance to the medical building but that hasn’t stop the cats that seemed to roam free in the hospital as I saw at least two of them.  You’d think that the felines can’t be helping keep the place clean and sterile but who am I to question that.

Although I had a restless night’s sleep thanks to my back disagreeing with the lumps and bumps of my meagre mattress, I awoke Tuesday in a positive and happy mood.  I had confidence in Caroline’s ability to expedite my exit from this place.  I tried not to be too exuberant in the cell as I wanted to be sensitive to Shawn and Dinesh who didn’t know when they’re going to get out.  However, as the day progressed and the hours ticked by my heart and hopes began to sink.  After 4pm, every time that I heard the main police phone ring I peered out of the cell to see if a guard was coming to get me for a call from either Zohar or my lawyer to tell me that I wasn’t getting out that day and sure enough one eventually came.  Caroline relayed to me that they had completed the bail application and secured and paid for the local surety but the whole thing needed to final stamp of approval from a judge so she thought I would be getting out at 11:30am the next day.  Damn.  Ok, that’s alright...absolutely for sure it will be tomorrow, I can handle one more night.

The inspector Sachin finally appeared, the first time since I had learned that he had charged me for 210 grams and not 10.  I was wary of what I should or should not say to him.  A few days earlier I had scratched “Watch out, Sachin lies” on the bottom of the wall in the corner below the security camera but I later rubbed it out.  Of course I wanted to tear a strip out of him.  I had earlier contemplated questions like “How do you look at yourself in the mirror?” and “Do your kids see the evil when they look into your eyes?”  But I knew that none of this was going to help me, just hurt.  I did state “So I was charged with 210 and not 10.”  His response was “Look, I told you on the first night that it doesn’t matter whether you were charged with 200, 500, 700 or 900 grams, as long as it is under 1 kilogram it’s all the same.  I wanted to make sure that you weren’t going to smoke again as it destroys your brain.  I have taken two people to psychiatric hospitals for going crazy after smoking charas.”  I pointed out that under 100 grams is treated differently by the courts but it fell on deaf ears.  He then tried to butter me and the other two prisoners up by buying us some samosas that were brought to the cell.  What an asshole.  I found out later that Zohar and other friends back at the beach had already nicknamed him “Scumbag”.  That was being kind.