On the open road in the outskirts of Mohali, with disappointment in his heart, Rajveer drove the car recklessly.
“Slow down, Rajveer.”
He took his own sweet time in reacting to that and then too only slightly released the pressure off the accelerator. And when he did, Lavanya reminded him of the seat belt, which she thought he had forgotten to fasten.
“Seat belt, Rajveer.”
“Oh god! Please don’t irritate me any further!”
Lavanya kept looking at him but didn’t say anything. She regretted her idea of visiting the slum school. Had she known it would spoil Rajveer’s mood to this extent she wouldn’t have done so.
Annoyance makes people defend the indefensible.
“We are still in Mohali. Not in Chandigarh,” Rajveer said defensively about why he wasn’t wearing the seat belt.
“If only the place mattered...” she almost whispered her point and concentrated on the road outside.
“It does. And I told you the same when you had come to Patiala. That day you were bothered about the silly helmet. Today, you are bothered about the seat belt. It’s only Chandigarh traffic cops who are rigid arseholes. It doesn’t matter anywhere else.”
Had Lavanya wanted she could have easily argued, but she didn’t. The timing wasn’t right and therefore there was no point in doing so.
As luck would have it, at the very next turn Rajveer drove into a temporary checkpoint put up by the traffic cops. Clearly, he wasn’t that familiar with Mohali roads and the prominent checkpoints of the city.
One of the five men on duty, who had tracked Rajveer from a distance, rushed to stop his car right ahead of the temporary barricades. There were a few cars parked one after the other on the left side of the road.
Nothing was going right for Rajveer that evening! The truth of the moment tore apart the argument he had made seconds ago. He had thought he had made his point by telling her off but very quickly the tables had turned. Caught between the embarrassment of being proved wrong in front of Lavanya and the hassle of dealing with the cops, he rolled down the window.
“Hanji janaab!” (Yes, sir?) Rajveer put forth a happy face and greeted the constable in the local dialect. On purpose he gave him as much respect as he would otherwise give to somebody of the rank of an inspector.
The constable, clad in khaki uniform, asked him for his driving licence. When Rajveer sought the reason, he heard the same words that Lavanya had uttered moments back.
“Seat belt nahi lai!” (Haven’t fastened the seat belt!)
From he-was-about-to-wear-it to he-was-only-going- till-the-end-of-the-road he cooked up a few reasons in his defence, but it was all in vain. Further, to his dismay, the constable pointed at Lavanya and reprimanded him, saying that if she could wear it, why couldn’t he do the same?
Why doesn’t this day come to an end right here?
“Sirji, driving licence?” the constable reminded him. He further asked him to step out of his vehicle and come along with him to his senior who was supposed to write him a challan.
Sitting behind the wheel, Rajveer pulled out his wallet from the back pocket of his pants. He asked how much he would be challaned for.
“A thousand rupees,” the constable, who would have been in his early thirties, answered.
Instead of pulling out his driving licence from his wallet, Rajveer pulled out a 100-rupee note. Lavanya looked at what he was doing but didn’t interfere. She watched on as Rajveer wrapped the note in the grip of his hand and hiding it from the others transferred it into the constable’s palm as if shaking his hand.
The constable checked the currency and immediately responded that he would need the full amount to write him a challan. His words made Lavanya hopeful. She wanted her boyfriend to be challaned for breaking the law.
“This is not for the challan. This is for you,” Rajveer pointed out, pushing the constable’s hand in a friendly way to accept his offer. The constable, however, was unwilling to take the money and kept reminding him that the challan was of a thousand rupees. Amidst the light tussle of words, Rajveer mentioned that he was keen to have the constable take the money instead of his senior.
“The whole day you stand here in the sun. You should make money. Why let the one who sits inside the PCR van take what belongs to you?” he said sympathetically.
“Sirji ab duty hi mehnat wali hai.” (It’s a tough job I have signed up for.) The constable responded with a sense of pride in his voice.
Meanwhile, Rajveer took out his wallet and pulled out a fifty-rupee note and slipped it into the constable’s hand. The constable though made enough effort to slip it back into Rajveer’s hand. Reading the constable’s name from his badge tacked on his chest, Rajveer said, “Rakh lo Madhav Singh ji. Rakh lo.” (Please keep it, Madhav Singh.)
Lavanya’s hopes nosedived and crashed when the constable said, “Pachaas aur de do fir.” (Add another fifty to it then.)
Moments after they’d crossed the checkpoint and when the silence in the car had begun to appear too long, Rajveer was the first to speak. He knew he had to for all along Lavanya chose to keep quiet. His eyes were focused on the road ahead when he talked, “I should have listened to you. Unnecessarily, I ended up shelling out two hundred bucks.”
When he didn’t get Lavanya’s response, he turned to look at her. Instead of reacting to his statement, Lavanya took the opportunity to guide the way, “We have to take the next right turn.”
Rajveer momentarily shifted his eyes back to the road in order to locate the next turn. When he’d turned, he said, “Are you not talking to me?”
“I am,” replied Lavanya.
“Not in the way you were earlier.”
She again stopped short of responding.
“Look, I am sorry, Lavanya. I had no wish to hand over that money either. I should have...”
Lavanya interrupted him angrily and said through gritted teeth, “Don’t just follow traffic rules to save your challan, but lives on the road. Including yours.”
She tried to cut him off with her words and when she felt she was not finished, she added, “Besides, you have saved a good part of your challan.”
Her last words disturbed Rajveer, “Wait a minute, are you angry because I didn’t have to pay the entire challan?”
“Yes, because of that as well,” she confirmed.
Rajveer chuckled sarcastically and said, “Listen, please understand the system is corrupt...”
Once again, Lavanya interrupted him and bluntly said what she had in mind. “People who prefer giving bribe instead of paying the traffic challan have no right to blame corruption.”
The words hurt Rajveer’s ego. They bothered him and he couldn’t figure out why his girlfriend was blowing a little thing out of proportion.
Nobody had rebuked him like that before.
Excerpted with permission from Will You Still Love Me?, Ravinder Singh, Penguin Random House India.