I was coasting on a traffic free road in the Federal Capital, when a loud whistle rudely ripped through the calm. I looked in the side view mirror to discover a pair of blue clad policeman frantically waving at me to stop. Now I am a very careful driver out of habit, never going beyond the indicated speed limit, I always wear a safety belt as does my front seat passenger, I change lanes by using the indicator and have never in my driving experience run a red light. More importantly in the current situation, I had not seen the two cops or their motor cycle, which must have been well concealed in one of the side-lanes that abound in the F6 Sector. I stopped, waiting for the cops to walk up and tell me where I had gone wrong. Another peek at the mirror revealed the policeman getting more and more agitated and holding their ground. I therefore reversed the car, rolled down my window and in my best bed side manner sought the reason for stopping me. The reply flattened me, “You broke the law by not stopping”. “But, why was I being stopped?” I insisted. “Stop arguing and show us your papers.” I complied and watched as one of the cops began studying the documents in a manner that clearly indicated his inability to make sense out of what he was trying to decipher, for I had in a naughty moment given him a handbook on growing olives. I then took out the actual papers and handed them over to him with an apology. After five minutes of scrutiny, I drove away chuckling to myself over the fact that for several minutes, the officer of the law had not registered the true identity of the booklet in his hands.
Over a long period of driving on Pakistani roads I have been studying the scene wherein a traffic cop stops a motorist for an infringement. In ninety nine percent of cases, the situation unfolds as follows. The policeman stops a car carrying two people and demands either the documents or the license, laying the foundation for an argument. To the distant watcher, the scene resembles a pantomime, where hand gestures play a leading role. Meanwhile, the passenger opens the door and steps out of the vehicle. He takes a few steps away from the car, takes out his cellphone and begins making a call to someone with some nuisance value viz the police. After talking for a few seconds, the caller walks back to the car and with a sneer writ large across his ‘mug’, hands over the phone to the ‘offending’ policeman. The instrument having been reluctantly accepted, the cop listens intently, giving his explanation of the offence, but capitulates sheepishly, waving the driver to carry on. The officer then returns to where his colleagues is standing and a long conversation spiced with a lot of finger wagging goes on. Perhaps it is the hapless officer of the law indulging in a bit of catharsis.
I was once on an official visit to the Russian capital. Returning from a meeting accompanied by an embassy official, the car was flagged down by a light baton wielding policeman. My companion muttered an unprintable epithet and stopped. Used to my native system, I asked him to back up the car, but was told that this was not how things were done here. Seconds later the cop appeared at the driver’s window and after saluting asked for the license, which was handed over to him along with an admission of guilt and an apology. Never for a minute letting go of his courteous manner, he took a hard look at the diplomatic number plate and gave a five minute lecture on the violation we had committed and that it was our diplomatic immunity that was leaving him no option, but to let us go with a warning.
As I was driven to my hotel, I thought of the police back home and their lack of manners, when dealing with offenders. I also wondered if my countrymen would behave in the same manner if they were checked for a traffic offence or would they spend a sizeable portion of the time in argument and then go for their cell phone to call a bigwig and get off the hook.