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Impersonators all

The police in Okara appear to get more than their fair share of interesting if ostensibly the most ordinary mysteries to crack. A few months ago, policemen in the central Punjab town had been found wondering what to do with the fame thrust upon them by a Virat Kohli lookalike who had been held for waving the Indian flag. Now this latest instance should — could, if they are really keen on pursuing it — put them on the trail of another kind of impersonator. Someone has been applying his genius to squeeze a grand sum of Rs9,000 out of a school management in the Okara Sadar precincts.

It is the latest in the long, never-ending series in which a fraudster disguising himself or herself in false authority has been caught. In recent times alone, we have seen them all — from a woman who had the cheek to impersonate the very famous and recognisable raider of eating places in Lahore to a junior ranking fauji bhai who managed to lecture students at a prestigious college in the city, posing as someone who probably didn’t even exist.

Then if it is bad enough to be robbed by genuine law enforcers, there are so many instances where imposters in police uniform have managed to extract a few ready favours out of petrified citizens looking for a quick escape from a tight situation. The cleverest of these hitmen are careful that they choose as targets those places where they are least expected — such as a newspaper office in Lahore which almost yielded to a fake police officer’s moving pleas for Ramazan funds a few years ago.

Presumably, the gentleman belonged to the category of impersonators who drew a high from conning the over-smart — perhaps like the above-mentioned fauji who had placed himself on a high pedestal while lecturing a group of college students who might have considered themselves to be privileged with their knowledge and social position.

The knowledgeable say that needy impersonators are more likely to be called fake as opposed to the pretentious but more exalted practitioners of the art. The other category is that of the ‘needy’, those who are pushed into the business of impersonation because of a sheer want of material things. One specimen from the group was the woman who went around fining roadside eateries in Lahore in the guise of food authority champion Ayesha Mumtaz. The knowledgeable say that needy impersonators are more likely to be called fake as opposed to the pretentious but more exalted practitioners of the art who are looking for the additional thrill of duping the over-smart.

The objective of the fake policeman who came knocking at the door of a newsroom could well have been embarrassing for those who acted as if they were the most knowledgeable and the most intelligent souls around. And he must have derived some well-earned pleasure from the fact that he almost succeeded in this effort of his to secure an iftari grant for poor and deserving policemen. Indeed, he might have got a monetary reward for his act had he been slightly more patient and a little more rational about the amount he asked for.

In the latest case, a news story says the divisional public school and college in Okara received an unusual call. It was from a man who introduced himself as the personal assistant of the Sahiwal division’s commissioner. He had a small demand — maybe too small for his own good — to make. According to a police FIR, all he asked for was Rs 9,000 which he said was required for arranging the commissioner’s visit to the institute.

The report, which was published in Wednesday’s paper, didn’t say whether it was the small amount which raised the suspicion about this being a fake caller. However, it did sound curiously low for the position of PA-to-commissioner’s post and could well have alerted the very people who were to be at the receiving end of the small fraud.

In all situations, where a price has to be put on something, and especially when it comes to impersonators and their missions, success depends on them being able to ask for the right amount. Too high an amount could encourage doubts to creep into the mind of a prospective target about it being a genuine call. Likewise, if the amount asked for is low it could well blow one’s cover.

A general store owner in Lahore comes up with a most revealing explanation of why the most fake-looking impersonators can routinely get away without being questioned. He says that in 90pc of the cases ‘a target’ may suspect that the man who has approached one with a demand is an imposter. However, the shopkeeper adds that an outside chance that he is ‘real’ is enough of a deterrent for the target to discard any adventurous thoughts. The target would rather oblige than risk the likelihood of any confrontation with the authority.

Given the convenience with which fraud by impersonating authority can be carried out, surely there are a large number of people who choose the route to what a newspaper describes as “illegal pecuniary advantages and gratification through impersonation”. Only some are ever caught while those who take the right precautions and calculated in their demands have a good enough chance to avoid the law’s grasp. It is as safe a business as any, all businesses dependent upon the businesspersons’ ability to pass themselves off as someone else.

It is said that the children who copy and impersonate their parents grow up and attain maturity much faster. Likewise those who have a model to follow acquire mannerisms faster. It has been commonly observed that so immersed are some of us are in essaying those personalities who have inspired us that sometimes we forget to live our own lives. Impersonation becomes us.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Asha’ar Rehman, "Impersonators all," Dawn. 2016-06-10.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social aspects , Police FIR , Impersonation , Fake-Police , Fake call , Virat Kohli , Ayesha Mumtaz , Lahore , Pakistan , Okara , FIR