Thursday, August 18, 2011

A learning Sunday

There is a saying in Marathi , my mother tongue, that actually defines terribly "savvy" folks , as those who can do a sort of "auto-completion of words" in life; if you say "ta-" they know you mean " taakbhat". As a corollary, I wonder if such folks develop the amazing ability to glean "meanings" from certain actions and words , that stupid folks like me take literally.

This comes to mind, as the newspapers are full of stuff on "corruption" stories, what with the stuff happening in the capital, shouting in Parliament, and the media going into fifth gear, in a frenzy of repetitive reporting.

I have always wondered, as an academic exercise, how a person says or indicates, that he needs a bribe. (watch this ad for Tata Tea Premium)

One hears stories of X, taking Y from some office, for a cup of tea somewhere, and offering or agreeing to a bribe; and I have always wondered how X and Y understand that this is not an honest "expression of interest in each other " but an invitation for a surreptitious transaction, where you now have an anonymous table to transact under.

There is a complicated cross roads system close to where I live. There is a badly planned traffic signal, where you sing the Lord's praises every time you make it successfully across in a vehicle. There is a police "presence", but not at the crossroads. Further down the road, one sees them exchanging papers and checking things with folks on two wheelers and truck drivers who are waved away to their side. Those crossing red signals , in the meanwhile, get away. I once asked a cop there why he didn't catch all these folks who run through a red light. This was on the arterial road outside which is always crowded. He told me that if he caught everyone who skipped a red, there would be a traffic jam till a kilometre away, and there would be a mess . So they stand beyond the signal and catch folks.

The other thing I noticed is no one is traumatised by being caught. I've been told that when the licence is asked for, the smarter types, add some stuff in the plastic licence holder jacket. In fact the licence is always kept ready like this . There is something happening like filling of forms , next to the cop's motorcycle, the licence is returned , perhaps minus the extra something, and everyone is happy.

Vehicle owners , particularly those on motorbikes, think they own the road, even overtaking the buses on the side where people are getting in and getting out of the bus. Several of my friends have been injured by this rash driving, and I once saw a motorcycle driver being stopped by a cop for that.

I was walking next to them, had seen what had happened, and so I asked the cop, why he doesn't let the air out of the guy's vehicle, to teach him a lesson. (in my childhood , the police used this to punish errant cyclists). The motorcycle guy, removed his helmet, gave me a look and said he paid his taxes; I told him I paid mine too; an argument ensued, which the cop stopped (because he had other people to catch), and I moved away, quite sure that papers would have exchanged hands.

A few days ago, on a Sunday , we were returning from the western suburbs, and were debating which road would have less traffic. We thought we would take a right turn at a major junction, and noticed , that when the light turned green, there was only a straight arrow pointing ahead. Since we interpret only what we see and not hidden meanings, we continued straight, while tons of folks were merrily taking a right turn.

What looked like a rookie cop, waved us to one side.

Two senior citizen types, who have been driving for the last 43 years, without getting a"ticket", paying taxes on time, never breaking rules , never treating driving like a sport even in their younger days, naturally got upset, when the cop knocked on the glass .

We asked him what the problem was. He asked us if we didn't see that we were in a "right turn lane". We said the signal indicated a straight path and no right turn, so we followed the signal. Then he said we should have "presumed" that we were in a turning lane ! Asked for the licence, and we innocently gave it , naturally without any accompanying stuff. He then asks us to come out and accompany him to where the motorcycle was parked. There were several other cops , some with walkie-talkies, spread around there.

What he didn't know was that he had just met an honest senior citizen, and that hell hath no fury than an honest citizen fooled, cheated and scorned. An argument ensued. We asked him to accompany us to the signal to show him how it didn't show a right arrow at any time. (he probably thought this was a new way of going someplace to get a bribe).

I asked him to return the licence as we had not committed a crime. He refused. Voices rose. I tried to collect my licence from his hand. He held on. I too didn't let go. (I knew he wouldn't dare use his other hand. To push. I read and learn). In the meanwhile , the person with me lost his temper and started shouting at them in disgust. Loud and clear.

We asked what this business of "presuming" signals was. Was it OK if I presumed a red signal was green , and if I presumed that I could double park everywhere ?

The sight of a white haired senior citizen shouting at the cops, and a oldish lady gesturing and glaring at the cop, drew the attention of one of the senior cops walking around with a walkie talkie. He came around to check. Heard us out.

And he asked the younger cop to hand back the driver's licence to us.

And said, "Now , go " !

A fellow from another car passing by , leaned out of the window, shaking his head, to tell us we should have paid up !

We left, this having spoiled a day that had been fairly good so far. We were still angry and fuming when we reached home.

And I wonder , if some infrastructure stuff is deliberately messed up, so people like us can be caught and fined. We have signals which don't work and nothing is done. We install CCTV's all over the place , every time there is some kind of violent attack, and do not check if they are working. You go to Malls, and people in fancy uniforms do cursory checks of your purse, apologetically. They make you walk through fancy doorways and no one pays attention to beeps, or maybe it beeps wrongly. I have even asked a lady security officer if that was all she was going to check, and what about pockets and stuff. At which she just smiled. I didn't.

Just like our roads, where the contractors are hand in glove with municipal folks, all merrily making money, and who cares if people fall off two wheelers going into potholes and get run over (as happened recently on the arterial road outside). Sadly, that was a cop travelling to work, and going to leave his wife at her workplace on the way. She died.

Just read this post by Neha, about the bribe-taking merrily happening here while the big anti corruption Hazare event takes place in New Delhi.

I just hope we learn to take this seriously, and not restrict it to slogans, catchy writeups on tees, candle light marches, and singing songs , and standing in chains holding hands.

Anna Hazare and his group are doing something and highlighting stuff where no one else was doing anything. There is some discussion happening on whether his methods are right or wrong. But what must be understood is that he is the first one to vocalize and formally define it as a national curse and problem. When most of us take the easy way out. His method may be right or wrong. Once started, and followed up, the correct way of handling will automatically become clear, through dialogue and interaction. There is a lot to learn by observing the approaches, the words, the responses, of both sides in this, and the response of the common man.

It is also eminently clear, that unless each of us, avoids the quick and fast solution related to money, where solving a problem is concerned, this will remain, what can only be described as a 'scam'my life.


  1. Bingo!
    Hit the nail on the head!

    Such a refreshing view! Was getting fed up of people trashing/praising Anna and taking moral/social high ground.
    You have put it in the right perspective.
    Anna has given everybody a rallying point from where one has to be the change first.

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  3. loved it! esp the way you summed it up! have been writing and erasing all morning, trying to pen down my thoughts, but yours says exactly what I wanted to..... unless each one of us stops trying to go the quick way nothing is going to change... not jail bharos or candlelight vigils...

  4. If that incident with the police had happened to me in Hawaii, I would have phoned the Mayor's Office to complain. Then, I would have written a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about the incident. Both methods would get results, I bet.

  5. how many people have the time and patience these days to ask the cops questions and prove that they were right? Or admit the mistake and pay the right fine?

    You know, I am getting comments where people say that the rallies are going to make a lot of difference, it is like taking at least some steps than not doing anything etc. But well, if you ain't going to change yourself at all on personal level, how will attending those rallies help?

    Wish we would practice what we preach!

  6. Ah ha .. thank god someone thinks this way .. otherwise I got a few hate mails when i replied to some what you said

    ANNA is not going to change situation end of the days its still US WHO have to do something ..

    I loved this article THank you .. Bingo as deepak sir put it


  7. Exactly what i wrote few days back on blog,that there is no escape,to get the basic things done we need to bribe them.Just yesterday my reliance DTH remote got spoiled and it is warranted for one year and the customer care person told me not to pay anything for the remote they will just replace with a new ones.The Reliance person replaced the remote and he asked me pay him,i told him i am told by ur people that there is no need for me to pay,but that guy was reluctant to leave my place and i had to call my watchmen to tell him to go from my house.Anna hazare is fighting for whole India but it is we who should refuse to pay bribe,but to get the things faster we bribe them.

  8. Hooray for you!! It's when I read things like this that I'm particularly glad I don't drive anymore!! Great post as always!


  9. Gigi Hawaii The sheer numbers in the population allows these offices to delay answering your queries. And then there is the odd person somewhere who decides yo target you for cribbing officially. So I always prefer to crib and try solve the thing in real time. And it helps to know the rules and pitfalls .

    Neha These days one is considered stupid if one does not pay a bribe. Some folks even differntiate between simple low magnitude bribes vis-a vis A-Raja type brobes, conveniently forgetting that one grows into the other , in time. It's what we individually decide to follow, is what will show results.

    Bikram I am so glad you agree. It means a lot coming from a police person :-)

    Varunavi Its actually become fashionable for delvery people and small assistants to blatantly demand bribes like this. Unfortunate that suvh standards get propagated. Many people also prefer not to take the "burapan" involved in saying NO. Thats the crux of the thing.

    Sylvia Thank you ! Even without reading stuff like this, you wouldnt want to drive in Mumbai. Here it is not a science but a very difficult art.:-)

  10. Oh I can so understand your bro actually didnt get his passport for an year because he refused to bribe the policeman who had come for id verification..they ensured that bro's file didnt pass the police station and bro was only 20 then! and then this instant when my dad actually hit an income tax officer because he came home and threatened my mom (bro and I were 10 and 7 respectively) with dire consequences if she didnt pay was working in a govt company then..and his name had come up by mistake..despite that the IT guy had the audacity to threatenma when dad was not there and then dad went to the IT office and actually hit that lived in fear that pa would be arrested or something! but seriously its US who need to change..of course what Anna Hazare is doing is great, but we really need to change our mind set

  11. It is a growing menace that if left like that anymore would swallow all of us.. I am glad you stood up to the cop instead of paying up for "Peecha chodne ke liye"..Kudos for that:)