Last night the auto rickshaw I was returning home in jumped a red light. A prompt traffic policeman stopped us and demanded for the papers. When the driver began to plead, he referred the case to his superior, standing some distance away. Amidst the din of the passing traffic and the darkness after dusk all that I could make out that some negotiation was on. After a few minutes of haggling, the driver returned with a satisfactory grin on his face. “How much?” I enquired. “Rs. 10,” he replied. The driver sensed my surprise and gave an elaborate lecture on how to handle cops at the least possible cost. “Never argue with the police,” he suggested. “Oops!” Only a few days ago I gave a man in uniform a sermon, when he tried to prevent me from clicking photographs. “Thank god, that particular policewallah was oblivious of this commandment,” I thought.

But Rs. 10! Isn’t that unbefitting of the status of a head constable/assistant sub-inspector (couldn’t differentiate the stars from the stripes in the dark). But on analysing that if an MP can charge Rs. 10,000 for doing something which is in his job description, why can’t a lower rung policewallah stoop to Rs. 10 for not doing his job. Rs. 10 gets 10 packets of gutkha (provided they pay the poor panwallah); better than Rs. 100 added to the government’s coffers. The last time I knew someone paying a baksheesh-type bribe was when a master haggler of a friend got his police verification (for his passport) for only Rs. 5. The officer-in-charge of the local police station had demanded Rs. 500.

Next time you’re caught violating the law, keep some small change handy.

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