November 27, 2002

power corrupts, but not if in the right hands

at last! a little encounter with the uk police.

i so much wanted to see if the police in london were really the ‘chocolate police’ that praveen always told me about. …that they were really very nice and helpful to the general public, that there was no such thing as bribing or corruption in this country, that they respect the privacy of an individual and in doing so, command respect themselves…could it really be true?

travelling on the tube for two months i had already seen they were really helpful and never lost their temper or patience with the public, even under pressure. they helped me when i got lost a number of times on the underground, especially at stations like king’s cross or paddington that had many lines connecting everywhere. they also helped me get on the right connecting trains to where i had wanted to go when most of the train services were cancelled due to flooding on the tracks. most often, i have seen a single policeman handle a mob of people very calmly, as if he comes across such crises everyday. the same with bus drivers and the traffic police.

had it been india, i used to wonder, and with shame…there would be a shower of gaalis by this pot-bellied paan-chewing policeman or havaldar (constable); the more the pressure caused by the situation, the more the swear words in the language of your choice, and the lighter your wallet for the bribe you have to pay. it was almost like they were doing a favour by serving the police, and having bribed their way into their post themselves, extracting money from the common people seemed to have become their right.

i hate to say all this, but then give me one police officer in india who is not touched by corruption and i will gladly delete this entry.

why, my father (a builder) told me of cases where someone who bought a flat from him had to pay rs 10 lakh to reach his post of superintendent in a month or two. in a month or two!?
~~~
i will never forget the 20 minutes at vartaknagar police station where i went to get my passport verification and was made to feel like i was on the local ‘wanted’ list.
~~~
when i got married and had to get a marriage certificate in time for my visa, i made several trips to the marriage register office with my friend jayashree, to prove to my father that if a job was done in time and by the rules, bribing was really not necessary. despite our efforts, i was annoyed because just like my father had anticipated, he had to cough up rs 3000 — for a mere piece of recycled paper and a signature that would land me here in the uk with my husband.
~~~
after 21 days of training behind the wheel for a driver’s license, when i went for my driving test my instructor accompanied me, with about 32 others from the same driving school. no sooner had the test begun with me displaying the hand signals that the car began to move by itself. i was shocked even further when my instructor calmly muttered to me under his breath “just hold the steering wheel and pretend you’re driving; i have control of the car. i’ll see to it that you pass the test”.

this happened with each of the 32 students, who also, just before entering a room for a theory check of the traffic rules, were prompted by the owner of the driving-school herself — about the questions they would be asked inside!

when completely disillusioned, i returned and told the instructor that i would had rather have failed the test than cheat and die in an accident later, he laughed and said matter-of-factly “this is the way of the world dear, each person has to survive here by doing this”. and then, in the same tone, he asked me for an additional rs 300 for having helped me. i checked with some of the other students and he had already extracted a couple of hundreds from each one of them. as if this was not frustrating enough, they all looked at me as if i had just landed from the planet mars!
~~~
where do we draw the line? this is not a one-man (or woman) task…if there is one person who says ‘no’ to giving bribe, there should be another person saying ‘no’ to receiving it.

to know what it is like to live in a land untouched by corruption, *live in one. believe me, it’s like breathing in clean air.

~~~

late last night as we were returning home after watching die another day with our friends at uxbridge, a light flashed twice on praveen’s rear-view mirror. when he pulled to the left of the motorway, a police car stopped right next to us.

i froze, and was reminded of the night at nerul when we were stopped by a patrol of plain-clothes-policemen who were carrying huge guns. what could be the matter this time i wondered…praveen does not drink, we were driving slowly, talking about nothing and everything in general…

“hiya there” he greeted us first, taking a quick peep inside to look at me. then he got out of his car and asked praveen “could you please step out for a minute sir?”

my heart sank. inside my head were all sorts of bond-movie strategies we had just watched. i strained to catch words they were talking as they stood in the lights of both the cars, and imagined the worst. would praveen have to pay something too, as my father had done once for no fault of his at a signal at dadar? what if the policeman was a racist and punched him in the stomach suddenly? i shuddered looking at the vast motorway ahead wondering how i could get help at 30 minutes past midnight. and i wasn’t even carrying my cell phone!

less than two minutes later, the conversation between praveen and the policeman ended. i managed a weak smile as he wished goodnight and drove off with his colleague. praveen waved back too, so nothing seemed to be wrong…

apparently, they were on their routine late night ’rounds’, and noticed that we were driving slowly. our **ancient rusty car, which wobbles when below a certain speed-limit, gave the policemen an impression that it had a drunk driver. wanting to check, they asked us to stop, and when assured nothing was amiss, they left. he even said ‘take care’ added praveen, laughing at how paranoid i’d become. “see? that’s why i call them chocolate-police. aren’t they sweet?”

sigh, why can’t i have just a whiff of this clean air in my country too…?

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment