I hurried inside the elevator of the Sale Tax Department among others and breathed in the usual "fragrance" of tobacco and paan plastered colourfully on the door. My pocket felt heavy with currency notes which, by the time I would leave, would become considerably lighter!
Perhaps you are expecting a usual case of corruption, the 'so-used-to' handing out the money like sweets in order to satisfy the hunger of the henchmen; well, I too expected the same as I reached the fourth floor.
Little did I know that a most 'curious' case awaited me.
As soon as I walked in to a large room full of clerks, assistants and mountainous piles of files, my face split into a smile. A fake smile, to speak the truth; you have to have a "pleased-to-see-you" expression to please the people sitting there, if you want your work done!
Heads turned as I made my way to an assistant, they all had their eyes on me. Was I good looking? Well those heads usually turned not because of your good looks but because of their greed.
"Good morning, Sir!" I greeted happily to an assistant as if nothing could've made me happier than to see him! (Let's call him Mr. A).
"Hmmm" Mr. A grunted, not interested in greeting back, but busy reading the newspaper.
"Sir, it's been fifteen days since I made an application for C-form; my employee comes here every day for the form but is denied. My client isn't happy. Sir, may I know the reason?" I asked politely, suppressing any hint of anger I felt.
Mr. A still didn't look up; the newspaper he was reading might have some highly exciting, buzz worthy news. Or, perhaps, what I said was as unimportant as a buzzing bee.
"You tell me, how can I issue you C-form?" Mr. A finally spoke.
"I don't understand," I said, perplexed, "My client's returns, taxes, assessment are all clear. And yes," I said in a whisper, "I paid you your fees. So why -
"No, no," Mr. A interrupted, waving his hands, "you don't get it. I didn't find your client's file."
"Didn't find my client's file?" I repeated, even more perplexed.
"See the files here," he barked, gesturing to the dusty countless files around him, "The file is lost somewhere!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" I flared up, unable to contain anymore, "File is lost? That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard! I - "
"Listen, mister!" Mr. A stood up, glaring at me, "Don't you yell at me like this! What can I do if the file is lost?!"
"Listen, Sir!" I stated firmly, "if the file is indeed lost, it's your fault. It's not ours. You should've apologised for such irresponsibility! And yet, you are behaving as if it's not your fault! I ask you!"
And so, we argued on and people gathered about for the show. Mr. A was of no help. He made me look as if I was the culprit behind the lost file. Infuriated, I stormed inside the office of "higher authority" and explained the curious case of the lost file.
The higher authority called Mr. A.
"What happened? How can the file be lost?"
"I don't know, Sir!" Mr. A replied.
I surely thought with relief that the higher authority would reprimand him. The case would be solved. Instead, to my utter amazement, the higher authority and Mr. A suddenly smiled at each other as if sharing a private joke. And I was the subject of their joke.
Mr. A suddenly left the office. The higher authority looked at me and said, "Don't worry, young man. The file will be found. It must have got misplaced. See, things are different here." his whispered his voice fraught with conspiracy, "Just give Mr. A some chai-pani."
In case if you are unaware, "Chai-pani" is the perfect synonym of bribery which you wouldn't get in a dictionary!
Five minutes later, I found myself, most unwillingly and most painfully, handing out my hard-earned money not only to Mr. A but also to his peon. They literally jumped about in glee as if they had won some lottery!
As this incident comes to an end, the most peculiar, annoyingly hilarious part was: they searched the file here and there, out and about, beating around the bush.
After half an hour, however, it hit me they were actually pretending. They got the file. Not in a different or unlikely place. But on the same table where the file was ought to be!
Walking out of the department, I felt a wave of sadness. Not because I bribed them for a ridiculous reason or I was the subject of their joke or my self-esteem had been hurt. No.
It just dawned on me that the contagious virus of corruption isn't just spreading among 'systems' or 'structures' but also stabbing and infesting the very core of humanity, crumbling the very essence of our Soul.
Several questions struck me: Who were the culprits? The men whom I bribed? Or I who bribed them? Or both? Or, perhaps, the system?
I pose these questions to you. I won't answer them. Nor do I expect you to. These questions, believe me, are rhetoric; any answer would pave way to more questions of greater ethical dilemmas.
Perhaps, in this case, the upcoming regime of GST will act as a catalyst to cut out corruption. Because I believe that corruption even though it runs deep in the country cannot overshadow honesty.
Shadow is not without light. Honesty cannot be underrated for there are indeed the brave ones who battle bribery with their bravery; the courageous who cut corruption with their conscience. Honesty is the best policy, they say. Yet, I do feel like adding a bit more to the adage: Honesty, only if practiced, is the best policy!