When did we lose 'honest'?

My neighbourhood video store is shutting shop.

“Why Shaileshbhai, what’s the problem?”

“Sir, the pirated market is doing ‘bharpoor’ business. They have all important people in their ‘pocket’. We have always tried to give original prints to the customer. There is ‘sacchi’ no point being honest in this country, sir.” His foreign-returned son, Jignesh aka Jiggs says wisely, “Rahulji, dishonesty is the best policy.” And I’m thinking, when did we become so universally dishonest? When did we start to wear ‘under the table etiquette’ like a badge of honour?

Illustration/Amit Bandre
Illustration/Amit Bandre

So while our rupee slides on the eve of yet another union budget, you ask yourself, what is disintegrating faster our currency or our moral fibre?

Look, sorry if this sounds a tad like I’m sermonising. Frankly I’m as ‘bad’ as the next guy. It’s all part of the Mumbai survival kit traffic rules, ‘tatkal’ schemes, TDS certificates, I’ve begun to buy into the commission, the cut, the cash component, the cutting corners in every deal that goes down in the city. Lawlessness is fully legit, I accept. I’m just concerned about the degree.

Permit me some retro reflections lining pockets, partaking of the ‘odd loophole’, always existed. But ‘money-making’ seemed to happen in darkened corridors and dusty rooms. At higher levels. Rarely filtering down to the ‘aam aadmi’. The odd Big Bull Harshad Mehta made waves. But he was this personification of a ‘dark bogey man’ in this otherwise rose-tinted reality. And he was reviled in the ’90s. I suspect he’d be revered in the new ‘Incredibly Corrupt India’. A new India that has morphed into a free for all the scam, the scandal, the swindle, the swiz, the side deal have all come to stay. We buck the law, bend the rule and bypass the system, as a first option. There’s no guilt, only glory in this. A rationalisation that taking the honest path, the straight and narrow will yield poor if not negligible results. “Money talks” is the refrain.

And so I ask, at what point in our nation’s history did corruption become so commonplace? So easy to engage in. So unflinching. So “Chalo, we’ll just bribe our way.” CWG, Coalgate, the Chopper scam, thousands of crores of tax payers’ money salted away in Swiss Banks. Nation-crippling figures. That we’ve reached a stage in independent India where an incoming government assures you of ‘a corruption free’ regime and less money laundering. Wow.

Anna Hazare tried to create a revolution, we followed for a bit with optimism. But soon opted for the old tried-and-tested formula of ‘chai-paani’. The point is we had a choice. We always have a choice. And we chose to completely enter the dark side.

Black is truly the new white.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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