Bribing our way out

July 27, 2007

It happened again, though after a long time, I jumped a signal and landed right into mama’s arms. He was ready waiting for me and at once snatched the keys off, a grandiose violation of my property rights.  Clearly I misjudged that I could somehow push myself through the last few seconds of the singal. I really have to tell you the about at the amazing speed, efficiency these mamas work in extracting the bribe. Last time I was caught for jumping a signal it was around close to a year and half ago. Back then it was just a single mama who in my opinion was a bit less experienced. He let me off with just a warning that warning proved to be useful for a whole year and a half. But yesterday was different, this was a major signal, there were 4 mamas, a sergeant (the one with white cap), two of his henchmen, each posted at different signals of the junction, and finally the one who does the actual talking and the collection work. The first act, as you know, is that the guy snatches your key away, which is something they are clearly not authorized to do. After that he sends you the collection agent and he proceeds to fish for another victim. Now I have to tell the guy who he sent me to was a professional. No wonder he got assigned to this major signal (I heard that there’s a lotta competition for main signals). He proceeds to write something in a big file sheet with zillions of coulumns. In one of them he writes FSS. That was, I guess, intended to tell me that he is bent on booking a case. Now I dont know what it stands for but I’m sure it is not even remotely connected to my identity or identifies my vehicle or anything like that. We move on to the first major phase. This guys talks fast, you can see that he’s no amateur, this guy has done his time, honed by several such cases. He wants to waste no time. I thought I was gonna end up paying some heavy amount. He then asked for my license, though I’m a license carrying bike rider, I dont usually give the license to the mamas when they ask for it, for it is the license that identifies you. Once your license it is in his hands it’s almost over, your in his pockets. So I plead with him, yes I did. “Please sir”, those were the only two words that I kept saying. You could say I am someone with no self respect, but neither was the mama. If it was his job to lure me into bribing, it was my job to beat the system, no matter what. So I had to “please sir” him for a while, it dint hurt me a bit. What would’ve hurt me the most is paying 100 bucks or more to him as bribe. It would’ve arose a great deal of guilt in me because,

a. It is an amount of Rs.100 which is of great value to me, hell I can get a happy meal (beer+biryani) with some change left.

b. It is an act of bribery, why should I pay 100 bucks to some unknown prick who is supposed to keep the road safe.

  Anyway I kept playing along. After tired of trying to get hold of my license, he finally gave up and moved to phase2. This is the extortion phase, the first being the terrorise phase. But before phase1 and phase2 the guy gave me sometime to move the money in my wallet. That is the first thing you do, get all the money in your wallet to your ticket pocket (sometimes you would be asked to empty your normal pockets, so it’s safe to push it in the ticket pocket). What mama did next amazed me. He took a xerox (photocopy) of news item from some Tamil newspaper and showed it to me. It read ‘Jumping signal will cost Rs.1000 fine from now’, in Tamil of course. I know it to be as a newspaper from its layout and font, no government circular or memo looks that way. The guys tells me that I will be fined for Rs.1000 and asks “is it ok?” I told to myself “c’mon what is he doing? Bargaining the fine amount?” In fact he was indeed bargaining the bribe. I said I dont have any money and showed my wallet with 10 bucks plus change in it (never completely empty wallet, they might not believe you). So he advises me to get 100 (or 10% as he says) from friends family etc. I replied that I’ve come from far away and that’s the only amount I have. He gives the sergeant a look. The sergeant signals back that I’m just a waste of time and that he should move on. The guy then proceeds to coolly take the only 10 rupee note from my wallet and hands over my key. Just to make it look like they are not fucking scavengers haggling for a mere 10 buck, he orders me to get 40 bucks more soon. We both knew that I wont be returning, but he had to say that to make sure I dont think low of him. So I was off, for a mere 10 bucks. I wouldn’t exactly call that a victory, I did actually give Rs.10 to him, but I did beat the system. I dint pay the hefty fine.

 The thing is that I’m not a socially irresponsible citizen for not paying fine. It’s actually got more to do with the fact that the fine for jumping a signal is just too much. Too much that no one would actually want to pay them, and they will finally settle with bribing the mama for a lesser amount say, 10% (mamas talk in % these days). That’s where the system fails miserably. It was actually thought that raising the fine amount will increase traffic discipline, but the fact is the traffic violations remain the same because most of them are just accidents, acts of negligence. What happened to me was that I jumped the signal accidentally, yes it was my misjudgment, and I would gladly pay the fine for that, if it were within the limits. I just cant pay Rs.1000 for mere misjudgment, no one was hurt, nothing serious happened that demanded 1000 bucks from me. So I had to talk my way out of this situation. You could argue that to prevent them from taking bribe the govt could imprison whoever gives or takes bribe. Valid point, but the funny thing is that such a law actually exists and the fact that it is still not imposed strictly speaks for the very fact that such a law cannot be imposed strictly at all. It will only lead to corruption at a higher level. Suppose me and mama were arrested by the vigilance squad at that very moment he took the Rs.10 note, we both would have to end up paying the vigilance squad a bigger amount to get off. How can you be sure that vigilance will not accept bribe? If the people assigned to protect and serve people take bribe, it is only natural that people assigned to tackle corruption will themselves take bribe. Also it will prove very difficult for those people to be vigil everywhere and every time. What are they? the omnipotent God? None of this can happen. The only way to beat corruption is not by imposing penalties or imprisonment but only by NOT GIVING CHANCE for it to exist. Imagine if the fine was 50 or 100 bucks, it still is a considerable amount for most folks but they would indeed pay it and stick it to the mama. No one really wants bribe the police if the fines are reasonable. Most folks hate giving money to police or any authority for that matter. Paying 50 or 100 as fine for jumping a signal will definitely raise a flag in my brain, so the next time it will judge more carefully in trying to pass a signal during those last few seconds, thats how you do it. Instead, now I’m pretty confident that the next time any mama catches me for signal jumping I would be able to talk my way out of it. Well I could only hope the govt recognizes the extreme stupidity of its laws and did something about it, until then people like me and you will just try to bribe our way out.

 Note:For who are not from chennai, mama=Traffic police and that stuff about omnipotent God, that was just a joke. God is not omnipotent, he’s just your imagination.

Scared? who me?

July 12, 2007

Today will go down in history as the day swamy ever tasted fear, was for ever afraid of nature’s fury. Yes, this evening had been some sort of life changing phase for me. Ok i’ll cut the bullshit, but to tell you the truth I was oozing adrenaline out of my nose today. So what trigerred this abnormal reaction to this otherwise strong superhuman?
 Well today was one of those most vicious, scary, bone chilling display of natures fury that I’ve ever witnessed. It exactly isnt a big tornado (I aint exactly dorothy), nor a flash flood, it was the one hour of awe inspiring lightning and thunder that pounded chennai for atleast couple of hours. The story goes like this. The evening was really pleasant,  I was returning home from spencers and I could sense that it was going to rain. I was carrying my laptop and so had to rush home before the shower started, but that bitch nature beat me to that. So I was stranded on the side of the road for a good 15 mins. After that the intensity of the rain had come down and so I resumed my journey home. When I got home,  I plugged in the laptop and was surfing as usual when all of a sudden the first scenes of a thirller movie were begining to be played. There was nothing unusual about it at first, windows banging, occasional lightning that you always wanted to look straight into, but were very afraid to, because you’ve seen in so many bad indian movies how a lighting could render you blind forever. Temperature dropped drastically, the room had a pleasant feel to it, and for once I dint feel the heat from my laptop. Thats when it happened, the brightest streak until now ripped the sky open and making it scream as if the sky had been stabbed. I remebered the old chinese proverb just then “whenever there’s any thunderstorm, the first thing to do is to turn off your laptop, TV and other electrical items”. I haven’t stuck to this rule before because I’ve personally never seen any TVs being blown out or etc. To me it was some urban legend that usually happened to your friends friend or some house the street next. I wanted was to get a first hand glimpse of what was actually happening out there, so I stepped out and looked up. Just then, without any warning i saw the badest, meanest streak of light in my life, it was powerful, roaring and unmerciful. I guess ‘raw’ would be another good way to describe it. Imagine you are Paris Hilton who’s just been released from jail facing a swarm of papparazzis with the brightest, most poweful flashes, now multiply that flash by atleast a 20 (yeah I dont want to exaggerate), that’s how bright it was. For the next minute or two I could see the typical lightning rod image wherever i looked. After that I got into the house and cursed myself for being such a careless asshole. Thats when I got a call from my sister. You see she just given birth to my beautiful niece three days ago. She wanted me to get her something to eat since the canteen food in the hospital sucked ass. I told her how the condition was outside but i could sense that she wasnt excatly in the mood to listen to all that. She was in a closed air conditioned room, sealed completely from the outside world, so she had no idea what was going on. I told her it would take atleast an hour before I even think of venturing out. She obvisouly was pissed off with my attitude, all she could see was that she was one poor hungry young mother and I was the lazy bum with no good work. But had she witnessed that grand spectalcle, would she be expecting the same? I thougt for a second. Right then, right there, BAM! I just could not write how I felt at that time, the most bad ass of them all struck directly inclose proximity to my house. I say that with so much conviction because the thunder that followed it had the clear tell tale sings of Apocalypse. Yup, for a second there, I did fear for my life, why lie? not for a second, the fear lasted for some minutes. I gathered myself after that, tried to maintain calm and my sanity. But what I had seen was only the first of the two part installement from hell. Within just five minutes, it struck again, with the same vigor, power and might. Since we only die once,  I did not feel the same way I felt for the prequel but nonetheless I could not just take another. I wanted to call my sister, I reached for the landline, but it was dead, indicating the magnitude of the situation. I decided it would be a good reason to shut the windows and remain calm inside. This is exactly where your belief system will help you out, but to some helpless atheist like me, who had no prayers to offer, it was proving to be too much of an ordeal. Also I could not console myself that it was all the part of god’s short temper . To me, there was no heaven in waiting if i were to die in a million volt shock. I had to somehow collect myself and get ready for the mean task of getting food to my sis.
 I waitied for half an hour for it all to settle down and for peace to reign in again. It was still drizzling outside, but half an hour after that incident I was much more mature and devoid of fear. So I kicked my bike to start it. I was suprised to find that it started with just 3 kicks than the usual 5, even on the hottest days this was not possbile. Was this a clear sign from ‘Him’ that my odyssey to the hotel to get dinner for my sis would be devoid of any danger? Yeah right, enough of my sarcasm. I glided through the wet roads, high on the chilly breeze and balls stiff due to the temperature. I rode extra slow to the hotel. I’m an exceptionally slow driver, since most of my thinking is done on the bike or when i’m in loo, but at that time I was driving very well below the daily normal. I guess the main attraction of driving on a wet road is the mind blowing lights show. The wet road reflects the brake lights, the neon billboards, the the street lamp and oh! what a great sight it was. I’ve not seen the northern lights but I could say it was as close to that. That wet road was as enthralling as the light show in pink floyd’s “echoes”(the concert, not song). Soon i forgot all about the fury and the drama and was one with the lights, lost in strech of a continous rainbow.
 Could i say this was a life changing incident? not at all, but it was a good experience that I would not forget until say tomorrow. But come to think of it all now after a long 3 hours, was i really scared back then? hmmm may be.

 It has been bothering me for quite sometime to write about 1989 tiananmen uprising in China. For those who do not have any clue about it, let me just brief you. The communist party of China(CPC) came to power in 1949 after it defeated the right-wing KMT in the Chinese civil war. After that the whole of China was unified under a single party system and strict authoritarian government came into control. But after years of oppression and after many ruthless atrocities committed against its own people, the Chinese government were faced with a an extraordinary challenge, one they had never contemplated on. This was the student uprising at the tiananmen square in Beijing, which sent shockwaves through the Chinese politburo. The government had only two choices, either to acknowledge that there was a growing hatred for the government and its policies or to crush the revolt with an iron hand. The government vowed to crush the revolt and sent hundreds of troops to Beijing and the square looked like a army base within couple of days. The people were very cooperative at first, some even handed out flowers to the soldiers and politely ask to reason out why they had been stationed against them. But soon the constant sight of the tanks and guns just proved to be too much for the ordinary citizen and violence broke out. But the soldiers did not even hesitate a bit to fire at 100’s of unarmed civilians who had just assembled to voice their protest against a tyrannical government in the first place. The days that followed witness some of history’s most shocking massacre’s which is no less than a genocide. These were Chinese soldiers mind you, not some mercenaries or soldiers from enemy countries. Commanding soldiers to fire upon fellow citizens is no ordinary task, for this they need to be meticulously be trained to see people as only targets without any attachment, kindness or guilt. That was exactly what the Chinese govt achieved, and boy! i must say what a great achievement that was. Within 4 days the entire uprising was crushed and the death toll estimates ranged between a mere 200 (according to CPC) to 7000 (according to US Nato estimates).

Coming back to why i was so bent on writing about this was that i saw a great documentary on PBS Frontline. Like any other Frontline documentary this was straight to the core, no gimmicks, no michael moorisms, no soundtrack, just solid hardcore reporting. It was called Gates of heaven. What struck me the most was when the reporter asked a group of students in Beijing what they thought about this iconic tank man photo.

the tank man

the tankman at square

Now the tankman was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 20 revolutionaries of the 20th century along with Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, but those poor students at the Beijing school did not have the slightest clue what it was all about. The documentary told how the Chinese govt had worked very cautiously to censor any images of the tankman (run a search in google China about tankman and you get vague irrelevant results) and how they have successful altered history. All these were reminiscent of an Orwellian society the Chinese lived in. People there did not have even a faint knowledge about their past or their inherent powers as individuals. Then i had an epiphany, what the documentary failed to report was the fact the not only could they recognize the tankman, but they were unable to make out an act of rebellion. When he showed the pictures to the students, they had no idea what the character in photo was up to. One student even asked whether it was some kind of parade. Clearly to you and me, if we look at that picture, even if we had no prior knowledge of that fateful protest, we would correctly identify it as an act of rebellion, but the poor students could not even decipher what was going on. That is the unfortunate triumph of communism. How the Chinese govt erased one of the bravest uprising in its history fails in comparison to what they had indeed achieved with their mind control tactics. It is as if they had given a mass lobotomy to their students so that they know nothing but compliance to authority. What is so great about a country which is branding itself as the next dominant economic superpower if its citizens are nothing more than mere zombies without voice, freewill and free thought?