Well, surprisingly, I received a couple of calls from people who happened to read my blog about politeness and graciousness. They seemed to suggest that I was just going overboard and that in today’s world there was really no place for all the old values of life. Effectively, they were telling me not to take things to heart. I told them that as far as I was concerned, values and principles in life never got out of fashion… And the conversation ended there, with both of them having given up on me. So, let’s move on…
The other evening, I got a call from a friend of mine, a Bengali who had in recent years made Chennai her home. She sounded all flustered and desperate, and I wondered what the problem was. It turned out to be quite some problem. Apparently, her partner, a writer, had taken an autorickshaw in the Kilpauk area and had hardly settled down inside the vehicle when he realised that the driver was literally taking him for a ride – a dangerous one at that, speeding and swerving against oncoming traffic.
Startled, the writer told the driver to stop, that he did not wish to be ferried this way. Here, I did not get the story very clear. But what I understood was that once the writer got down, the driver followed him to a fruit stall, demanded money and when the passenger refused, slapped him in front of all those present. Not a soul ventured to help, although some vendors might have known the writer as he was a regular customer. His spectacles broke; it was an expensive frame, and more than anything, the writer had never bargained for such an insult. He was shell-shocked.
The girl was brave and told me she was determined to get the driver caught and punished. The local police station had not properly registered an FIR. I put her on to a newspaper editor I knew and the story appeared the following day, complete with the name of the police station and inspector. Fortunately, the writer had noted the autorickshaw number.
The report had the desired result. Although attempts were initially made by the police to shirk the issue stating that the vehicle number noted was perhaps not the right one, eventually efforts were made to trace the autorickshaw in question.
For a while I never heard the end of the story. Today, I received an email from the young woman, a copy editor, saying that the rogue driver was finally caught by the police and that her friend, the writer, was summoned to the police station to identify him. The driver was booked under some section of the IPC and in all probability he may get out sooner than you can say Jack Robinson.
However, the moral of the story is that if we as citizens can be as brave as the writer couple, things can change in India. How many of us go to a police station to register a complaint? How many are keen to press for justice and seek finality to cases such as this? Very, very few. Of course, knowing somebody helps, especially if he or she is an editor or reporter in a newspaper. But I think the larger issue here is facing the challenge head-on and ensuring that culprits do not go scot-free.
That evening, the young woman said she hated such a place where even onlookers did not come forward to help. She had decided to leave the city and go to Kolkata where she belonged. Now, after the guilty was punished, at least seemingly so, I wonder whether she has changed her mind about Chennai. It might be worth her while to think whether such ‘justice’ would have been possible in other cities in India. If you asked me, I’d say no.