It’s 6 pm on Thursday. An anxious group of policemen, doctors and young men in shorts and t-shirts mills about at ‘Point A’, the starting and ending point of a five-km run at Mumbai’s Ghatkopar Police Ground that will decide which of these youngsters will make it to the police ranks. About 20 minutes earlier, the last batch of candidates for the day had started its run and everyone is now waiting for them to return.
The ‘physical tests’ that are part of the recruitment drive for the post of constables had run into trouble last week when four aspirants died while completing this run. The Mumbai Police Crime Branch is investigating the deaths. This morning, too, three candidates from the first batch of runners complained of shortness of breath and were rushed to JJ hospital in ambulances.
Everyone is now waiting for the second batch to get back and the wait at Point A gets agonising. Just then, a slim, young man in a green t-shirt, drenched in sweat, comes running with practiced ease. He is confident and for good reason. Prakash Sonawane knows that he has aced this test. That puts the 20-year-old one step closer to his dream job.
The runner-up is still some distance behind him. Sonawane runs past the policemen and is directed towards a tent where doctors wait with bottles of water, bananas and biscuits. A minute later, he emerges from the tent nibbling on a banana and sipping water from a bottle.
Sonawane comes from a family of daily wage labourers in Yavatmal. He came to Mumbai for the physical tests on June 12, hoping to fulfil his father’s dream of seeing him in khaki. If he clears the written test that’s coming up soon, he will be the first policeman in his family.
“My father and two brothers work as labourers. Some years ago, my father said his wish was to see me in the police. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I had to. Last year, I applied to the Yavatmal police but could not get through. This time, I decided to try my luck in Mumbai,” says Sonawane.
If he isn’t panting even after a five-km run, it’s because he has worked towards this run. “I started preparing for the selection immediately after my Class XII. I would run short distances every day and gradually pushed myself to run longer distances. For the last two years, I have been running almost every day,” he says, wiping the sweat off his brow and exchanging smiles and pats on the shoulder with a couple of other candidates.
On June 14, he appeared for the first round of physical tests at the Police Ground in Naigaon and then awaited his turn for the five-kilometre run on June 19.
On Thursday, he reached the Ghatkopar venue at 3.30 pm. He spent the next two hours warming up with some stretching exercises and spurts of jogging. He only stopped to snack on a banana and a pack of biscuits and drank half a litre of water.
Around 5.30 pm, he stood in queue for the basic medical tests for candidates. After last week’s deaths, the medical tests have been made mandatory since Wednesday. A team of doctors from JJ Hospital checked Sonawane’s blood pressure and examined his chest before declaring him fit for the run. Sonawane found himself thanking his stars as he strolled past the handful of candidates who were declared unfit due to high blood pressure, and took his place with the other runners.
When Joint Commissioner of Police (Administration) Vivek Phansalkar addressed the candidates and asked them to keep in mind that there was nothing more valuable than their life and that they shouldn’t strain themselves while complete the run, Sonawane said, “Yes, sir!” and the others chimed in. The timer was then set and the runners were off.
Sonawane says he didn’t let last week’s deaths worry him. During one of his many casual conversations with police constables, they had told him that candidates tend to push themselves too hard during the last half kilometre. Sonawane’s technique, however, is different.
“It helps to keep a uniform pace throughout the run instead of trying to reserve energy for the final dash. My hours of practice helped as well. I didn’t feel tired or dehydrated while running. There were enough policemen and ambulances along the route but I knew I would not need them. I can’t wait to contact my family and tell them that I finished first,” says Sonawane.
The 20-year-old knows he is still one step away from being a police constable. “Only the written exam remains now, and I am prepared for it. I am sure I will fulfil my father’s wishes,” he says.