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Monday, February 06, 2023

Cops, Traffic Violation And Social Media

Illuminated Bridge - 01
I was riding my bike last week, after dropping a colleague at the hotel he was staying in. Unbeknownst to me, the road I turned to had been demarcated as a one-way street subsequent to the last time I drove through it. I saw a few other vehicles ahead of me turning that way & just followed suit. By the time I realised what happened, I spotted 2 traffic policemen standing a few hundred metres down that road. They stopped me & 1 of them took away my driving license to check for any prior violations. Clean slate, he discovered.

Walking back, he asks me in a surreptitious tone, "what do you want to do about it?". His unnaturally suppressed voice, despite the cacophony of incessantly honking vehicles passing by in peak rush-hour evening traffic, made clear his intention to extort some "under-the-table" money. Played ignorant, seeking to elicit the "what" from him. Unsurprisingly, he demanded Rs. 500/= in cash [~$6 USD] I pay & be on my way. Rs. 2,000/= [~$24 USD] was the legitimate fine. Mulled over it for a moment & told him I'm fine with the fine.

This turn of event took him by surprise. Replying at a higher pitch, he insisted that the fine amount had to be paid in cash, right then & there. Piling it on, he added that my driving license would be confiscated for 3 months, during which time I can not drive my vehicles. Clearly speaking out of the rectum, this government official was. In reality, traffic violation notices here are sent via SMS & fines can be paid online.

I decided to play along. Okay, I requested him to show me the 'supporting document' to back up his statement [कृपया]. At this time, he saw me taking out my cellphone to record this interaction. All this while, I had been conversing with him in chaste vernacular. However, as soon as I held up the phone, I switched to Anglais. Out of his comfort zone, he also tried to put up a verbal defence in English for the camera. He then demanded that I not film him, something I did not agree, while paraphrasing this as how a government official is threatens an ordinary citizen. Failing in his attempt at speaking the Queen's language, he turned away to call someone. As luck would have it, at that moment, I received a work call. As I got talking on the phone, he came back & said something. I politely requested him allow me to finish my call [कृपया]. Polite nonchalance was what I was aiming for. The call lasted 10 minutes. He, then, told me that I would have to follow them to the local station for further action.

They both hopped on their bike, abandoning their post [no subsequent traffic violator would have got apprehended], while asking me to follow them. When we stopped at another signal, I again fished out my phone. The traffic policeman at that signal saw this & informed them that I was taking their picture. As we were riding, at one point, I got by their side & asked them what their name was & repeated their bike number. Reaching the station, while we were going inside, he kept saying I should not have recorded him or taken his photographs. Inside, I was asked to wait while he went away to talk to his superior. As he left, I turned my back to him, so when he came out to summon me, he had to repeat his words. Totally cool, was the vibe I was trying to give out, even though I was not.

Entering the room, I greeted the lady officer in chaste vernacular. Even before she could ask me to sit, with slow & deliberate motion, I unhurriedly placed my backpack & helmet on the adjacent chair, before before seating myself on the other. Here, I narrated again what had transpired on that road. Truth be told, if I knew the road was one-way, I definitely wouldn't have taken that route. The birth city has become less familiar. In the 10-odd years spent away, new roads have appeared, old disappeared, including a flyover built only 12 years back. Add to that, the diversions the ongoing Metro rail construction have all thrown my mental compass for a toss. She heard me out, empathised with my situation, concluding how unfortunate the unfolding event on the streets was. No charges would be pressed against me, she confirmed. "Please delete the recording", she said. "No problem, Ma'am. Pronto.", I replied.

Just as we were ending this conversation, & getting to leave, the tea-boy made appearance for her. She asked if I would like to have a cup myself. Still role-playing the cool, nonchalant guy, I accepted her offer. Over the next 5 minutes, I learnt that her son is studying to become an Engineer [who isn't]. I mouthed some generic advice & an offer for him to undergo Internship with my current organisation. Tea over, I left the premise. Just as I was getting back on the bike, the cop came running behind, asking what transpired. Narrated my interaction with his superior. This time he pleaded [note change from prior to entering the Station] that I delete the footage [कृपया] & tried to justify how he was not trying to hustle bribe out of me on the road.

I was already late for my next engagement & putting on an exasperated tone, I asked him if I now needed his permission to leave, given that his superior officer had already "exonerated" me. No more talk, I left.

Civic officials are clearly wary of Social Media. How else can one explain their repeated urge for me to delete the footage. The phone came out only after he had uttered his demand for bribe. What was recorded was only me narrating what transpired earlier & a brief recording of the cop asking me to stop recording.

Incidentally, I had left office an hour early that day to scope a new mobile phone in the offline market. My 4 year old Huawei Honor 8X handset had started acting up, switching off even with 70% battery remaining. All the while when the cop was asking me to not record him, I was holding a dead phone at him.