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A bribery saga in Northeast India

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By Adv Gautam Chaudhury

“HE F*****NG TOOK A BRIBE”

The words startled me out of the reverie, I was in, half asleep, half awake.

Remembering that I was on the train from Tinsukia to Guwahati, I recollected again. Who was this bribe taker and giver at about 2:45AM on the train. O’ I see the well dressed Ms. Pandey, who boarded the train at Dimapur was speaking to Ms. Saikia, a young girl, who also boarded alongwith her.

But then before narrating the incident, I will have to lay down the prologue first.

Yesterday, after a hard days work, I boarded the 12434 Rajdhani Express from Tinsukia to Guwahati as usual, I was booked in the 1st Class- H-1 they call it in the railway Lingo. Sujit dropped me at the station. But this time the environment was quite different, the paid lounge at the entrance to the platform yelled that yes, some changes were taking place and the change was there for every one to see. Having rested for some time in the said lounge, we started for the boarding as the arrival of the train was announced. It was a long walk and I remembered that as per policy the railways stopped providing linen and bedrolls to the passengers, as they used to do earlier and hence armed myself with a blanket from one of the shops on the platform.

At the time of boarding, Sujit introduced me to the TTE, on duty, who was his old time friend and upon introductions, and coming to know about me, asked me whether I knew Arup Borbora. I said I did and then with the cringed smile, he retorted, working in the High Court and not knowing Arup Borbora would have made me think otherwise and immediately let out a laugh. To put the record straight and to show that I was not pulling a fast one, I connected to Arupda and got to speak with him, he was satisfied and assured me of all assistance, in any eventuality on the train.

With the starting of the train, came the pursers one with a bottle of water, another with food and again another with a packed bedroll, all available for payment. On an impulse, I brought all of those to see, what was inside just to satisfy my curiosity.

Anyway, the TTE, Mr. Bora came after sometime and saw the articles, particularly the bag of linen and blanket and assured me that the payment is as per policy and there is nothing hanky panky in that.

Wishing me a good nights sleep, he put off the lights, closed the door and went outside. I also fell asleep. At about 12:00’ at the Dimapur Station, I heard a commotion of loud banging on the doors and a person, perhaps of Naga Origin walked into the compartment. I wondered as to how anybody could have entered as I was told, I would be the only passenger. Anyways I did not give it any more thought and reorganized my little belongings and laid down to sleep. Sometime later, a voice of one lady searching for her berth again disturbed my reverie and I realized that they were two in numbers and apparently had different seats and were requesting other passengers for shifting so that they could adjust together. At some point of time, they asked my co passenger, if was alone and would shift to any other seat, but he politely declined saying it was not possible as he was on some Govt. duty and I realized that being an officer, where did his chivalry get lost, in front of two distinguished ladies asking for help.

Not one to poke my nose in others’ affairs, I kept silent for some time and seeing the desperation in their faces, I stated that both the upper berths of the compartment was empty, and if they desired, they could sleep there. Hearing this, the elder, Ms. Pandey, whose name, I would gather later was very thankful and stated that she did not notice the empty berths. And they settled down. Her nice clothes, manner of speaking fluent English, the quality of the clothes spoke aloud that she was of a high breed and affluent position and I presumed, Ms. Saikia, whose name also I could gather later to be her daughter. Aftersome, time, I heard Ms. Pandey describing the humidity inside the compartment with the expletive “fucking hot” and was presumably in search of some water. I also thought rather than offering my own, posterity demanded that I should wait until asked for and then offer, what ever I could.

I then heard the young Ms. Saikia stating that ‘the guy over there has some”. But the tenor of the voice some how did not strike the note and I made a mental note not to give it to them, but again contradicted myself saying, it is only a young girl, perhaps studying in some school and being in the control of “Archies” or of the Mills and Boon series, was speaking in the language, which would make her stand apart from commoners, as is the usual practice, wherein I have seen in Guwahati people speaking in English in front of vegetable mongers or fish mongers to show off their so called high status. Any ways that is not the purpose of my writing.  But the call for water did not come as Ms. Saikia fished out a flask and Ms. Pandey satisfied her thirst with the last dregs, and pushed off and I also tried to regale in the fast disappearing drowsiness so as to catch some sleep. At about 2;50 Am amidst the jingle of the co passengers mobile phones, I could again sense, Mr. TTE calling out for tickets and wondering as to why I am not asleep called out to Ms. Pandey for her tickets and he was shown her phone containing the text of the conformed booking.

But when Ms. Saikia’s turn came, Ms. Pandey first declared that she was on the 2AC compartment and because someone accompanying her was not on board, she invited Ms. Saikia to accompany her in the H1 compartment. Confused Mr. TTE at the dead of night, again started to go through the charts of the 2 AC compartment and the Dimapur Quote and Ms. Pandey seeing his search continuing then told that perhaps Ms. Saikia was waitlisted and so her name did not figure out in the list. Mr. TTE retorted that, in such an eventuality, she could not board the train and being a case of illegal travel without tickets, he would have to charge penalty. Initially Ms. Pandey argued with her show of English and Hindi saying that as she had another ticket but the passenger did not arrive, Ms. Saikia had all authority to board the train. But on seeing Mr. TTE fishing out his rule book, she then sheepishly stated, “HOW MUCH”. Mr. TTE regained his composure and stated Rs. 1000.00 and then again Ms. Pandey said in her own show of affluency and upper class upbringing, Receipt Please. The TTE not to be dominated again and becoming unruffled on his realization that these were ticketless travellers stated as a matter of fact, that with penalty and charges, it would come to Rs. 5000.00 for travel from Dimapur to Guwahati in the first class. Hearing the amount, Ms. Pandey forgot her composure and haute behaviour and sheepishly doled out Rs. 1000.00 and all forgotten.

He again wished me Good Night and left after putting out the lights left the compartment with a sly smile showing his victory over the so called affluent English speaking upper class people.

Morning came and all of us in the compartment woke up, I seeing the outline of the blue hills and the green valley could gather my location somewhere to be near Jagiroad or Tetelia and started folding my bed roll and putting everything into the bags for a quick jump to deboard once the train comes to a halt. Ms. Saikia, then asked Ms. Pandey what happened and Ms. Pandey blurted out……”He fucking took a bribe” sarcastically with a smirk on her face repenting the payment of Rs. 1000/- and inability to travel free at the nations expense. I put the question to myself then, whether, these sort of people did not know that giving a bribe is as much illegal as taking it and moreover, boasting and showing off their upper class while in the crowd and then being able to shed it in the slightest eventuality by stooping down to so low as to travel in a train without tickets and when caught not to have the capacity to pay the fare and the fine.

Perhaps our people so adapting themselves to the English style on clothes and language and mannerisms, forget in England when a son is caught doing something wrong and asked to face the penalty for that, he majestically bends down on the bench or on the chair to receive the canes and departs with no questions asked and also does not whimper, for to whimper in the face of torment is not manly at all. That makes a man different and an Englishman at that.

The entire episode has put me to thinking, today when the state is confronted with a situation where the very language is at the stake of being downtrodden, what do we gain by showing off our English pitiful haute couture without any minuscle part of that forming a part of our real life character. Then I remember, the voice of the rustic people facing such haute mannersims saying after the departure of these affluent “ Eney Koise, besi Dekhuaise” and laugh to myself.

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