Cop out

Everybody knows that the traffic police in India are a strange and frustrating lot, operating not so much by the rule book but seemingly on the basis of whims and fancies and the thickness of your wallet. We all have our favourite police story, as it were, and I just added one to my fairly extensive collection.

I was in Bangalore a week or so ago, having driven down there from Ooty in a rather snazzy sportcar. It was about 9 pm, and I was having a bit of trouble finding the house of the friend with whom I was going to be staying - Bangalore is a bizarre mix of one-ways and dug-up roads. Finally having ascertained that I had to turn left off MG Road and head towards Benson Town, I drove up to a traffic signal, wondering if it was a free left or not. The signal didn't appear to be working properly, because I sat there for an eternity, waiting for a green or amber left turn, and nothing was forthcoming. I crept around the corner a bit, to suss out the lay of the land, and that was when I saw a trio of cops, waiting down the road. Not wanting to risk anything, I stayed put for a while longer, but there was still no signal. Meanwhile, a chap in a Santro had come up behind my car and begun honking incessantly, so I moved aside a bit and let him go. He casually took the turn and drove quite slowly past the cops, so I assumed that it was a legal left turn and followed suit.

As soon as I did so, all three cops jumped into my car's path, arms akimbo, ordering me to stop, which I did. I asked them what the problem was, and they said 'Signal jumping'. I couldn't quite believe it at first - the signal was clearly non-functional, and in any case, they had allowed the Santro to pass right by them without so much as lifting a finger. I said as much, but they stuck to their guns, insisting I hand them my license and pay a 'spot fine'. By now I was rather annoyed, so I got out of the car and got into a bit of an argument, insisting that they were simply harassing me and that I would not pay a red cent. I finally had to produce my Press Card for them to back off, and as I drove away, I wondered if they had stopped me purely because I was driving a flash car.

The next day, I took yet another sportscar (a bright red one) out on a shoot on the Mysore highway, and it was early evening by the time I finished and headed back towards Bangalore. As I took a sweeping left-hander on the highway, I noticed another pocket of cops, and as soon as they spotted my car, they jumped onto the road, trying to get me to stop. I was amazed- I certainly wasn't speeding ( Indicas were flashing past me and the cops, for heaven's sake!), and this time there was no signal anywhere in sight, so it could only have been the fact that I was driving an expensive car. I was in no mood to stop and get into another argument, so I simply kept on driving, past their flapping arms. After a bit of blundering about, I found myself on the elevated toll road leading into Bangalore, above the Bangalore-Chennai highway, and I kept well below the 80 kph speed limit, wary by now of suicidal policemen jumping in front of cars. Astonishingly, there were another two cops waiting by the side of the road, and they dutifully leaped in front my car at the last moment, completely ignoring other vehicles who were going well above the speed limit. I had to actually swerve to avoid hitting one of them, and in thanks he swung his lathi at my exposed head (the top was down), narrowly missing cracking my skull.

By now it was clear - the only reason I had been singled out was because I had been driving expensive cars that stood out. Quite what those cops had hoped to accomplish is beyond me - all I know is that the next time I drive in Bangalore, it'll be in a battered, misfiring wreck, with the hubcaps coming off and smoke billowing from the exhaust. With my luck, a cop will jump right onto my bonnet anyway.