The World’s Politest Policeman!

Tamil Nadu Police

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”.

The Hubli Hustle – in which the long arm of the Law reaches out and picks my pocket again!

Visiting the small rural town of Hubli in Northern Karnataka is proving expensive for me.

The last time I came through here 3 months ago I was fined Rs300 by an over-zealous cop for driving my vehicle without a document I had no idea I needed (see here)
Hubli despite it’s comparatively diminutive size, seems to have more traffic cops than the whole of Bangalore. They are on every corner and seem to have a vendetta for anyone driving in from other areas. Meanwhile the locals blatantly flout every traffic law and regulation with impunity.
So 3 months later I have returned, stopping for lunch on my way up to Mumbai. I pulled off the highway and spent the next 5 minutes crawling along behind a tractor in 1st gear as it swerved from side to side trying to avoid potholes and doing its best to dislodge the population of a small village perched all over it.
Frustration at this extremely slow progress getting the better of me I spotted a gap in traffic, pulled out and accelerated at warp speed finally getting out of 1st gear and changing up into 2nd.
Suddenly a traffic cop ran out from behind a tree and stood in the middle of the road pointing at me. Bearing in mind the last time the cops shook me down in this town, I contemplated ignoring him and continuing on my journey. But not wishing to sully the glistening paintwork of my beautiful car with the blood and bodily fluids of a policeman I decided it might be better for all concerned if I stopped.
“Why have you stopped me” I asked
“Overspeeding” he replied using a term peculiar to India.
To me one is either speeding or not speeding, so I am not sure where overspeeding fits in.
“What is the speed limit?” I asked
“40”
“Where is the sign?”
“No sign”
What speed was I doing? I asked
“Over 40” came the reply. “Come with me”
Reluctantly I got out and followed the cop to where 3 of his colleagues had set up camp in the shade of a tree with a radar gun on a tripod.
The senior-most police officer announced in a haughty manner befitting of a Maharajah of old, “You were driving very fast”
“Really? How fast?” I asked
“74” he replied
In second gear! On a severely potholed road! Wow. I was amazed for a second or two but suspecting that my diesel SUV had not miraculously transformed into a Ferrari overnight, I questioned his findings.
Telling me to look at the radar gun to see my speed, I wandered over and read the display.
“It says 30” I told him.
“That’s someone else’s speed.”
“Where is mine”
“It’s deleted. But you were driving so far above the limit we are booking you for reckless and dangerous driving” he told me, thereby increasing the fine amount by 30% in one fell swoop.
Well I had a good run, I thought to myself. Seven years of being the only safe and sensible driver left in India was a pretty good effort, but I have finally succumbed. I think it’s called assimilation by osmosis.
I argued a bit more trying in vain to retain my unblemished status but when you argue with a donkey it is never likely to see your point of view.
I paid up, retrieved my license and returned to my “Ferrari”, head hanging in shame and with a noticeably lighter wallet.
An hour later lunch completed I headed out of town. Rounding a corner another policeman sprang out in front of me. A barrage of expletives echoed around inside the car, not just from me but also from the usually dulcet toned Boss sitting beside me. Barely restraining myself from running him down I pulled over and dispensing with all niceties demanded an explanation as to why he had the temerity to pull me over.
“Do you have a license?” he asked, with one eye on the traffic.
“Yes”
“Insurance”
“Yes”
He jumped out in front of another car with outstation number plates and waved it over in front of me, ignoring all the local vehicles driving past.
Returning to my window he asked:
“Emissions Certificate?”
“I have everything! A marriage certificate also! Do you want to see that? Why the hell do you keep stopping me? I was stopped an hour ago!”
“Where?” he asked
“On the Bangalore Rd” I told him
“Where are you going now?”
“Bombay”
“OK, happy journey” he wished me, shaking my hand and waving me on, anxious to attend to his next, hopefully less argumentative victim.

Crime and Punishment – In which the Long Arm of the Law relieves me of some hard earned cash!

The drive up from Bangalore to Mumbai was pretty uneventful. The weather was good and the countryside lush and green from the Monsoon rains.
We did come across 3 accidents that had happened minutes before we arrived, enough time for a huge crowd of villagers to surround the upturned vehicle, blocking two of the 3 lanes, but not late enough for the ambulance and police to arrive. In all 3 instances it must have been driver fatigue as the roads were straight and the vehicles had just seemed to veer off the road into the barrier or into the ditch. Because of India’s population, whatever happens to you, there will always be a crowd within minutes!
We drove into the town of Hubli about 400kms from Bangalore to find a place for lunch. Rounding one corner, a traffic policeman stepped out in front of me, pointed at me, and then pointed at the side of the road, making his intentions clear.
Irritated because I had done nothing wrong I half-heartedly pulled over making sure I still blocked traffic in the hope that the cacophony of horns to follow would persuade him to wave me on. It didn’t.
I wound down the window, and he asked “Driver’s License”
“Why?” I asked, “What have I done wrong?”
“Vehicle checking” came the reply.
“Why aren’t you stopping others?” as vehicle after vehicle drove past. “You only stopped us because we have an outstation number plate”
“Stopping everyone” he said and pointed to 3 other cars pulled over in front of us, all with out-station number plates.
Frustrated but realizing arguing would get me nowhere, I handed over my license.

To our left, a senior cop lent on his parked motorcycle, eyes shielded with mirrored Ray-Bans, arms folded, too senior to get his hands dirty shaking down the public, but no doubt busy mentally calculating how many plots of land he could buy back in his village with this month’s takings.
Handing back my license, the cop asked for my insurance. I handed it over; he gave it a cursory glance, and then asked for my registration documents, which I duly presented. “Anything else?” I asked as he handed back the docs.
“Emission certificate”
Damn! The one thing I didn’t have and was not even sure I needed as my car is not that old.
“This car is only 3 years old and doesn’t need one” I replied, as an ancient bus rumbled past, spewing out clouds of thick black smoke.
“Emission Certificate” He demanded again.
Realizing that this was not an argument I would win I admitted to not having one.
“Rs600 fine” he replied and then waited, hoping that I would try and bargain him down to a lesser “un-official” fine. Not wishing to contribute to his retirement fund, I told him ok and insisted on a ticket. He started typing into his Blackberry, pressed a button on the wireless printer attached to his belt and printed out a ticket. I examined it carefully, checking the details were correct and handed over the money.
Pulling out into the flow of traffic I drove off behind a two wheeler almost hidden by the clouds of blue smoke coming out of it’s exhaust.
Half a kilometer later another policeman stepped out in front of me, this time I pretended not to see him, although not convincingly as I had to swerve to avoid hitting him, and carried on.
Speaking to a Rickshaw Driver later, he told me that it was the end of the month and the cops had to make up their quotas, official and unofficial.
I now have an Emission certificate, at the cost of Rs100. Apparently one is needed after a vehicle is two years old and it needs to be renewed every 6 months. Judging by the air-quality in the city though, I must be one of the few who actually has one!

Fast and The Furious 7 – Mumbai Mayhem

Vin Diesel at the Fast & Furious premiere at L...

Vin Diesel at the Fast & Furious premiere at Leicester Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 8.30 on a Monday morning in suburban Mumbai and I am hurtling through peak hour traffic at high speed, lights on full beam, horn blaring, pedestrians and rickshaws scattering in my wake.
Six days later, 11 at night and I am doing it all over again!
Anti-social behaviour.? Re-enacting Vin Diesel’s role from Fast and the Furious, or running from the Police? Well possibly the last one, although in my defence, I must say I never saw them and they never caught me.
No it was more serious than that.
That Monday morning, my father-in-law returned from buying bread for the morning’s breakfast and started feeling uncomfortable.
Displaying the quick thinking and presence of mind that has made her “The Boss”, my better half and Commander- in-Chief, realising that her father was having a heart attack, swiftly administered a Sorbitrate tablet under his tongue.
Waiting for an Ambulance to arrive in rush hour traffic would take too much time so it was up to us. Unfortunately the hospital was at the other side of the suburb and the route would take us past the local train station where at that very moment thousands of commuters were arriving on foot, in rickshaws, and by Bus.
Saddling up my trusty steed Roxy (who you met in a previous post), lights blazing, horn broadcasting our imminent arrival, we forced our way through whatever gap we could find, weaving from side to side, at times on the wrong side of the road rushing headlong into oncoming traffic. I must have ruined many a commuter’s morning, forcing some of them to return home for a change of underwear! How I avoided hitting anyone or being stopped by the Police I do not know.
Arriving outside the hospital and shouting at the watchman to open the gates we screeched to a halt outside the ICU, our very arrival causing enough commotion to bring the Doctors outside. We rushed my father-in-law inside where he was put under the excellent care of Heart Specialist Dr Parag Ajmera (but more about him in my next post).
Six days later, succumbing to the tension and exhaustion of a stressful week caring for my father-in-law, another family member developed health complications, and we were back in Roxy again, this time racing through Mumbai at night. Despite the late hour, the traffic still heavy, but by now I had learnt the shortcuts, the by lanes to avoid congestion, and had the confidence of a bully to force my way through traffic with ease.
Everything ended well ( as I will soon post), but if you hear of a Police Bulletin, a manhunt for the driver of a dangerously driven SUV in the heart of Mumbai, know that it was I, the Kiwi Gypsy and my faithful accomplice, Roxy, The Magnificent!