Tag Archives: police

hot sweaty bribery

Delhi is peppered with small parks — 18,000 of them, if The Hindu’s dubious figures are to be believed. Most of them are small community parks, where any open space is claimed by boys playing cricket and any secluded bench is occupied by young couples trying to escape Delhi’s incessantly prying eyes. But a few are big enough to appear as bright green splotches on the maps of Delhi that hang obligatorily in every expat’s living room. One of those is the Jahanpanah City Forest, adjacent to GK II.

In our time in Delhi, Jenny and I yearned for fresh air and open spaces. But despite the fact that Jahanpanah City Forest had both, we never returned to its 800 acres of scrub forest and meandering paths — not after the experience we had there on Jenny’s very first day in India, when I’d been in the country all of a week.

Only rookies like us would have entered the forest at all, seeing as it was a scorching August Saturday with the sun almost directly overhead, ensuring the trees alongside the path were unable to shade us. We each felt the sweat drip down our backs and refused to admit that this had been a mistake, that maybe we should have waited until the evening to go  hike. It didn’t improve things that we had no water, and it further didn’t improve things when we got a little lost, and any hope for the improvement of things became a forgone impossibility when the policeman appeared on his motorcycle and began to blackmail us.

“Park closed! Park closed!” he repeated menacingly, miming to us that he didn’t speak English but somehow finding words to explain that we had to get on his bike so he could take in to pay a 30,000 rupee fine for being in the park during closing time. Or, you know, we could pay him 5,000 rupees right then and there.

Panicking and terrified (I read Shantaram; there’s no way I’m going to Indian jail!), I called my landlord and asked him to speak to the cop. After a discussion, the phone was returned and my landlord apologized on behalf of his country. “This man is only trying to extort a bribe. I suggest you give him nothing.”

As our understanding of the situation finally clarified, and we started shuffling our feet and edging away, the policeman’s demeanor changed. His glowering was replaced by pleading. “Gift for policeman!” he begged, blocking our way, his eyes tearing up.

I was unsure about the consequences of ignoring him. I worried that not bribing a policeman might be an arrestable offense. And I was totally ignorant of the going rate for a bribe. So I opened my wallet and tentatively handed him 400 rupees.

Suddenly his English seemed to get better. “Please, ma’am,” he asked Jenny as the money disappeared into his pocket. “I beg of you. Double that!” She shook her head warily.

And then his demeanor changed again. He grinned broadly, gave first Jenny and then I a tremendous handshake, and pointed us down the proper path to return to GK II. He watched us to make sure we took the correct fork in the road, and waved happily as we walked down the path towards home.  I deeply regret not taking his picture; I’m sure he would have eagerly posed with us.



When something like what happened in Mumbai happens, you can’t help but wonder what you’d do if it happened to you. Since this blog is meant to archive knowledge useful to those living in or moving to Delhi, I think it’s prudent, if not a little bit boring, to post what we’ve learned about emergencies in Delhi.

The Delhi blasts a few months ago occurred early on a Saturday evening. Within hours, the media was screaming that security was being beefed up all over the city. We didn’t see any security until the next day, though, when our autorickshaw passed the GK I market, the site of one of the bombs. There we saw a couple cops idly manning a roadblock, slowing cars just enough to create a jam but not enough to actually inspect passengers (as if terrorists wear Al Qaeda lapel pins or drive carrying dynamite on their laps), if the cops had even been looking, which they weren’t.

The only interaction we’ve ever had with a cop in India (aside from the ones who regularly commandeer our autorickshaws for lifts to their next point on patrol, and the one who arbitrarily singled out my taxi driver to scream at, refusing to let us go down the road while other cars passed unmolested, advancing menacingly, fingering his beating stick, preparing to unleash unnecessary justice until he saw my white face cowering in the back seat and decided that maybe we weren’t doing anything wrong after all) was the cop who shook us down for a 400 Rupee bribe in the Jahanpanah City Forest near GK II. So after Mumbai, I realized I had no idea how to find a cop if I actually needed one.

I posed the question to YuniNet, a Delhi-centric Yahoo group. Most readers pointed out that you can call 100, India’s equivalent of 911, although some reported language issues for non-Hindi speakers. However, if you babble enough key words (“Hauz Khas” “American” “accident” “chainsaw-wielding zombie”), you could probably rouse the local cop to commandeer an autorickshaw over to your house to see what’s up.

Other advice included walking to your local police stand, making friends with the cops, and getting their number in case you need it. I wouldn’t do that, however; as one respondent put it, “We would rather call our embassy or someone known to us who knows someone in police. We don’t trust the police in Delhi.” I think you’re probably better off if the local cops don’t know where you live.

For the embassy perspective, I emailed Lynn, an embassy staffer I met a few weeks ago. She’s the one who gets the call when a gora gets run over by the Blueline. Her advice:

“The best thing to do, if possible, is file a police complaint or First Information Report (FIR). Once you do that, call us and we will follow up with the police to make sure that they do whatever is needed in the situation. The police will not take our call as seriously if the involved party hasn’t complained. That being said, we want to hear about whatever is happening regardless of whether a complaint has been lodged.
“We always want to know if our citizens have emergencies; sometimes we can move things along or make suggestions.

“In an emergency, you can call the main Embassy number: (011) 2419-8000. During the day you would ask for American Citizens Services; off hours, ask for the duty officer.”

So what about medical emergencies? Back in February, Jenny got sick, resulting in two midnight trips to the emergency room. The first night I flagged down an autorickshaw while Jenny lay shivering on the sidewalk. I told him the name of the private hospital, which he misunderstood to mean the government hospital; complications from that bit of malpractice were exactly why we went to the hospital the second night.

That second night, we called the private hospital’s ambulance service. They came promptly, but the dispatcher had given them the wrong house number; I finally found them frantically running around the neighborhood looking for us.

The best advice in a medical emergency is probably to arrange your own transportation, especially if you don’t want to wait for the ambulance to fight traffic all the way to your house; but make sure you know exactly where you want to go. You should certainly scout out a doctor and a good hospital BEFORE you get sick. I wish we had.