Hand supporting thigh, a police officer stretches every sinew to ride pillion on a City Watch bike. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The “City Watch” flags sticking out of the rear of patrol bikes used by Calcutta police have made riding pillion bit of a stretch for officers of a force not known to be high on fitness.
The flag apparently prevents anyone wanting to ride pillion from swinging the right leg over the back of the bike in one swift motion. The only way to sit is apparently with a movement that looks like a cross between a karate side-kick and a bunny hop.
No wonder the thought of riding pillion on a patrol bike is putting many cops under strain.
“It is impossible to swing your leg over the flag to sit on the bike. The only option is to lift the leg straight, something that requires top fitness. Some of us lose balance and fall while trying to do it,” an officer said.
The TVS Apaches with City Watch flags painted in neon orange to make them visible in the dark had been launched last year after police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha stressed the need for greater police visibility on the road.
“He (the commissioner) had proposed this concept of fluorescent flags so that people could spot policemen easily in the lanes and bylanes of the city. It was a good idea that probably hasn’t been executed properly,” a senior police officer said.
Sources in Lalbazar said each police station was given two City Watch bikes in addition to their normal allotment of two-wheelers. A City Watch patrol is supposed to comprise a constable and an assistant sub inspector, a pair of two constables or two assistant sub-inspectors on each bike.
The flags with orange fibre poles are fixed behind the bike’s toolbox and rise to the level of the pillion rider’s shoulder so that they stand out even in dark, dingy lanes. Whether police bikers with their propensity to flout traffic rules need more visibility on the road is debatable, but the flags certainly have made life a little uncomfortable for the men in uniform.
Removing the flag and reattaching it once an officer has taken his seat isn’t an option because the pole is screwed to a holder near the toolbox. “It isn’t possible to remove and reattach the pole every time you ride the bike. The best option is to remove the flag permanently,” said an officer who has had his share of “mishaps”.
Fitness expert and t2 columnist Ranadeep Moitra is on their side. “The idea seems impractical. It is really very difficult to raise your leg to that height and swing it over the flag. Even fit people would find it a bit difficult,” he said. “The alternative, which is to cram your leg towards the chest and then raise it straight over the seat, is cumbersome. As for tilting the bike, how can that be feasible with a heavy machine? Plus, in the event of an emergency, it would be next to impossible to get on such a bike quickly.”
Sanjay Desai, orthopaedic surgeon with Jaslok Hospital and Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, said a person must have flexible adductor muscle and strong flexor and abductor muscles to be able to achieve what has been asked of Calcutta police.
“Flexibility of adductors and strengthening of flexor and abductor muscles are important. A person needs to do stretching exercises regularly to avoid any sprain,” said Desai, who had performed shoulder surgery on Shah Rukh Khan in May 2013.
Adductors are muscles on the inner side of the groin. Flexor muscles are on the pelvis and femur regions in front of the hip while abductor muscles are on the outer side of the hips.
According to sources, flags have been removed from some of the bikes to ensure they don’t lie unused. “We cannot scrap the project as it was planned at the top. But we are aware that the flags have had to be removed in some cases for practical reasons,” a senior officer said.
Police commissioner Purkayastha didn’t rule out modifications to make the bikes police-friendly.
“We may effect some betterment on examining the feedback after a reasonable time. There is always scope for improvement but most important is the attitude of the men,” he said.