I was on my way back home on Saturday, and had stopped at a traffic light. There were a few autos in front of me, and a car. Pedestrians were crossing the road while we waited, and as the light turned green, I noticed an elderly man just about to attempt to cross the road. The vehicles in front of me kept moving, but I waited to let the old man cross, and signaled to him to walk. As I started moving forward after he had crossed, two traffic cops, waiting just beyond the light, flagged me down. I stopped, wondering what the matter was. “Licence”, the cop asked. “Sure”, I said, and handed him my licence, asking “What happened?” No answer. My licence is the card type, unlike the booklets issued in Maharashtra. “Show me the original licence”, the cop said, disregarding my question. It’s the original, I replied. He then showed it to the other cop, who also told me it wasn’t the original, but a photocopy. I was beginning to lose it by then, as was my friend sitting next to me. A trifle curtly, I told the cops to look closely; how could they call it a photocopy? And would they tell me why they had flagged me down?

“You honked”, they said. I was flabbergasted. Not just because I detest honking, but because I hadn’t honked. My friend, who was with me in the car, was also surprised. “But he didn’t honk” she said, “I am sitting next to him and I know he hasn’t.” And she knows me well enough to add, for good measure, “He never honks.” The cops would have none of it, and insisted I had honked. Meanwhile, and very surreally, as this conversation was taking place, every car passing us was merrily honking away. When I pointed out to the cops that they really didn’t seem to be bothered with stopping anyone else, their answer was “We are not here to catch everybody.” “Well”, I said, “I don’t agree with the charge, and I want to dispute this. Whom can I speak to?” So I was directed to the Saheb at the Chowky across the road. We went to meet the “Saheb”, and explained things to him. No luck. He said if I didn’t pay the fine, he would confiscate the licence and I could go to the court. Sure, I said. Let me go Monday. “You can’t go there before the 24th,” he said. When I told him that was more than two weeks away, he shrugged. “Dispute it in court….we will keep the licence here for some time in case you want to pay the fine, and will then send it to court” he said. I called a few friends to ask them how this worked. Each one advised me to pay the fine, saying going to court was just not worth the time, money and effort, and in any case, the chances of my case being believed were negligible. It would be the Traffic Police’s word against mine. I would be assumed guilty and would have to prove I hadn’t honked. So I dropped my grand ideas of disputing this in court. Should I have gone ahead? Would I have been given a fair hearing? I don’t know, and I can definitely be faulted for chickening out, for not trusting India’s subordinate judiciary and allowing perceptions of the painfulness of the process to dissuade me.

So I paid the fine, took my receipt and went back to my car. All the way home – and whenever I drove that day and the next – every time I passed a police vehicle (twice), or traffic cops (six times), I slowed down, and honked like a madman. I figured I had already been fined for something I hadn’t done. I might as well ‘earn’ the fine, and if they decide to fine me again, well, at least this time I would have actually committed the offence. I was quite prepared to pay any fines that might come my way. Funnily enough, in all the subsequent eight instances, even after some maniacal honking (like any good Indian would) right under the cops’ noses, no one stopped me.

Thankfully, that bout of silly childishness, brought on by the utter helplessness I felt, soon passed.

The moral of the story, though, stayed with me: only idiots follow rules and obey laws.

I wonder if ‘The Quirky Idiot’ is available on WP.