My immediate reaction was to raise my voice and reprimand him for being so openly corrupt. Surely, there are less corrupt ways of making money, I told him, only to have him stare back at me in insolence.
He casually shrugged his shoulders, dropped my booking form on the table and left, but not before saying, “Then wait forever.” Seething in anger, I stormed out in that typical, angry not-so-young woman fashion, and plunked myself down in the car seat. I felt so helpless that I couldn’t even think straight.
But, very soon, I found myself laughing over the entire episode because such incidents routinely happen to me, to you, and to everyone in India. Let us just accept it, corruption is entrenched in our society. So much so that we have taken it for granted and conveniently stopped questioning it, leave alone waging a war against it.
Come to think of it, my brush with corruption started way back in the 70s, the day the stork dropped me in the cozy arms of my parents. In those days of deliveries in government hospitals, my parents had to actually grease the palms of the nurse on duty to ensure that I got my hot water baths regularly.
That was just the beginning. I then got my identity on planet earth, duly stamped by the authorities concerned, only after my father slipped a few crisp notes into the pocket of the clerk in the registrar’s office. My admission to the only good school in the small town of Chikmagalore happened in a similar fashion. So did my college education, despite scoring good marks! So continued the chain of corruption, securing one link after another, and getting stronger by the day.
Well! I’m not alone as I relate this story. Every Kannadiga and every Indian who takes pride in the fact that he/she is born into a free country (where nothing, including your constitutional rights, comes free) has similar stories to relate and similar experiences to share. But, do we do anything about it? No, sorry. It’s not worth the trouble. All that we do is to go whining about it, discuss it threadbare and continue living happily, greasing some palm or the other to get things done. Conveniently.
Just the other day, I bumped into my friend from college and was jolted out of my complacency. This friend who once wore nothing but khadi kurtas and raised slogans against ‘corrupt’ government officials now wore designer clothes and shoes and stepped out of a swanky car with a sleek cell phone in his hand.
During the course of our conversation, he revealed that he was now a government servant and that he held a very influential post. His lifestyle spoke volumes about his ways in office. Government salaries, without doubt, cannot ensure a profligate style of living. How could he have stooped to such levels of corruption, I wondered.
For, back in college, this same friend had spearheaded an anti-corruption movement in our study group and forced us to take an oath never to join government service as it reeked of corruption. While a few fools like me, till this day, remember our oath to stay ‘clean’ and live in the make-believe world of idealism, the rest have learnt the ways of the world and prospered.
When easy money comes in through the window, idealism goes out of the door, I guess. With all good intentions, we set out with projections of an ideal, corruption-free world that we truly believed would be be realised.
We believed in idealism. We believed that the society needed it and it was a notion that we had absolutely fallen in love with. But then, it did not take us long to comprehend the fact that we were just asking for too much. And then slowly we allowed ourselves to be disillusioned with reality as the world beyond our romanticism began to intrude. And one day, we resigned to the fact that corruption is here to stay.
And then we started becoming a part of the very system we berated. Today, I think nothing of bribing the milkman with goodies on special occasions to ensure that he delivers milk to my house first. And all because I want to make piping hot filter coffee for the maid so that I can coax her to do the chores without a grumpy face so that I can read the newspaper in peace.
A newspaper that is crammed with reports about embarrassing horse trading in politics and the corrupt ways of our elected representatives. And then as I set out in a hurry to work, and am pulled over by a menacing traffic cop on some pretext or the other, I think nothing of paying him a few wads of notes so that I can avoid going to the police station and can reach office on time.
The chain of corrupt practices, that begins thus in the morning, continues unabated throughout the day. In fact, it gets so entrenched in our psyche that we actually allow our objectivity to be obscured.
We have come to accept meekly that we have to bribe a food chain of corruption to get the right things done at the right time. We’ve tolerated it for so long that it has become ‘normal.’
After one such encounter with a corrupt official in the transport department where I was forced to shell out a few hundreds as bribe to get a duplicate copy of my Driver’s Licence, I briefed my friend about it and she nodded understandingly.
She said, “Corruption is like diabetes. It can only be controlled, but not totally eliminated.” How true! It is truly easier to wish for a corruption-free world than to fight for it. The world is corrupt, but it’s the only one we have got. The choice is ours. We can either grin and bear it or decide to do something about it.
This legacy of corruption, handed down to us from our ancestors, will continue to be handed over to our future generations too. Maybe it is time to once and for all, decide that we must wage a war against corruption and that we must not either passively or actively become a part of it.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are with our silence and sometimes with our participation, encouraging a culture of lax values and lazy ethics. Only by taking concrete steps, can we untangle ourselves from this gossamer web of corruption. Only by saying ‘No’ to convenience can we say ‘Yes’ to a country where things move because they should and not because we must grease palms and also rusty administrative wheels.