The craft of graft
Crusaders against corruption often resort to corrupt practices driven by necessity.
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.