“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Two incidents

This post was inspired by ‘Kalpanique’s post – CWG ‘chalta hai legacy’. I narrate two incidents, years apart.


I am on my way from Chidambaram to New Delhi, via Madras (Chennai). My brother was getting married in New Delhi; I didn’t have enough time to book berth in advance. A morning at 0730 hrs found me just outside the closed doors of Ticket Reservation counter of the Madras Railway station. The then system was that the remaining unreserved berths will be given on a first-come-first served basis when the counter opens at 0800 hrs. There was a sizeable crowd waiting for the doors to open. As the counter opened, people rushed in; there was only one counter; hence, one queue. Pushed aside by aggressive berth seekers, I am way behind; I desperately had to catch that train or risk missing the function altogether. Behind me stood a young foreigner, British or American. As the queue inched forward, the typical Indian character, the agent, appeared. For an additional Rs.20/- (A big sum those days) he would get you an assured birth. Of course, he is the agent of the railways booking clerk. I took a look at the queue and immediately assented. The foreigner was watching us and asked me the matter. I told him ‘if you gave 20 bucks bribe, he will get you a confirmed birth’. I still remember the astonished expression of that young man. ‘Bribe?’ he asked, ‘you will give a bribe to get a berth?’. I am embarrassed but defend myself saying that I have to be in Delhi by this train. He just shook his head and said, - ‘If I don’t get a berth, I will go sitting’. We parted company. Later, en route, at a railway station, I see him. He got a berth, without paying bribe. I whine, ‘Well, you could afford the risk, but I couldn’t ….. I avert my face, in shame.


Morning 1000hrs. I am at the local Sub-Registry, waiting for a friend who had asked me to be present as a witness for the registration of land that he is purchasing. Well after 1030 the office staff trickles in. I chat up an old man who is standing around. He is a ‘witness for a fee’. For all registrations, whether land deal or marriage, you need witnesses; for a small fee, this man will sign as witness. We watch the office staff coming in. A man and woman, well-dressed and bejeweled climb out of car. They casually go into the office. The old man snickered “ Saar, they are clerks in the office. Do you know how much these people make a month? They are paid hefty packets whenever a land deal is registered. I grimace. ‘Are you telling me that that there is not a single uncorrupt person in this office? All are like this, coming late and picking bribes?’ The old man’s expression suddenly changes from a sneer to awe. Reverently he says, - ‘Saar, come with me. I want to show you someone’. We walk around the building to a side window. With great respect in his voice, the old man points to someone inside. I see a young woman; young she is in years, but the shabby but clean cotton sari, the premature grey strands of hair, the lack of ornaments and that general harried look shouts out age in suffering. The old man says softly – ‘Saar, I have been a regular here for many years. Look at that lady. I have watched her everyday. She comes at the right time, works hard and- believe me, she has not taken a single paise bribe, never!’ In the old man’s face, I see an expression that is hard to describe.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 01.10.2010


  1. Your sole goal was to reach Delhi. Well then you used the system. What is outrageous about that?This is India. And we have always a via media out of any and into any situation. Bless us and our country!!!!!
    And the White man was trifle lucky else he would have travelled standing silly fellow, he should not boast much it was mere luck that got him the berth. But Bals you were smart typical Indian like most of us.
    The poor woman clerk at the Registrar's office, silly stupid dame.

  2. What I would infer from these 2 incidents you mentioned is this.

    1. The foreigner was lucky to have got berth. But he was sure he wouldnt bribe. I guess he wouldnt have whined or regretted had he not got a berth.

    2. The lady - she is a self satisfied simple woman who goes by her morals. Good for her as long as she doesnt crib about her routine and her job.

    Things are improving. Though babu-logs in government offices do take bribes and take their own sweet time to finish stuffs, moving files across tables is bit faster and easier than it was few years ago.

    Couple of months ago, I visited 3 government office. LIC to claim my maturity amount, RTO to get my car ownership changed and a nationalized bank to figure out where my online transfer money vanished.

    It was tedious I agree. But it was better that what I expected :-)

  3. i enjoyed the narration of the two incidents...but i am shocked by the cynicism i see in the comments.silly, stupid dame??aargh

  4. @Anil: Mr/Ms. Anonymous doesn't really know you! :D

    @Insignia: I am not sure if it is a real opinion or a tongue-in-cheek comment. If it was in 2010, I would not have paid the bribe, even at the cost of missing the function. And for the lady at the office, perhaps you are too far away, Ms.Insignia, physically and mentally. It is people like that lady who give us reason to call ourselves human beings. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to stand by ideals. Perhaps you are too young to understand that.

    @Anonymous: I respect your decision to hide your identity, though I really do not care for people who do that. This is a free country, and a free blog. There is no comment moderation. You have every right to voice your opinion boldly. You are mistaken about the first comment; he has a habit meaning the opposite of what he says :)

  5. Bals, I did see the comment from "anonymous'
    Since the commentator is faceless, or is afraid to look in the mirror I prefer not to retort.

  6. I was reminded of my PG days at Madras Medical College.Getting a seat or a berth in the Madras Mail was almost impossible. I remember I had to go begging after the TTE and even give small bribe.Twenty rupees could do the trick.I didn't feel bad about it those days,it was as if it was a rule.
    The railway is the only service which has improved over time.Many things are better than before.

    The last time I went to a Panchayat office at trivandrum,I noticed a big notice " Giving and accepting bribe is punishable".Good,I thought. When I went inside the office, a lady clerk asked me politely what was my problem.I had to pay some taxes which were pending for some time. Going through the books,she found out my address and where I was living,and then said
    " Sir, You don't have to wait here for such minor things.I will do it and send the receipts to you." I was relieved and never could believe our services had improved to this level.Next day morning,the office boy of our colony came to me and said, "Sir,the lady from the Panchayat has asked to send 1800 rupees".I asked "what"? He said,it is 800 rupees for the taxes,and 1000 rupees,for the lady for the services !!
    It is not a good practice to bluntly comment on others.Every one has the right to think and express the way they think.Take it or leave it.

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  8. Bala sir,

    Oops, I guess my statements didnt reach you the way I meant it to be. I do appreciate that lady a lot. She stands by her morals. Thats what I meant :-)

    Maybe I am young in age, but I firmly believe and have experienced lot more than I should have for my age!!

    I do admire that lady. I am sorry if my statements gave a wrong notion otherwise

  9. @B, i thought that was honest. And i think each on eof us can relate to incidents like this where the grease on the palm works to get us out of hassels. TN Seshan once wrote an article how corruption at th top is only a corollary to teh small sops we throw in our daily lives. to get a passport, to regiser a mand. to escape a traffic fine, to get a ezam certificate... we are like that. it takes courage to fight it. and the even if we do. we might end up as the old lady int eh second narrative. for ever waiting in the queues, bitter, broken, shabby.
    its now the survival of the fittest (the rishest) the poor are no longer considered human beings. they are jusy census who coem in teh way of the rich gettign richer. its sad. not because of the way things are, because there seems to be no way out. and so the CWG scams and there will be many more. Justice and fairness are mirages that don't really exist in our world

  10. @all: The incident #2 is significant not only because of the upright lady, but because of the respect and admiration for the old man. Whatever deviance we may commit for survival, we still value honesty and truthfulness. The way we still celebrate Gandhi Jayanthi is proof- it is an attempt to wash off the stain of guilt in us.

  11. The world turns around only because of such few people.

  12. I can only say that I see your point and I see that one with conviction has taken her convictions to heart. I totally appreciate that in her...That is rare and hard to find..Money buys most anything these days and that is sad.........You have painted an interesting situation here that is very real and so visual.....


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