Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 14, November 1-15, 2023
The following article was published in the Tamil Nadu Police Journal, a publication that was brought out in fits and starts by the Madras and later Tamil Nadu Police from the 1950s to the 1980s. This article appeared in a 1975 issue.
Against the untidy backdrop of a none too luxurious flat in one of the unstarred hotels that splutter round the metropolis was played out a most insidious deception which, had it been allowed to go a little far, would have brought into ridicule the Tamil Nadu Police, generally acclaimed as a premier Force in the country. It all happened with an unscheduled arrival of a high ranking ‘Police’ officer from Singapore.
When S.S. Chidambaram docked in at the Madras Harbour on 1.7.1974, Peter Lourdes was one of the passengers to come up for check by the ubiquitous customs officers at the North Quay, the main disembarkation centre. Unfortunately, Lourdes arrived with a sizable baggage of dutiable goods rather unusual for a foreign national on a brief sojourn to this country and the Customs Officers perforce had to hold the goods pending payment to duty. Shorn of his precious cargo, Lourdeschecked in at the Victoria Hotel, Egmore, and a couple of days later moved to a more modest lodgings in the same area. At the ‘reception’ in the latter hotel, he gleefully flourished his Singapore passport and with an air of officiousness informed that he was an ‘Investigating Officer’ sent by the Commissioner of Police, Singapore, on an important, urgent mission in this country. To other members of the staff he claimed that he was the Commissioner of Police himself. Short and plump, dark and balding, Lourdes looked much younger than his age, with a nose that Napoleon would have applauded. He always appeared in his ‘battik’, a popular wear in the East. The management, quite impressed with his assertions, extended all due courtesy befitting such an important guest. Lourdes was seen making a series of local calls and had a steady stream of callers, all of which tended to visibly enhance his prestige. What the management did not know was that Lourdes was no newcomer to the City.
Arriving in the City last November, Lourdes took up lodging bearers and room boys. Always generous in his ‘tips’, he even found time, amidst a tight schedule, to regale them with stories about Singapore. Naturally the hotels servants walked round him slowly and respectfully as one does at Hadrian’s villa at Pompeii. And, when Lourdes left, he gave them small presents as a token of appreciation for their services. He again checked in early January this year and renewed his acquaintance with the hotel, did not like the ‘room service’, a courtesy that is extended to all the lodgers and instead preferred the common dining hall where he had more chances of mingling with the guests. On these occasions, he seemed to evince a particular liking towards women diners and often reveled in cutting jokes with them. However, these jokes often tended to be crude and loathsome and left an unsavoury taste in the visitors with the result they began to shun his company and the dinner. Soon the dining hall wore a deserted look and Lourdes found himself laughing on the wrong side of his face. All the while the management was not slow to perceive the disgust of the guests on account of his ribald jokes and unchivalrous behaviour and tactfully put him under ‘room service’. And, when it was time for Lourdes to leave Singapore, the Hotel management naturally heaved a sigh of relief and bade him ‘bon voyage’. It is obvious that Lourdes could not gain accommodation at hotel Imperial during this visit and had to be content with less commodious surroundings. However, despite all that had happened, Lourdes, veritable ‘gourmet’, that he was, continued to frequent Hotel Imperial at dinner time as he seemed to have developed a distinct penchant to the menu and the management also seemed to have relented, for so long as he did not prove a nuisance to other dinners, it mattered little for them.
It was at once such dinner Lourdes accidentally met a news reporter of a Tamil daily. After the Victorian pruderies were over, he soon entered into an animated conversation with his newfound acquaintance. A compulsive liar he later proved to be Lourdes obviously intent on taking the unwary reporter for a ride, told him that he was Commissioner of Police from Singapore and had come to this country on an urgent and important assignment. Over the dinner, the talks naturally centered on the Singapore Police. The unsuspecting reporter, delighted over his fortuitous meeting with a top-ranking ‘Police’ Officer of a foreign country, offered to arrange for an exclusive interview for the benefit of the reading public. Lourdes was equally delighted at the prospect of a press interview and readily consented. On the appointed day, the reporter called on this ‘dignitary’ at his hotel and escorted him to his office where the interview began at a plenary gathering of the editorial staff. At this interview, Lourdes spilled out details about the Singapore Police, its organisational set-up and pattern of work, although much of what he said could not have been factual or authentic. While it was natural for him to sing the praise of Singapore Police which is undoubtedly one of the best in the far East, Lourdes unfortunately made the mistake of passing certain uncomplimentary remarks about the Tamil Nadu Police which, to an ‘outsider’ like him, with no intimate knowledge of the actual functioning of and the reputation enjoyed by this talented Force, was beyond the pale of his understanding. It was not also in good taste to refer in such critical terms and quite unjustly to the Police of the State in which he was a venerable guest. Of course, it never takes much courage to sing in a chorus and the chorus, in this case, was supplied by an editorial band not always kindly to Governmental policies. The press appeared to have banqueted like Aldermen, fed most gorgeously upon this garbage. The whole interview was half truths manufactured and packaged for the consumption of an unwary, gullible public. It was certainly a bomb under the high-minded Tamil Nadu Police.
The activities of this top-ranking ‘Police Officer’ from Singapore reached the ears of no less than the Inspector-General of Police, Tamil Nadu, and the C.I.D. forthwith geared into action. Inspector Manoharan of Crime Branch, C.I.D. proceeded to Egmore on 12.07.1974 to ‘call on’ this ‘dignitary’ at his hotel where he was staying. After a sumptuous dinner, Lourdes was about to retire for the night apparently quite content like a plump hen in a cubby hole. The ripple came then. The Inspector gently tapped the door and announced his presence. Lourdes, visibly annoyed at the intrusion by a lowly placed Police Official, raised quite a hullabaloo about the propriety of the call and even threatened to throw out the impudent caller besides reporting against him to his counterpart in the City. But, the Inspector was one who knew his ropes only too well and extending profuse apologies insisted on an interview in his own persuasive way. Lourdes at first was frustratingly silent but later asserted that he was in fact Commissioner of Police from Singapore. Like a carpenter, the Inspector doubted it and slowly confronted him with a wealth of details already in his possession. For a while, Lourdes changed his version with an ease of shrugging off one’s coat, but it did not cut much ice with the detective. To him, all these versions looked as interesting as butter or mousse, only to recede in the end like a spent wave on the shores of Marina. After some more spinning of wheels, Lourdes confessed. The Inspector promptly took him into custody and entered a case against him.
Born the youngest of seven sons, Peter Lourdes studied upto Senior Cambridge in Singapore and was apprenticed for a while to a firm. His father Lourdes Sr. originally hailed from Dommingkuppam near San Thome, Madras, and migrated to Singapore long way back where he became a naturalized citizen. Peter Lourdes tried his hands at various other jobs and was even a Prison Official during the Japanese invasion. In April 1947 he joined the Motor Vehicles Branch as M.V. Inspector and eventually fish laddered into the position of an ‘Investigating Officer’ from which post he retired on superannuation in 1971. Lourdes spent his entire official career ‘en gar con’ and was at the time of this episode 58 years of age. In fact, he was never tired of referring to his bachelorhood ‘ad nauseam’ throughout the interview. When asked about the purpose of his visit, Lourdes, after a good deal of reluctance, if not shyness of an eligible youth, came up with the truth that he came to explore the prospects of marriage and a settled life at Madras. In fact, he was already on the pin for a suitable bride, middle aged, to whom he could confidently propose a prospect which his relations, especially his young nephews in the City deeply resented but did not dare express openly. Quite determined this time to push through the alliance to a successful culmination, Lourdes brought a sizable package of goods which, if vended, would fetch him both the money and bride ! But, unfortunately for him the goods were held back by the Customs. Lourdes at the moment was frantically searching for a ‘Party’ who could either lend him a sum of Rs.2,000/- for redeeming the goods or purchase them outright. The purpose of his visit to Hotel Imperial, according to him, was for finding a prospective purchaser apart from satisfying his culinary taste when he accidentally ran into a press reporter and later diddled the press by passing as Commissioner of Police. Perhaps, Lourdes thought that, by catapulting himself to such a high position, he stood a better chance of winning a bride! Like many of his utterances this tall claim of his had a gnomic ring. He admitted further on questioning that he was not Commissioner of Police or for that matter did not even belong to Police Department. As for the description ‘Private Investigator’ found in his Passport, he was at a loss to explain in a satisfactory manner. If it meant ‘private detective’ it was not known what his qualifications were to merit the title.
As regards his observations on the police force of this country it is wondered whether he had an occasion to see even an eighth of the iceberg to warrant such an opinion. The news reporter, when contacted by the Inspector, realized at once his folly and hastily rang up his office to instruct them to withhold the publication. In fact, he later thanked the C.I.D. officials for saving him from certain embarrassment.
After due investigation, Peter Lourdes was arraigned before Second Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore, on a charge of impersonation (Section 419 I.P.C.). Lourdes stood at the dock trying to look cool chewing the charges as it was read out to him like a bone, an angry little terrier of man. But, he was soon to realize that the prosecution was only too ready to pound home a steady array of facts which he could not rebut, even with the best of Counsel by his side. He therefore prudently chose to plead guilty. The Magistrate thereupon closed his book on the case releasing the accused on probation of good conduct for a period of one year on his own bond for Rs.250/- and with a surety for like sum under Section 4(1) M.P.O. Act, in his C.C.7574 of 1974 dated 27-7-1974. Lourdes was fortunate to have a few relatives in Madras who could bend backwards to help him and offer him the much needed surety.
Peter Lourdes, after his serious brush with the law, apparently grew wiser and left for Singapore by the first available boat, still a bachelor! His only comment before departing was that Indians could not appreciate a joke.