Economics and power are like two wheels of a road-roller named corruption, and when these wheels grind against each other you can imagine the grease you need. Deepak’s only chance to beat the system was to see that the wheels ground fine. If not he would be crushed by it. All depended on that black money bag.
A few months ago the urban development authority office of Mangalore had moved to a more swanky facility being divorced from its Mangalore Tiled inheritance. The new status of Mangalore as a "special economic zone" had aroused a buzz of activity that brought a colony of busy bodies in this otherwise sleepy office precinct. The ‘modern’ RCC structure, bestowed a sense of pride among the office-goers –however old habits never left — creating an enduring presence of the past. Beetle-nut spats filled the exterior walls and cigarette stubs scattered under the staircase soffits. White porcelain tea cups lay in random and so did the scraps of ‘biscuit-rotis’ scattered around the recently polished terrazzo flooring. The steel office desks were adorned with stacks of files, each layer displaying a paler yellow hue, as if the whole stack was aging like the annual rings of a two thousand old sequoia.
Being a recent engineering graduate Deepak walked into this new setting with an ideal to change the world. But for now, he was to convey an urgent message to the commissioner about a powerful client of the office he was working for. Waiting hours on end was only a taste of his initiation into the red tape system. As he waited in the cabin with his hand on his chest, he was relieved when he heard the voice ‘Ok. Ok. Now go tell your bass to meet Mr. Sampathappa in the Bangalore office and give him the files. Yeverything will be ready.’
‘Yes Sir.’ Deepak bowed vehemently, almost overdoing it, and walked out in haste. On his way out he tipped the peon a two hundred dollar bill for the commissioners ‘darshan.’
Moving files through the urban development office had a simple logic. One could even say that the place worked on a unique ‘scientific’ law. You slipped in a hundred rupee bill into the peon’s hands and then waited for the science to work. The distance and the time the files moved were directly proportional to the amount of money you spent (keep that for Newton’s last law of motion!). There, until it landed on the commissioner’s office you increased the viscosity to reduce friction (sorry, I had to explain this through some fluid dynamics).
Deepak had previously spent about three hours for this elusive commissioner to show up. His boss had mentioned that this job had to be done at any cost that very day. Like all other junior engineers he had waited in frustration for the steel shutters to open. With rolled blue prints tucked under his arm-pit and micro pens clipped on his shirt pocket he saw many others of his own ilk standing in queue. First and second division clerks in whites then sauntered a good one hour later touting the very little power they had for favors bartered for affluent sums. But all that haggling turned into shoulder bows and long drawls of ‘namaskaaraa saaar’ as they saluted the higher officers who turned in another hour late. These officers in well-ironed pleated pants and steel strap watches tucked into full hand shirts walked in hurry as if they were too busy for the rest of the year, although they had spent the last half an hour talking about their favorite TV soap in the office canteen. They were already hazing the junior engineers for potential backroom deals. Then entered the commissioner’s entourage. As the Jeep scampered in the main entry, attendants hurried to arrange the files, janitors swept the floors and everything moved like a well-oiled engine (needless to say the grease helped). Landowners, promoters and real estate owners with suitcases filled with ‘moolah’ followed them around with purpose. They had already greased up the first division clerks for their royal usherance into the commissioner’s cabin. And so had Deepak.
…Deepak beamed with pride as his gaze fell on the brass name plate ‘Deepak Real Estates, Consultants and Builders…..
As Deepak relayed the commissioner’s message to his boss, he was asked of an unusual favor. Asking him to shut the door behind him, his boss handed Deepak a mysterious black bag. Deepak assumed that the files the commissioner mentioned should indeed be confidential but was too na?ve to understand why it was presented in a black bag.
‘I trust you.’ Deepak’s boss told him. Just check whether it’s the correct amount.’
As Deepak nervously opened the lace he counted 42 stacks of 10,000 rupees in well stacked SBI note bundles.
‘Meet Sampathappa at the Bangalore office. I have booked you a super luxury night bus.’ His boss smiled at him. ‘And remember. You know the art. Don’t give him all the money at once. Start with one lakh and if he does not agree increase the amount .’
As Deepak stood hesitantly his boss smiled at him. ‘I know you can do it. You are too young. They won’t suspect you.’
It was probably Deepak’s sixteenth trip to Bangalore. All his days as an engineering student at a Bangalore city college he was used to traveling in the old Government buses that made him puke. This time it was a welcome change to be sent in a super luxury comfort of a Volvo. The money had to be reached to Mr. Sampathappa who would then fiddle with the City Development Plan to create a zoning change which would make someone in Mangalore jump another government loophole for building a large scale commercial building project in a residential zone. Being a recent graduate it was unbecoming to partake in this corrupt system but his boss was of the view that if you cant beat the system, then you better join it with full embrace.
As the bus sputtered through the winding roads of BC Road — his bonanza safely on his lap he was anxious — for the consequences of losing it would cost his job and prospects of his burgeoning engineering office career. As he tilted his seat to a recliner position, on the window side was sitting a thin lanky man, with a suspicious grin. His large mustache brought out the deep eyes that were already gleaming red, with the stench of country whisky to last the duration. That appearance made Deepak cling on to the bag much more dearly. As the city lights disappeared in the background, he feared even the occasional drool. He could hear the man beside him murmuring something in a foreign tongue whenever the bus jumped over the humps and given that they were right on top of the rear wheel he didn’t take it very kindly.
At a pit stop at Hasan, the sleepy passengers woke up to the shriek of the bus driver who gave them ten minutes for tea, recess and sundry. Deepak was still awake but his waking was under assault. If he didn’t have some caffine in his body he was more likely to fall asleep. But leaving the bag in the bus for some tea was no option. However, if he clung on to the bag there was a much larger chance of the fellow passengers suspecting the contents of the bag. He was in this catch twenty two situation. Finally, in one moment of insanity, he decided to get some tea, assuming that the bus will be in the sight of his surveillance all the while.
Deepak walked to the hoteI, all the while keeping an eye on his seat from the street, shelling out and not bothering to receive any change. He was back in a minute. That’s all it took. But the bag was missing from his seat and so was the drunk who was seated next to him.
As fear gripped Deepak’s system his mind was clogged and was fighting to think clearly. The first thing he did was ask fellow passengers of the black bag. When this didn’t work, he came out of the bus to spot the drunk. As he felt the chill in the cold November breeze he realized that he was in the wrong bus, because the bus he was in had moved to accommodate another one behind. How this happened in such a short time was beyond him. He ran to his bus and started searching frantically in his seat. But there was no sign of the bag.
‘What are you searching in my seat, you thief.’ Someone asked in a hostile tone.
Soon a small group of fellow passengers had gathered ready to belt Deepak with some free lashes the Mangalorean population was always ready to give in kind when the opportunity presented. Deepak backed away and apologized. As he moved he saw the black bag in the front seat and realized that he was searching the wrong seat in panic. In the next seat the drunk was still grinning.
The next morning Deepak left to the city office at Kempe Gowda circle and waited for Mr. Sampathappa.
Sampathappa looked different from what he had imagined. Wearing ‘hawai’ slippers and with a short paunch he looked like a simple man.
‘Finally you came-a saar. How was your trip saar.’ Sampathappa greeted.
Deepak handed over the bag but Sampathappa refused.
‘Nat here saar. Let’s go for tea.’ He said and took Deepak to the old office canteen.
He then asked Deepak for a peek into the bag, and being satisfied, asked him to place the bag in the back seat of a Tata Sumo parked nearby. Using his remote lock system he assured Deepak that he could change the development plan with a stroke of a pen and within an hour. In fact he took Deepak to show him how easily it could be done.
‘You can call up your bass and tell him today. Everything is done.’ He said as he left the office.
Deepak walked back relieved, and as he waved for an auto, he saw two ambassador cars pull over in front of the Tata Sumo. Soon a small crowd gathered around and in the milieu he thought he saw Sampathappa in handcuffs. Deepak heard from the auto driver that it may have been the ‘Lokayukta’ police on the prowl and asked the auto driver to immediately take to him to his hotel.
Deepak called his boss who congratulated him for a job well done. He indicated a salary raise for Deepak and eulogized him among his office colleagues. A week later Deepak stunned his colleagues by announcing that he was resigning. He mentioned that he was sick of the red tape system and wanted to start afresh. Deepak’s boss could not hold him against his wishes.
Twenty days later, next to the urban development authority, a new real estate firm had opened. Deepak beamed with pride as his gaze fell on the brass name plate ‘Deepak Real Estates, Consultants and Builders.’ Placing his heels on the glass table he then reclined in fulfillment and caught a puff as he recalled how he had presented Mr. Sampathappa one lakh rupees and did not have the necessity to barter more.
Author: Newton DSouza- USA