Place: New Delhi
Time: 6.00 AM
It’s a cold, foggy morning in New Delhi. After finishing my morning regimen I stop at a road side tea stall to have a cup of ginger tea. Sameer, that's the name of the tea boy. He’s been operating this tea stall along with his younger brother, and uncle for the last 17 years ever since his father died. Alas, he could not even complete his schooling.
“Last night two policemen came to my tea stall and demanded bribes. When I expressed my inability to pay Rs 500 demanded by them, they threatened me of dire consequences. In the end I had to pay them. Saheb, why are these policewallahs always after poor folks like us and not the rich ones?” Sameer exclaims in a melancholic vein.
I cannot help but agree with him. Minor vices show themselves only in poor people who wear old and torn clothes. The vices of big people like judges get hidden behind the robes and furred gowns they wear. The fact of the matter is a sinner who occupies a high status in life, goes entirely unpunished, while a sinner who belongs to a low and humble life cannot escape punishment. Sigh!
As I stood rapt in these thoughts a white foreigner in his late 30s approaches the tea stall.
“Would you make a coffee for me? No sugar and make it very strong,” he asks Sameer.
Meanwhile, at some distance some street urchins are playing amongst each other. One of them is singing a Bollywood song ‘Humko hamin se chura lo, dil me kahin tum chhupa lo’.
The white man looks at me with a smile and says, “They sound very happy. Don't they?”.
“Yeah, but isn’t it really great that they’re happy or at least pretending to be so despite all the hardships they face,” I respond.
He nodes his head in agreement. Jason, that’s his name. An Australian of German descent and a businessman by profession, he deals in export and import of goods and has been coming to India for the last 15 years. Jason has also managed to learn little bit of Hindi in the process.
“Bahot acchha (very good),” he compliments Sameer for making a good coffee.
“So would you like to share with me how’s your experience been in India so far,” I pose a question to Jason out of curiosity.
He pauses for a second and then says, “Indians are nice people and India is a beautiful country. In fact some of the nicest and funniest memories of my life find their origin in India. I like the way Indians go about doing their work, communicate, celebrate their festivals, and I also like the way Indians cheat.”
“Do you really like the way Indians cheat? I mean what’s there to like about it,” I ask him with a wry smile on my visage.
“Yes, I really do. The Indians are very smart and creative when it comes to cheating. From policemen to taxi drivers to tea boys, everybody is cheating in different ways. In fact every time they find new, ingenious ways to cheat. I know this because I have been dealing with them for the last 15 years and truly speaking, I have now got used to it,” Jason exclaims.
The conversation was now getting interesting and I thought of spicing it up.
I shared a recent experience of mine when I was cheated by a restaurant in Delhi, how they billed me for something I never ordered, and then how I dealt with those tricksters. Jason who was until now standing, dragged a chair next to the place where I was sitting and offered to share his own similar experience.
“Let me share an anecdote with you. Around three years back I had gone to Madurai, Tamil Nadu for a business purpose. One day I left my hotel for a morning walk and kept walking for half an hour. It so happened that while returning back I lost my way and couldn’t find the hotel. I asked an autowallah to take me to that particular hotel. I was flabbergasted when he asked Rs 500 for the same.
“Surely my place could not be that far away, I thought. Thus, we bargained for a while and I agreed to pay him Rs 100. You would not believe what happened next. I sat in the auto and he took me to my hotel which was only a few blocks away in less than 30 seconds. I can never forget that incident,” he says as we both burst into laughter.
“Jason, This is embarrassing. I would like to apologize to you for the kinds of experiences you’ve had in India,” I exclaim.
He shakes his head and says, “Hey mate no need to apologize, for I’m fine with it. I can fully understand why these people cheat. They do it because they don’t have money. What else can one expect from a policeman who gets Rs 10,000 as salary in Delhi? After all he’s to look after his family, kids, their education etc. Life is tough here and for me it is survival of the fittest (now he sounded like a German). I have had to pay bribes to custom officials at the airports in India umpteen times. I’m sure if your government could pay them well, they’ll stop indulging in such practices.”
But then, I say to myself in a soliloquy, what would he say about our ministers and politicians who indulge in massive corruption scams despite being paid handsome salaries and numerous allowances? What justification do they have to plunder the Indian tax payer’s money? The fact of the matter is we’ve morally degraded as a nation ever since the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by our own people for whose redemption he lived. We’ve forgotten his values and teachings and now today find ourselves in a deep abyss extrication from which seems impossible. I’m sure if Gandhi were alive today, he would leave India, and settle in Pakistan, for at least Pakistanis are not as corrupt and morally degraded as us.
“Just look at the growing disparity between the rich and poor. In our pursuit of rapid industrialization and urbanization, we have left the rural India at the mercy of God. There are no jobs, opportunities, infrastructure, and sources of livelihood in our villages. Farmers are committing suicide and other landless laborers are flocking to our cities in multitudes to augment urban poverty which manifests itself in the form of filthy slums. Only God knows where we’re heading as a nation,” I exclaim in a vein of exasperation.
Jason, again, nodes his head in agreement and says, “This is precisely why I like some of the great work some charity organizations are doing in India.”
“We don’t need charity, Jason. What the Indians need the most right now is good, quality, and affordable education which will enable them to stand on their own feet. These government schemes guaranteeing subsidized food, rural jobs (NREGA) and so forth are nothing but a complete waste of public money and will yield nothing. What's the future of these street children? Alas, our government and politicians do not have time and will to do something about these serious issues,” I retort.
“Hey mate don’t lose hope. I still think the future of India is bright,” Jason says even as he bids me farewell; his next stop is China.
And I cannot help but share Jason’s optimism about India.
Aakhir umeed pe duniya qayam hai.