The Sharpener

He bent over the child who sat on the bench, and took his pencil with the broken nib


“Do we, by any chance, have a sharpener?” the Inspector’s strong voice boomed throughout the small police station. All the constables and the sub inspectors froze – partly due to the fear that the Inspector’s heavy voice always evoked in them, partly due to the bewilderment of such a question being put forth by an Inspector. Also, he must surely have known that the policemen present were old enough to use pens.

Policemen plus a Policewoman, they corrected their thoughts. Of course, it’s often very easy to forget the presence of a female police officer in a building full of men of law and men breaking the law. Sometimes, it’s not that easy to forget, as well, but this wasn’t one of those times. Little did they know that the female constable – a recent recruit, thanks to the reservation quotas – suffered from a slight OCD, which always prompted her to use pencils rather than pens. Her mehendi-designed hand shot up with a green Nataraj sharpener. The Inspector, who stood with his hand on his hip near the bench that lined the wall near his desk, signaled her to throw it to him. She did – a good throw, it indeed was.

He bent over the child who sat on the bench, and took his pencil with the broken nib; a notebook, with a grid of blue filled with numbers from 0 to 9, was spread in front of him. He sharpened the pencil carefully – skillfully, even – a sight so queer to the people around; it’s not every day that you see a man – one with a scarily muscular build threatening to rip off his khaki, a huge walrus moustache, and sabretooth pendant dangling around his neck – sharpen, neatly, a pencil. He returned the pencil to the child, who continued with his numbers. Opposite to the child, on the other end of the room, stood the guardian, who had been released from the prison cell after a day in prison. The Inspector turned towards the guardian. He paused, searching for the right words.

“I would advise you not to resort to begging, even if it is for educating a child. These days, people do not consider your blessings holy. They would just jail you citing Public Nuisance.”

“How else would a hijra earn, Inspector-ji?” the guardian asked, with a voice as flat as the chest that was wrapped with a ragged saree. “In a world this cruel to us, how else would we earn?”

“You are healthy, not challenged, physically or mentally, by God’s grace. You could take up a labour job, a cleaning job or-” the Inpector replied kindly.

“And, who would give hijra a job?”


The newspapers reported the protests; they cried about the death of the state’s favorite singer; they raged over the water shortage plaguing the city. One small column reported about the R3 Police station, the first such police station to employ all three genders.