The craft of graft

Cru­saders against cor­rup­tion of­ten re­sort to cor­rupt prac­tices driven by ne­ces­sity.

Alive - - News - by Vi­jai Pant

While the so called sur­gi­cal strike against black money in the form of de­mon­eti­sa­tion of big cur­rency notes con­tin­ues to oc­cupy both print as well as mind space, is it fair to ex­pect the gov­ern­ment’s an­ti­cor­rup­tion drive bear­ing fruit with our ‘ac­tive’ co-op­er­a­tion not go­ing be­yond ‘pas­sively’ wait­ing for our turn to get the new cur­rency from bank counters and ATMs?

We con­tinue to be­lieve that a lit­tle greas­ing of the palm here and there to fa­cil­i­tate the ‘ease of do­ing busi­ness’ in our daily lives should go un­no­ticed till some­one stupid like me comes along and shares with the read­ers the mem­o­ries of that un­for­get­table jour­ney to a renowned hill sta­tion. Then, I was given a lit­eral hands-on les­son by my bet­ter half in the craft of graft.

My wife, like so many oth­ers, had be­come a diehard anti-graft cru­sader at the height of the move­ment for a strong om­buds­man in Au­gust 2011. In fact, she per­son­ally wanted to be a part of it. Her moth­erly du­ties to­wards the lit­tle ones dis­suaded her.

But, of course, that did not pre­vent her from be­ing en­am­oured of the im­ages of the sea of hu­man­ity wear­ing Gandhi caps and wav­ing the tri­colour beamed to our liv­ing rooms. “Things look so promis­ing,” she would gush.

The move­ment had also caught the fancy of the peo­ple of my home state of Ut­tarak­hand, with flash mobs pour­ing out on the roads to vent their ire against ‘bribe cul­ture’.

It was in the midst of such a sur­charged at­mos­phere that we had to go up to the hills to at­tend a fam­ily func­tion. En route while stop­ping for tea at a tea stall, we were told by the chai­walla, pre­sum­ably an­other anti­graft cru­sader like us, how Gandhi topis had been sell­ing like hot cakes in the re­gion.

While we were hav­ing our tea and lis­ten­ing to the shop owner’s tirade against the cor­rupt prac­tices of the high and mighty, my wife re­minded me that if we did not cross the toll bar­rier, which was an­other 25 kms from there, be­fore 3 pm, we would have to shell out dou­ble the amount. The rule was that the en­try fee in­creased to a pinch­ing Rs. 100/from a mod­est Rs. 50/- for ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing the hill sta­tion af­ter 3 O’clock.

I hur­riedly gave a fifty ru­pee note to the stall owner. He replied that he had no change and lit­er­ally forced us to have some buns. A lit­tle sour at his at­ti­tude, as we per­ceived him to be yet an­other ‘com­rade in arms’ in the fight against cor­rup­tion, we headed to­wards our car.

I thought I heard the faint sound of jin­gling of coins from the stall and my ears made me be­lieve that he whis­pered to his helper in lo­cal di­alect (with which I was well versed) that there was no other way to get rid of those stale buns.

As the ve­hi­cle started its painful as­cent from there, I was ex­horted by my wife to press on the ac­cel­er­a­tor. It was past 2 pm and there was still a lot of dis­tance to cover be­fore reach­ing the toll post.

De­spite my best ef­forts, we reached the toll a shade above 3pm, which, with a lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity could have gone our way. How­ever, the person man­ning the toll re­fused to budge and, jus­ti­fi­ably, de­manded Rs. 100/-.

As I un­suc­cess­fully tried to rea­son with him, my wife called him to her side, rolled the win­dow down and thrust a crum­pled Rs. 50/- note into his hands. Be­fore he could say any­thing, she re­marked, “No! No! We don’t want a re­ceipt. You may keep this.”

His tough ex­pres­sion quickly changed to a help­ful one. He promptly slid the bar­rier to one side and the ve­hi­cle sped for­ward, leav­ing a trail of dust be­hind.

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