Many years ago we had to urgently go to Baroda from Mumbai. Normally one went in a reserved chair car , in an air conditioned Mumbai-New Delhi train, that left in the afternoon, bunked all the minor stations, and simply ground to a halt at Baroda in time for a late dinner, before taking off for the overnight ride to New Delhi. Sometimes, it was an overnight train, where you simply spent the sleeping time in the train, and dawn saw you in Baroda.
But this was a last minute thing and we landed up at the station. Huge queues for the unreserved general compartment tickets. One of us stood by the luggage, while the other decided which window was selling what. Suddenly a guy sidled up. In a very Psst kind of way.
"Yes"; a slightly surprised me.
"10 Rs , over and above each ticket ".
At that time entrusting 10 Rs to someone who might simply vamoose was too much to bear So I asked him, where would he get the ticket from.
"I will show you the window. Here. " He pointed to a window nearby with very few folks in line.
"In that case , I will get the ticket myself", and saying so, and with a firm belief in the inability of the ticket clerk to refuse a lady tickets , I rushed there, leaving behind a seething tout cursing the day he set eyes upon me.
The clerk didn't look up and muttered some negative sounding words. Despite the amazing number of languages in India, you can always tell when someone s saying no. Then I pointed towards the tout person who was now on to someone else trying to offer his services, and explained that he told me that I would get the tickets at this window.
The clerk quietly handed me the tickets with the required change, and we subsequently were able travel severely crushed in the crowd , but made it in time.
That must have been my first brush, with corruption. Of course one had seen touts outside cinema theatres, trying to resell tickets at outrageous prices, speaking like ventriloquists, where you only heard the price, and saw nothing. But I never had occasion to try that.
Subsequently we went through a stage where a job in Telephones and/ or cooking gas was greatly in demand. Corruption was honed to a fine art in every aspect of telephones; applying for one, installing one, activating one, repairing one, and so on. I remember someone's daughter getting a job in Telephones , and how everyone remarked on what a wonderful job that was, although it was simply to do with making lists outside the junior engineers office.
Visits to land records and property registration offices was an eye opener. I only went there once and must have been the only person who walked around speechless, eyes wide, and mouth wide agape, as I was taken to the various offices. People sat around with open drawers, into which "things" fell. Some other person estimated what fell, and the person on the desk did or didn't do the needful, based on that. I was told about this, and had gone because my signature was required somewhere. But the entire thing was like a scene out of a film. Not everyone from these offices looked or performed like a villain or hero. There were some very simple type people also, who came did their work and left. They had entire families to bring up, children to educate, weren't smart enough to be cheats, and kept their mouths shut.
I never thought one would have to pay , even at death.
We have different crematoriums across Mumbai, and I had occasion to visit one such after I lost my mother. One processes the doctors and hospital certificates, fills some forms, and then one may proceed with religious ceremonies, if any, and the final electric cremation.
Ten years ago , women didn't attend these things. I did. I would accompany my mother, regardless of her state, till her last moments as a being on earth.
One has to pay a fee for all the "processing" . Registration, cremation, ashes collection, recording of cremation and forwarding of that to the ward office where my home was registered. The ward office would give us the death certificate.
The fee mentioned on the form was Rs 150/-. The man at the counter looked up as we paid the amount. And continued to look up. As it happens, when someone passes away, many relatives gather, and play and advisory role, in real time. One such person, wise in the ways of the world asked us to pay "3-4 hundred Rs " to get the processing done faster.
"Otherwise this thing will take time", he said.
I refused. I would pay the specified amount for which I was issued a receipt. My mother was a stickler for honesty in monetary things, was known to speak her mind, and sometimes , people who worked with her on honorary committees in the city, didn't like it because she asked inconvenient questions which often had dicey answers. There was no way I was going to pay a bribe at her death.
A month later, and several queries to the ward office, no issue of a death certificate, and there were no satisfactory replies. They couldn't do a thing unless the crematorium forwarded the requisite signed forms. The manager at my mother's bank even expressed surprise at his delay when we went to ask about the various bank procedures to be done post-death.
I decided to go to the crematorium with my copy of the cremation record. If they had no time to send the record sheet, I would demand it, and then I could carry it personally to the ward office. Or, maybe I would sit outside and wouldn't budge from there, till they showed me and sent the necessary paper to the ward office that day. That would create a scene. My family was alarmed. I was known to do such things, and ask inconvenient questions. And it never bothered me as to who was watching, because I thought the cheaters should be bothered, not me. And I was getting angrier and angrier.
An alternate suggestion was put forth. There was a gentleman on campus, a kind of Ombudsman, who helped with such things. He knew the folks at the local ward offices and he would find out. He asked for my papers , and investigated. A call was made by some officer of the ward, to the ward where the crematorium was. The officer there was appraised of the situation. He directed the crematorium types to forward the paper immediately, and explain the delay.
I got the requisite papers within a week. It had taken 6 weeks to process something which should have taken 1-2 days.
Mumbai had become a place where you had to be in real and virtual queues for everything. And pay bribes. For everything. Including dying.
Today things have changed. I hear that no one is interested in such small fry moneymaking. Telephones and Cooking gas stuff is no longer as lucrative as before, although I hear the property registration place continues to mint as before.
People have gone up in the world.
We don't deal in Rupees anymore. One cheats in dollars. Millions of dollars. Like in IPL. Someone offers someone else 50 miliion dollars to pull out of some thing, like I would offer chocolates to someone on completion of some homework or exercise, as a reward.
The sad part is, that today's children see, that all this corruption makes folks succeed in the world. In our childhood, I am sure there was some form of corruption somewhere, but it was never as blatant as today, where being honest is supposed to be the height of stupidity. We grew up and still continue to believe what we believed then: that corruption is bad, such folks may seem momentarily to succeed but they have a bigger fall in life.
In a way it s good that all this IPL stuff is being highlighted everyday, and youth today are seeing the dirt behind the posh and fancy facades. Maybe it will make our children realize that corruption in any sphere, buying lies with money , and disrespect for honest money doesn't make you a good citizen or person.
Like my mother used to say, all money has quantity, but what matters is that which has quality.
One searches, but it is more and more difficult to find......