“Corruption in India begins at birth. You need to bribe someone for a birth certificate. It ends only at death when you bribe for a death certificate.”
These were the words offered to me by an Indian man, and during the 8 years that I lived in the country the man’s advice rang true.
It started when I first arrived in the country and collected my unaccompanied luggage from the airport.
“Something for me,” the customs official demanded.
I feigned ignorance with a shrug. It didn’t work. I ended up forking out $1 while internally scolding myself for giving in to corruption.
It continued when I moved into a house and the government garbage collector rang my doorbell once a month with her open palm thrust towards me. One month she inflated the charge by 100% (perhaps her child’s birthday was approaching) and I refused to pay. She, in turn, refused to remove my rubbish bag from the front of the house. So the next time she fronted up with her hand out I gave in.
It became irritating when the postman tried to charge me ‘tax’ for a returned package in the mail. The amount he wanted was greater than the cost of the goods in the package.
“I’m not paying,” I said. “You can keep the package.”
“Madam, I cannot.”
“Give it to your wife,” I closed my front door.
It got worse when my driver was regularly pulled over by the traffic police for fictional offences. “What to do, Madam?” he smiled at me.
When I realised that nothing could be accomplished in India without bribing somebody, I followed my driver’s advice. What to do? I discarded my morals and forced myself to find humour in it.
“Tip, Madam?” said the gasman.
I chuckled as I dropped some coins in his hand. What he calls a tip, I call a bribe.
“Diwali bonus?” requested a delivery boy.
I smirked as he shoved my rupee notes in his pocket.
I have fought against corruption. I have given in to corruption. I have been irritated by it and humoured by it. That is my changing tide.