Pondicherry is an Indian Union Territory next to Tamil Nadu. It enjoys a tax free status and what many people don’t realize is that India has quite a prohibitive tax regime. There are hidden taxes on everything and one of the highest taxes is on alcohol.
Consequently many tourists come to Pondicherry to stock up on booze and then head back across the border into Tamil Nadu.
To make sure they don’t miss out on this lost tax revenue the Tamil Nadu Government has the police set up “Prohibition Checkpoints” on the main roads out of Pondicherry where they flag down vehicles with outstation number plates to check if they are carrying alcohol.
We were staying in Auroville just outside Pondicherry but often went into town for dinner as there are some lovely restaurants in Pondicherry and the ones in Auroville while good, are vegetarian and Tommy needs a good feed on meat every now and then.
Going from Auroville into Pondicherry entails crossing through one of the check points. Going into town is ok but coming out, the cops always want to stop us.
Now normally I am a law abiding citizen but sometimes the keepers of the law are not always law abiding themselves.
Two weeks previously I had been in Mysore, Karnataka, when I was flagged down at a police checkpoint, ostensibly because there had been a lot of vehicle thefts in the town and the police wanted to check my ownership documents. Fair enough, but after satisfying himself that the ownership documents were in order the policeman then proceeded to ask for every other document he could think of to try and catch me out and supplement his income with some “Chai-pani” money ( an expression used when asking for a bribe. Meaning money for tea and water). Fortunately all my documents were up to date, but I was irritated by having to waste 15 mins smiling politely and pretending to be friendly.
With this in mind , when the Tamil Nadu Police waved at me to pull over I pretended I didn’t see them and carried on, thinking that they can’t chase me so they will just wait for the next person.
The next day the same thing happened again, this time a policeman waving his torch at me in the dark. I drove past him and ahead another policeman waved his torch at me more vigorously. I ignored him too and continued merrily on my way, the sound of his shouting receding in the distance.
Turning off the main road and into Auroville, windows down, enjoying the cool evening air, I heard a motorcycle honking at me from behind before pulling out to overtake. I thought nothing of it until I looked out my side window and saw an angry looking policeman riding beside me on his motorbike gesticulating furiously with one hand and shouting at me in Tamil. Pulling in front of me, he stopped, blocking the road, giving me no option this time but to stop as well. Dismounting from his bike he approached my window still shouting angrily in Tamil, the only thing I could understand were the English words, “Police” and “stop”.
Feigning ignorance, and assuming my most innocent expression, I said “I am very sorry but I don’t speak Tamil”, which promptly took the wind out of his sails.
“Why didn’t you stop” he switched to English.
“Stop where?” I asked. “I didn’t see anyone” hoping that he wouldn’t call my bluff and wonder how I could have missed the giant yellow police barriers blocking the road and two policeman shining torches through my windscreen.
“We are staying in Auroville” I explained, hoping that he would think I am a tee-total vegetarian Auroville resident.
He looked inside the vehicle and saw The Boss smiling angelically at him, my 8 year old niece sitting behind, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
His manner softened, anger dissipating rapidly.
“Where have you come from” he asked.
“We just went to the beach to visit a friend and now we are heading back to the guest house in Auroville”
“Ok, ok, I am sorry” he said, then lowering his voice so no-one else in the car could hear, he whispered apologetically, “do you have any liquors?”
“No, no” I assured him, assuming my most horrified expression, and he smiled, apologizing again.
“Very sorry, please go ahead.”
I thanked him and waited for him to climb onto his bike and ride off, however he insisted on moving his bike to the side to allow me to move off first.
I smiled and waved to him, wishing him goodnight.
As I drove off I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw the world’s politest policeman waving and calling out “Sorry sir, thank you”.