You did not pay for your chaat!

Since the beginning of May, my life has taken a turn. Late evenings which would have been typically spent as a sloth, are now reserved for exercising at Namma Crossfit. To call it addictive is an understatement. It also helps that I go with a bunch of my closest friends, each of us in varying degrees of fitness; it really is super-fun. The days that I don’t go, I feel miserable. There have been times where I have worked out at home and have had to mop the floor soon after, to ensure I don’t slip on my sweat. For anyone who has known me enough for a bit, they can tell right away that I am a lazy bum, who loves to eat and detests exercise. Well, all that’s changed in the past two months weeks! Moving on to the observations…

So after a typical workout, we hang around for a bit at Crossfit and then head to a darshini or juice shop in Koramangala 6th block. One number lime mint cooler and one plate tamilian-style idli-sambar follows (for me). One day in mid-June, as per schedule, we made our way to the darshini. To add a little variety to our regular fare, we decided to have a vegetable sandwich instead of the regular darshini fare. As we stood there among multiple others, happily eating our food, in came two policemen. So this area, like any other for that matter in India, has its fair share of cops who go on rounds to collect hafta*. I naturally assumed that was exactly what they were here for.

They first walked up to the wash basin, washed their faces, proceeded to pull their large white handkerchiefs and then scrubbed the water off their faces in front of the long mirror (don’t ask what a mirror is doing at a darshini). One of them, clearly the subordinate, (the other one had all of two stars on his epaulette – new word for me too;  it means shoulder straps) approached the food counter, not the billing counter as a normal, paying customer should. He then ordered for two ragi dosas. Unfortunately, the ragi dosas were over and the cop shot a look of disgust at the man behind the counter. He went back to the other cop and reported the unfortunate news. Undeterred, they decided to have thattae idli instead. Thankfully before they could order, good sense prevailed and they decided to eat chaat.  I say good sense, only because, unbeknownst to them the darshini had run out of thatte idly too.

Two beautiful little plates of masala puri followed, and these were polished off in no time. The two once again washed their hands. The junior officer even got a glass of water for the epauletted (my own word) man. And then, as all policemen who collect hafta do, they walked out feeling mighty pleased with themselves.

Since joining Citizen Matters, my sense of what’s right and not right, seems to have become more pronounced. In the past, I would pull up friends and random strangers for littering. These days, in addition to this, I also restrain bikes trying to squeeze their way through traffic by getting on the footpath, and give moral sermons to auto drivers. Again, I deviate…

I approached the policemen and I happened to notice that they had not paid for the food. So ensued our conversation:

Me: You did not pay for what you ate.

Junior Officer (JO): Who told you?

Me: Nobody did. I was watching you.

JO: We paid before eating.

Me: No you did not. I was watching you the entire time.

JO: But we paid.

Me: How much did you pay?

JO: Forty rupees.

If this was a game show on television, and if you had been around, I swear you’d have heard ‘Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaae’, that sound that is typically played when a guest utters an incorrect answer.

What happens when you visit a place often, is that you have a fair inkling of the price of each item. And the masala puri, my friends, was priced at Rs 25 per plate. Two plates of the aforesaid masala puri, would therefore logically amount to Rs 50!

I mentioned that to the policemen and to my delight, they had the courtesy to look chagrined. The senior officer then instructed the JO to pay up, which he did. I then proceeded to give a short moral sermon. “How can you do this? What will other people think? Is this not being corrupt? What if I complain about something so silly? What will happen then? etc. etc.”. The police officers quickly apologised and said I was right (of course, I was right!) and said they wouldn’t do it again. They proceeded to mount their cheetah (noble steed of Bangalore policemen) and rode away into the night.

I went back to the billing counter to check if the JO had indeed paid up and was told ’yes, he did’. I then asked the manager why they had to succumb to the cops. He said the policemen, if given a free meal every time they came in, turned a blind eye to the parking violations and the crowd that formed on the road, as a result of customers coming to their eatery. He also mentioned that if he did not give them a free snack, they wouldn’t allow the bikes to be parked there. On average, they are about 15 to 20 bikes parked there; it could mean losing 30 to 40 customers. He also commended me and said, “No one has ever questioned the cops before”.

You’d think that was that. The manager then grinned and added, “I’ll tell you something. The two policemen who came today, they were coming here for the first time. I don’t think they will ever come back”.

* hafta – Slang for the protection money collected periodically by gangsters and corrupt policemen. Called so, because the most common collection period is one week.

Authors note: This post was written in end-July. I have since taken a hiatus from Namma Crossfit and plan to resume my workout in October.  

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