I think I may have unwittingly bribed a cop. We’re on small country lane in Goa in search of a less crowded beach. This isn’t quite Alex Garland, Goa has thousands of beaches, each a big tourist pull. The sun beats down, we pick up speed and feel the cooling breeze passing verdant fields towards Agonda from Palolem.
A moped is one of those things you don’t need lessons for, in a few minutes it’s natural and instinctive, all the buttons and levers in the right places. You don’t really need to think much, just go with the flow and you’re off.
And so it is with bribery.
We’re flagged down by a cop in green khakis, he blows his oversized whistle with enthusiasm. Grim-faced in the back of his open-top jeep he asks for my licence. I don’t have one on me, it’s Sarah’s we’ve used to hire the moped but she’s the passenger. He shakes his head.
– Why no licence? he says sternly over his sunglasses. – You ride, you have licence, he adds.
– I forgot to have it on me. (This is an easy mistake for a Brit, we have no obligation to carrry a driving licence on us or even ID)
– Why you forgot?
I haven’t really got an answer for this one, except that sometimes I forget where I leave things. I once left an iPad on a train, I once left my passport on a flight. This isn’t the place for introspective anecdotes. Just for acting subservient and having a guilty- child look. I tell him I don’t know. I hope I’m not going to get cuffed.
Side note: Officials who ask ‘why?’
I find these types of questions, when asked by officialdom, tend to be ones whose purpose it is to assert authority, highlight the imbalance of power, not search for genuine answers. Any statement can be responded to with a “why?” ad infinitum. Young children ask this through a sense of genuine curiosity. Officials ask this as a muscle-flex.
This reminds me of a time I was at USA border control and was asked why my disembarkation card had an ink blot on it. I told him my pen was leaking on the plane. He then asked me:
I briefly considered giving an answer about cabin pressure at cruising altitude being about the same as air pressure at 2,000 metres, but dismissed this thought. No one likes a smart arse, it might have antagonised him. I just said I didn’t know and he said,” welcome to America.”
Back on a road in Goa
There are other tourists being stopped on the road. A German guy in front of us has no insurance and no licence and waits his fate in the shade of a tree. Beneath another tree is a couple of girls giving their details. This is a turkey shoot.
– Also this is private scooter, not for hire scooter, he adds.
We give him details of the hiring company. He’s still looking grim and explains again:
– Always always, you must be carrying license at all times.
I nod guiltily.
– This fine is 950 rupees but if pay me now then only 500 rupees.
And that was it. Deal done. I hand over an ATM-fresh note. It’s an unthinking act. In that moment did I know this was a covert transaction. Truthfully, yes. It was the path of least resistance, the road to the next beach along. Nevertheless, a bribe, a tiny bribe.
Corruption isn’t just about extortion, embezzlement, fraud, deception and protection rackets.
It can also be in the small things, using the office photocopier for personal work, finding some cash on the ground and pocketing it.
It’s a scale of greys, not black and white. So handing over a note to just get by, in a gesture, encourages this. It seemed so easy, so natural at the time.
He’s pleased and for the first time smiles as broadly as Mahatma Gandhi on the 500 rupee note he’s looking at.
– She is your friend? he asks.
– Yes, my best friend, and also my wife.
He wobbles his head smiling broadly in his knock-off RayBans. I sense there is a faint risk of over-familiarity.
Sarah has to drive now because I’ve been disciplined and told, “no driving without licence.” She asks me for an explanation of the mopeds controls and I go through the ignition, throttle, brakes and horn.
The officer sees she’s a little uncertain and says to me:
– You can drive, it’s okay. Go.
We’re now on Agonda beach. It’s going to be an interesting ride home.