Though it has five letters, bribe is a four letter word. But life and love have four letters but not four letter words.......!
In short, bribe is not considered as a good word. But it has been a part of life if not an inevitable one. When I was in my teens I staunchly believed in equality, human rights, socialism and the ideals which almost touched the borderlines of communism and naxalism. But as I grew up and started facing realities of life, these ideologies got diluted.
Naturally I was against nepotism, favoritism and corruption in any manner. Even when someone asked me for a cinema ticket or a train ticket without standing behind me in the queue, I never obliged. Many a times I fought against such attempts happening in front of me.
A few of my friends and relatives tried to explain that the tips given to a waiter in a hotel, telling " keep the change " to an auto driver or giving monies to the liftman or cleaning staff for Diwali/Onam do not come under the gamut of " bribe ". But understanding the thin line between tips/baksheesh and bribe was not very easy for me. It was the same as per my understanding.
Naturally , I was delighted when I secured a job in a bank on my own merit after the test and interview . I was very happy that I did not take up a job of a private college lecturer which was being " sold " for a few lacs when I finished my post graduation.
The relaxation to the strict and rigid practices started right at the beginning of the long journey of the banking career. There was no direct train from Trivandrum to Poona where I was asked to report. Those days, the railways seldom gave reservations in the connecting trains. The travel was in two legs , one from Trivandrum to Egmore and the next from Madras central to Poona in a Bombay bound train. I was holding a telegram number which the booking clerk gave me at Trivandrum station for the onward booking. As I entered the bogie of the Bombay train at Madras station, I had only the telegram number which I showed to the TTE. He looked at me from head to toe and asked me to contact him at the next station. With the oversized box and a shoulder bag I sat on one edge of a three seater. He came after about half an hour and declared that I did not have any reservation as he didn't get any details about the telegram in the reservation chart. Now I was at his mercy for my travel to Poona and reporting to the Bank on the prescribed date. I told him my plight and pleaded with him. He told me wait again. He appeared again after about an hour. He told that he would give a berth from the next station provided I pay the additional reservation charges. Since getting an accommodation was my prime priority, I readily agreed. I gave him three notes of rupees ten. ( It wasn't a small sum those days. It could have fetched twenty kilos of sugar........! ) He took a receipt book and noted the berth number in a different bogie. At the next station I shifted to my seat. After spreading a bed sheet on the berth, I took out the receipt he gave. It didn't show any amount. I realized that I had paid BRIBE for the first time in my life.........!
While working in the Bank, the most common camouflaged bribe I saw was the Diwali presents being given to the Bank officials by the borrowers. When seniors told me about the prevalence of such a " custom " I could not really believe it. But it was true. The officials holding critical positions in the bank never went on leave during the days just before Diwali. ......!
As stated earlier, the rigid code of conduct followed by me regarding bribing others got breached in the train journey for the first time. This was followed by certain amendments to the code to become pragmatic in my approach to life. The changes accepted during my life as a bachelor included the following situations.....
* Facing the traffic police on the road
*Buying a first day first show ticket for a favorite movie
*Managing work in the office of RTO without availing casual leave from the office
As I got married and became a father, the other side of accepting favours got amended......
* Taking help from customers for getting a good house on rent or school admission for my daughter upon transfer.
* To get some discounts on the immediate essential purchases like furniture, fixtures in a new place of posting.
The list is not exhaustive.....
During the initial years of the working in the bank, the sweet packets received at the branch were invariably distributed among the staff members. Later the rule was relaxed. Some packets were brought home for distribution among the servant maid and others who helped us at home. The other items presented as New year and Diwali gifts which were put to use included diaries, pens ties etc.
But still I remained rigid in not allowing anyone to collect my residential address and deliver presents at home during Diwali time. While I was working in a branch in Hyderabad, I received a packet of Kaaju katli of Almond house from the MD of the a Pharma company whose account was taken over from another bank in the recent past. He insisted that I should take it for my daughter as she would love it. I wondered how he knew about my daughter's liking for Kaaju katli ......?
I did take it home and gave it to her. Within ten minutes of opening the pack and enjoying a few pieces of Katli, she came back screaming ...." Look there is a gold chain within the box. " She was right. There was a fairly long chain made of gold which would have weighed around thirty or thirty five grams packed alongside a beautiful Diwali greeting card. I felt deceived . I was furious too. I ordered my daughter to close the box forth with. Thought of calling the man and pouring my anger out. But it was already ten in the night. Could not get sleep that night. Felt guilty. Felt miserable to think that " I have been bribed ".
I took the gold chain while going to office the next day. At Walden's I stopped the car and purchased a beautiful Thank you card. Got the chain pasted along the sides of it with cello tape. Went to the corporate office of the company enroute. The MD was not in the office. Left envelope on his table and left a message with his personal staff and drove to the branch. When I entered my cabin, the phone from the MD was ringing. He felt sorry for what he had done. Later during the day he came personally to apologise. The anguish which experienced the previous night had mellowed down once he came in front of me with folded hands.......................period.
He still keeps calling me for wishing happy Diwali every year after twenty eight years of my Hyderabad posting and eight years of retirement.....!