India’s National Pastime?

M.Ramdas

What is the common evil that every Indian faces most of his or her waking hours? The answer is easy to guess: corruption. From Kanyakumari to Kashmir and from Mumbai to Mokokchung in Nagaland this great monster stalks the land, feeding on the vulnerable and the desperate and growing to gargantuan proportions.

Of corruption’s many faces, bribery is the one we are most familiar with. Be it government office or private company, the story is the same – that extra amount is what oils the wheels of the bureaucratic machine and spurs that unyielding clerk to efficiency you’d never believe him capable of. And if you are the foolish conscience –ridden individual who thinks he can accomplish things sans tip, wake up to reality. That file of yours won’t move an inch, nor will that license you seek ever present itself. So, pull out your wallet with reluctant fingers and let us hear the rustle of the crisp notes. Money talks, man!

A few years ago, I had my first brush with corruption and am still smarting from the experience .There I was at New Delhi railway station leaving the city for good after five years, with mountains of luggage to book in the brake van and only one and half hours for the train to leave .I kept being ignored by the booking official and eventually missed my train that day. But I learnt a valuable lesson from the coolie: “Saab! Why didn’t you offer him some money? That was why he kept you waiting all the while!”

Face to face with corruption, I had chickened out.

Now the immense scale of bribe- taking astounds me. It seems to have achieved epidemic proportions — a virulent disease that evidently infects the very highest levels. But, wait a minute. Why pick on only a few when all of us Indians are awash in this great sea of corruption? Who knows? Today I who give a bribe to get my work done, may tomorrow stretch out an itching palm myself.

Corruption sports many ugly heads – nepotism, adulteration, threats and intimidation, to name some that are familiar to us all. Adulteration, like cricket, is a national pastime. To hell with the country as long as I can adroitly mix stone chips in that sack of pulses or play tricks with the mustard seed bags over there ! Daily, in countless households all over India, housewives discover that the spurious has been passed off as genuine—In cereals, oils, condiments ,spices and just about anything else in the market. People like you and me who try to live a clean, moral life have a tough time surviving with their honour intact.

But, all across the nation, isn’t dowry the most insidious and cruel form of extortion and bribery? If you are not ready with your lakhs of rupees, I’ll take my prize Ongole bull to the next cow in; the market offering sacksful of money”. Surely there’s no exaggeration here!

However, my piquant experience in Hyderabad years ago takes the cake. In those days I found that my children’s school authorities were taking Rs 70 as monthly fees but issuing a receipt for only Rs 30! When I pointed out the anomaly to the office clerk, she explained that it was the common practice for all the children. This was certainly not the answer I expected. So, I went straight the Income Tax officer in charge of our designated circle at his office opposite the Secretariat. When I confronted the man with my revelation, I was stunned by his angry response. “Are you out to change the world? Can you eradicate the many evil deeds going on outside?” the officer thundered. Within minutes, he reduced the would-be do-gooder to a no-gooder. The whistle blower had to swallow his whistle and his pride too.!

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