The other morning a friend and I were having breakfast at a bakery and discussing the latest crisis in Mumbai, when a neeli batti car screeched to a halt outside and parked on the wrong side of a one-way street. Two men marched into the shop and started pulling down bread from the shelves, opening the packets, only to sniff and manhandle the freshly-baked stuff before rudely stuffing it back inside. Our protests were met first with a “mind your own business”, and then with the line Delhiites swear by: “Do you know who we know?”
I had two thoughts as the men tried their best to intimidate us: “Oh, God. Not again.” And (the scarier) “Will I ever be able to buy bread again?”
But then every other day, while driving to work, I get booted out of my lane by cars that bear the red or blue light with bumper stickers that shriek ‘Government of India — Power Brake — Keep Distance’ or ‘Police’. So I guess those men were only projecting the unparalleled power of the blue light, one their masters have become used to in a country that kowtows to official arrogance. Nowhere in the world is the bureaucracy more self-important than in India; nowhere in India is this more evident than in Delhi, the fountainhead of all that mean muscle. In this country, the term ‘government servant’ is but an oxymoron.
Delhi is bursting at the seams with cars bearing stamps of some authority or self-anointed privilege group, cruising under the radar with coal-dark windows and verbose plates that loudly announce self-important titles like ‘Pradhan of Natak Society of Tanakpur’, along with the Indian flag and a political party sticker. Not just that, these monsters demand right of way, flashing unlawful halogen lamps and sirens to bully you out of their path. The reason the drivers of politicians and bureaucrats think they have a special licence to flout traffic rules with impunity is because of the silence of their masters in the backseat, whose apathy is glaring because of who they are.
In Delhi, everyone is someone — or someone’s someone — who no one can dare to defy. Mumbai’s bullies may air their nuisance-value every once in a while, but Delhi’s are always bullying lesser mortals to fall into line. But then, must we put up with this?