Thursday, August 25, 2011

Life after Lokpal...

(Following is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone is purely co-incidental...The author does not advocate anything...Readers are advised to use their own judgement)

Some loud noises woke me up from my deep slumber...I could hear commotion and a sense of desperation in the voice, but my still inebriated brain couldn’t register what was going on...I had had a few pints too many in the last night party that I hosted to celebrate passing of the “Strong LOKPAL Bill”...It was a great occasion to catch up with all friends and colleagues and celebrate the “People’s victory” which had come after so much struggle and steadfastness. Everybody in the party (I admit after a few drinks though) had accepted that the bill should be christened the “Holy Text” of Indians as it had the highest galvanizing power that any document has had in the history of free India.

Although I must admit, that I did come across a slight disadvantage of LOKPAL later in the night as I had to search for a Taxi post mid-night. I decided against driving as I was afraid that the breath analyzer test will not turn negative for the proverbial 100 rupees. Also, the Taxi Driver seemed to have realized his monopoly and charged me twice the normal fare... (I wonder why we left them out of this all pervading bill)...Anyways my spirits both figuratively and physiologically were still very high as I was looking forward to a reformed India that was about to awaken in a few hours. (For the first time I realized why my grandfather used to get goose bumps while talking about the eve of 15th August 1947, when the atmosphere must have been as filled with anticipation as it is today)

But, the noises that woke me up did not somehow seem to represent the Reformed Nation...I opened my drowsy eyes and tried to focus my attention on the noise...and soon realized that it was my panic stricken wife talking on phone to the neighbour about the second most critical thing impacting the Indian middle class... (First being Corruption of course...although some would argue that the order is reverse) The House Maid

Looks like our newest maid has changed her loyalty for extra 300 bucks...and my wife is complaining about this to her neighbour friend... (A spectacle that happens at least once a quarter)...”I paid her 3000...she used to eat the same food as we did... she was treated like a family member...I don’t remember how many clothes I gave her...and this is how she returns the favour” My wife fumed over the phone... “10% hike, similar benefits”...a good calculated decision...anyone working in the private sector would have taken that....I thought.

More importantly the figure 3000 struck me...Roughly 45 pounds...and my friend who lives in London had told me something a few days ago about the minimum wages policy that they have there to avoid exploitation. And based on some calculations that he did, the minimum salary of a similar domestic help would be roughly 1000 pounds per month. I thought to myself...how lucky we are not to have a minimum wages policy...after all how can I pay 70,000 of my hard earned money for domestic help...although the term “exploitation” was bothering me a little.

What was bothering me more was the hangover and headache and my system needed a nice cup of tea...However I couldn’t muster the courage to ask my wife for the same...after all she had still not recovered from the grave loss and it would have been insensitive on my behalf to ask for a tea in such circumstances...I got up, made some tea and handed over a cup to her as well...She looked calmer post the phone call...we got chatting and started discussing the daily chores...And she reminded me that I need to go to the passport office to file an application for the renewal of my expiring passport. “What a waste of time”...I exclaimed...”Why can’t we get it done through the agent that did it last time for us...”It is not only convenient but cheaper as well”...I reasoned...”He only charges 5000 for a passport, which is lesser than my daily earning that I actually lose if I take a day off to stand in a queue in the RPO”... (I felt a sense of pride while calculating my daily wages...after all they were comparable to what my London friend was earning...and he couldn’t afford domestic help as well...)...She gave me a knowing smile (All wives know that husbands avoid domestic work,..Whatever reason we give) but ultimately gave in.
This is an agent who I had regularly transacted with...All my family and friends’ government and judicial work was done through him...He was a very smart person who not only did your work but also advised you regarding government and judicial matters...And all this with a can do attitude, warm smile and a hearty Laugh...

I called his office but heard a hoarse voice from the other side asking me for my order!!!...My first reaction was...”Wrong Number”. On checking twice I realized the number was right....However, the voice told me that it was a Sweets Shop... (Halwai)...and I couldn’t believe my ears when on enquiring about the agent I was told that “Lalaji is busy frying Samosas”. I felt stupefied...and decided to check on the agent/Lalaji on my way to office to understand this sudden change in his profession and more importantly to find out if he knew of some other agent who could help me...

I parked my car outside the sweets shop where once his office stood...and was ushered in by the ever smiling Agent/Lalaji...His eyes were rather sad though...Over simmering Samosas, Lalaji explained that he had to shut down his flourishing business and move over to this family tradition because the officers in the government offices had stopped working with the agents for the fear of LOKPAL. They were no longer accepting bribes and hence all the agents were out of business...I was stunned...I had never imagined that the reformed India will mean no agents, long queues outside government offices and eventually loss of all convenience that I as a well earning member of the middle class society could buy (read bribe) for a pittance...
With a rather heavy heart and some malice towards reformed India, I went to the Delhi RPO and the scenes outside the building made me numb...There was utter chaos, People were stranded in their cars as no one was providing unauthorised parking (That used to absorb 80% of the vehicular traffic)...There were long queues outside the office waiting for the counters to open...which had not been opened even at 11 am. While I was trying to understand what is happening...I saw a procession of government employees heading towards Ram Lila Maidan...On enquiring with a few of the agitators, I was given to understand that the government employees are planning to stage a peaceful agitation and Satyagraha to demand for “non bribery allowance” because the current salary levels were not enough for them to make the ends meet in the high inflationary environment that has besieged India. And when I asked how can they do that in working hours...an employee shot back...”Lokpal forbids me from taking bribe only...it can’t make me accountable”

Realizing that my passport renewal will need to wait a while, I decided to head towards work, but before I could make my next move, I received a call from my child’s school requesting me to pick her up as the school needs to be closed for the day...Before I could ask for the reasons, I heard some uproar in the back ground and the phone got disconnected...Little worried, I rushed towards the school, still wondering what kind of reform has India gone through.
The compound of one of the best (read costly) schools of Delhi bore a rummaged look ... There were more parents than kids there and I saw the Principal and the Governing Body Members being carried away like criminals in the back of police vans....The picture in front of my eyes was so disturbing that my mind initially rejected to believe it...However it was happening...These esteemed members of the society had been arrested for corruption charges for seeking unlawful fees like donation, capitation, building fund etc for admissions...I started feeling good that something like this was happening as I remembered how I had to withdraw money from my mutual funds to pay for all these fees. However my joy was short-lived as I heard a few parents talking to the teachers and urging them to drop the fee or cancel their children’s admission as they could no longer afford the steep fees structure of the school... (This probably was that strata of the society whose main livelihood was dependent on the parallel economy running in our country...The corruption economy) What really stupefied me was the size of this stratum...There were government officers, small business men, middle men, professionals like lawyers, doctors, engineers, chartered accounts who in unison were feeling the negative impact of reformed, corruption free India on their earning potential.

I picked my child and decided to head back home, as I was too numb to do anything else after what I had seen at the Regional Passport office and now at her school...My brain was spinning as I could not decide whether I should feel good or bad about what I saw. There were too many questions in my head...

- Is corruption the real economy that runs my country rather smoothly?

- Am I also a culprit since I also fuel corruption for my convenience?
Is corruption driven by need or greed or both? If both, then where can we draw a line?

- Is corruption really the only problem? Or is it the multitude of problems like Un-equal distribution of wealth, poverty, Lack of Social Security, Lack of Infrastructure like good public education and health system.

- Most importantly...Can we truly get rid of Corruption without solving other basic issues?


I reached home, curious to know what the news channels are airing on this momentous day, I switched on the TV and heard a reporter talking about a sting operation that had been carried out in the “Lokpal selection board” where the selection committee members were caught accepting huge bribes from potential candidates for the office of the Lokpal...Further in the program the reporter also spoke about how the office of the Lokpal had become the most sought after assignment among administrative officers given the power it had...
I got really restless and thought of requesting Anna ji for help, but his team informed me that Doctors had advised him rest after such a long fast and struggle and we will have to fight this battle on our own...

I was feeling too restless and helpless when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder....My wife was standing there with a cup of morning tea...”You are getting late”...” remember...you have taken leave from office to go to Ram Lila Maidan today to support Anna ji and Jan Lok Pal”...she said...

7 comments:

  1. Handsomely woven
    Balanced humour with poetic justice to the present situation
    Overall good attempt of writing with a professional writers pen!!
    In middle it became bit predictable...I thought ©

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  2. Your repartee is amazing!! I loved your wordplay that juxtaposed two very valid view points. Very light yet insightful:)

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  3. WOW...great dramatisation of issues associated with corruption...time for us to do some introspection...are we not the real culprits :)

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  4. Thanks for the comments friends...Also, predictability of something depends on our ability to predict...:)

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  5. Vamshi YeligepallyAugust 31, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    Great blog boss.... never knew this side of your's....very professional and a perfect word choice.... the way you related your experiences is amazing...

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  6. This is just beautiful. I hope you will continue to write about these things. Your thoughts have value, you already know. They can be most helpful to others. Peace and all good things for you

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