The time was 10 am.
We were speeding on the NH 17 en route Udupi. As we passed through the scenic Ankola - Honawar - Murudeshwar belt, the sudden sight of a burly check post guard on our tiny windscreen seemed quite unsettling.
Nine out of ten times, these checkpost interventions are far from noble - the temptation of grabbing few easy bucks from the weary traveller is just too easy to ignore for these uniformed vultures. Something told me that the gentleman in front of us was in the mood to fill his pockets.
He asked in broken English with a sprinkling of Kannada.
"Annapoorneshwari temple, Moodbidri"
Our reply caused no ripple on his wooden face.
"License, papers" he summoned. We did the needful.
As luck would have it, we didn't have the latest insurance premium receipt in place. He got his chance by legal means.
"Insurance compulsory, come in" he ordered.
The walk to the desolate cabin was disgusting.
He opened the receipt book and scribbled few lines. Now he was exceptionally rude...a natural instinct that comes bundled with an act of extortion.
"Rs 800/- fine"
Just then I remarked:
"The Goddess is watching from above"
He was unmoved but something seemed to move deep within him. The fear of Gods still works in India. More often than not, it's the last resort for the helpless to secure a semblance of justice from the establishment.
Give Rs 500.
Just before I left, I told him in Hindi:
"One suggestion. If you want money, don't be rude. Your sin would be less grave. I will pray on your behalf in the temple"
He looked away, acting as if the language made no sense to him. But the tough exterior had much to shield.
Time 6.00 am Day Two
We were on our journey back.
The visibility was poor but the check post ahead was unmistakably clear. So was the burly figure who stopped us.
As the guy glanced across the window pane, his face had some expression for a change.
Fearing an encore of the previous transaction, I remarked aloud
"Pehchana" (Did you recognise us)
Pehchaana, Pehchaana, thank you good morning, He went on and on. The tone was apologetic. And this time, the Hindi was fluent than before.
As I think of the encounter, I was happy, if not delighted, with the donation of Rs 500.
If a change of heart - however momentary and cosmetic - can come about for so less, I am happy to fill an individual pocket rather than the coffers of some unknown government with more ingenious and ruthless ways of misuse and misappropriation....and no remorse and apology whatsoever.
The toll collection on pathetic roads, day in and day out, is only one case in point.