I spent this weekend playing the typical tourist in Agra. Armed with my aviators and my hat, I was all set to yet again explore the city I’ve been to a zillion times before. Even though I know all facts about the Taj Mahal by heart (I could take you around all the different monuments and heritage sites like that perfect guide), Agra never ceases to amaze me. Little did I know that I’ll be left with my mouth open, for all the wrong reasons, this time round…
For all pilgrims of the Taj Mahal, a visit to Agra is virtually incomplete without a little side trip to Fatehpur Sikri. To quote Wikipedia “Here he (Akbar The Great) commenced the construction of a planned walled city which took the next fifteen years in planning and construction of a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings. He named the city, Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning "victorious." It was later called Fatehpur Sikri. It is at Fatehpur Sikri that the legends of Akbar and his famed courtiers, the nine jewels or Navaratnas, were born. Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved collections of Indian Mughal architecture in India.”
After an eventful journey, which involved losing our way and getting stuck in a village, we finally reached the famed ghost city. It was here that I was shocked out of my Mughal dreams. Standing there, on the road, were a few self-proclaimed enforcers of the law, blocking the road to our destination, which was still a couple of kilometers away. “Yaha government parking hai sir. Gaadi iske aage nahi jaegi” , they said. Even as they were saying this, a few cars with smiling tourists made their way through. “Wo local gaadi hai”, they said. As luck would have it, a non-local Rajasthan registered car coasted through just then. Something was definitely wrong with us then. I wondered what.
A heated argument followed involving the usual, raised voices, expletives, angry gesturing, people gathering, shouting, pacifying and still more shouting. We ended up turning back home, without a backward glance. It was only the driver who had the wonderful idea of hiring a guide to take us through.
As I learnt that day, guides not only show you around, they can apparently take you through barricades as well. Heard of VIP access? It can be bought for around INR 300. More if you can’t negotiate, less if you can. And so, with the money promised, our car was suddenly ushered through the same barricade we were earlier stopped at. Forget the non-police thugs even the police is complicit in this appallingly blatant corrupt practice. There, at the next barrier, stood our protectors in Khakhi. From what the guide said, INR 100 was all they took, and we zoomed through.
I’d heard a lot about corruption. I’d read about all the scandals. All the Who’s who of the News arena made sure I was aware of the corrupt practices followed in government offices. But nothing had prepared me for this. For the first time in all my life, I felt helpless. I felt violated. That day, corruption stared me in the face and brought me down to my knees. I gave in. I haven’t been able to digest that defeat.
Everyone talks about corruption that I will probably never deal with in real life. What are the odds that someone like me will actually step into a government office? Pretty slim, to be honest… But no one talks about the corruption that is infinitely more likely to affect my day to day functioning. You can persecute all the government employees you want, but who punishes the milkman who gives me more water than milk for my money. Who punishes the shopkeeper who always weighs me less than the wheat I’m paying for? Who punishes the telecom operator who charges me for services I’ve never even used?
Are we honestly so block-headed that we fail to prioritize between corruption of different kinds? Or are we so stupid to not know what harms us more? So what if people made away with crores during the Common Wealth Games. It affected the public purse to which I had contributed a bit. I didn’t really feel the pinch. So shouldn’t I be more worried about people who directly rob me of my money? I don’t know about you dear reader, but it makes a lot of sense to me.
That is exactly why this incident affected me the way it did. It struck deep and hurt my pride. For a staunch opponent of all things corrupt, this was a big blow. It crippled me in a manner I can’t describe. I know I’m being all emotional about it. But this was my reaction… rage, utter helplessness, despair and disgust, in that same order.
Knowing full well that corruption flourishes only with the connivance of the politicians and the police, there is no one I can complain to. There is no one I can ask for help. What I can do is, get my opinion out to as many people as I can, so that, there is never again a Maanya Gupta, stuck on that road, banging her head against the car window. As for Fatehpur Sikri, we are now like estranged lovers who shall never meet again…