This one is a little short story, where every word is true.
A long time ago, when I was still a young 3rd year Engineering student, my greatest desire was to own a two-wheeler (a 350-cc Enfield Bullet, to be precise). My father smiled indulgently, and then said I could use his scooter if I wanted to. So I had to settle for “second best”. Instead of the Enfield, I got an ancient (1979 vintage) lemon yellow Bajaj Chetak (one of the early prototypes, I guess), still full of good cheer. I took a deep breath, had the bally thing repainted grey (couldn’t ride a yellow bike, could I?), painted some graffiti on it myself, and the speed-machine was ready. It was “as good as new” in the words of my father. Still, I could not complain about a bike that gave me 45 km/litre of petrol on the mean Chennai streets, and it never once failed me.
It was never the envy of my friends, but remained a faithful steed never the less. Being conscientious, I obtained a no-objection certificate for the Karnataka registration (famously known as an “NOC”) from Bangalore before I took it to Chennai. And I started tooting along on in merrily, through many-a-street in the fair city of the Coovam and Marina. All was hunky-dory, or so I thought. But I had failed to consider the routine harassment of the local traffic cops, who unfailingly (especially closer to the end of the month) would enthusiastically pull up any young man on a bike.
One night (at about 10 pm), after an excellent dinner at the mess, I was heading towards my uncle’s home (and my preferred habitat). Just as I was crossing the famous signal on R.K. salai, by the Music Academy, a bug-eyed traffic cop flagged me down. I pulled over, and waited, calm and composed. By now I was a veteran of the ways of the Chennai traffic cops. I’d been routinely pulled over and harassed, only to be let off after a small contribution to the highly unofficial but extremely popular “Police coffee/tea fund”. But I was determined to be firm this time.
“Mama” sauntered up to me, and asked for the usual suspects “License, registration, emission certificate”. All was in order, since (having learnt from my father) I had the originals, and copies in triplicate, safely tucked away in the trunk. He frowned upon seeing this, and scratched his head for a solution, and then looked at the bike number plate. A toothy smile of victory erupted over his face. He was sure he had me nailed.
“NOC iruka?” he asked, demanding to see my NOC, and staring at my Karnataka registration plate. I smiled right back, and with a twinkle in my eye conjured up my NOC (in original, with copies in triplicate), and waved it victoriously at him. He scrutinized the document, scowled, scratched his nose-wart, and thought for a moment. And then, with a triumphant smile straight out of hell declared “NOC moonu maasam thaan use pannalam” (the NOC can be used for only 3 months)!
I knew then that he was an imaginative liar clutching at straws, and he knew that I could never verify the veracity of his statement. “250 rupees fine”, he solemnly declared. I met his glare, and said I didn’t have the moolah, and hence couldn’t cough it up. Stunned with my reply, he paused for a moment, and then told me that my vehicle would be confiscated if I didn’t “help him out”. Calmly, I started wheeling my humble steed towards the footpath, to park it. Shaken, he ran up to me and said the vehicle couldn’t be confiscated on the road, but it had to be taken to the Mount Road police station. I handed over the keys, and said I’d be damned if I had to take it personally to the police station to leave it behind, but he was welcome to do so himself. Now he was really shaking. This, clearly, had never happened to him before.
“Seri, tea/coffee ku yethavuthu koodu, apporama nee pohalam” (O.K, just give me something for “tea/coffee” and you can leave), he begged. The usual “going” rate could typically be bargained down to Rs. 75-100.
I smiled, and emptied my pockets. Having just filled gas, I had the exact princely sum of Rs 7.75 (seven rupees seventy five pisa) left in my pockets, all in small change (one greased two rupee note, a few 1 rupee coins, some 50 pisa coins, and one 25 pisa coin). The strain of this sight was too much for him. He reeled, and in tears barked “Kalambu ingerinthu! Marubadi yen kitta matikathe!” (Get out of here, and don’t get caught by me again). He also used a few other choice words in chaste Tamil that are inappropriate for young readers, and so I refrain from using them.
I scooted off, majestic in victory. I had won, and I had done the unimaginable. I had made a policeman cry, not by resisting or resorting to angry words or threats but by standing up to my rights. Perhaps there was something in Gandhiji’s way after all!