Just as the Japanese love uniforms and uniformity and the Swiss get their rocks off with clocks and punctuality, we Indians thrive on bureaucracy. Experts estimate that the average citizen is phasaoed by the system roughly five times a day. Pick up a humble, God-fearing, any-job-will-do chap from an employment agency queue, give him a "gummint job" and I guarantee you he will automatically develop the kind of attitude that would make Caligula look empathetic in comparison. He has now been entrusted with the sacred task of upholding the law and neither hell nor high water nor common sense is going to stop him. John le Carre's observation on the subject of Russia, "When things work, we are pathetically grateful; when they don't its life," holds cruelly true for Mother India as well.
I was once on a flight with a German tourist who was "caught" taking a photo on an Air India flight into Mumbai after a trifling 7-hour delay. The moment he pulled out his Nikon, the flight supervisor, the purser and sundry airhostesses rushed up to him in horror exclaiming, "Photography is against the rules, sir, it's a cognizable offence." Germans have a well-deserved reputation for being sticklers for the rules but this guy was a red-blooded, sausage-eating, beer-swilling Deutschlander who was prepared to rock the boat, or in this case, the plane. "Zen vy you don't change zis stupid rules, ja? You don't zink it's more important to have clean toilet and planes zat fly on time. You iss worrying about my taking zis photo when ze Google satellite can take photo of an ant's backside. Mein Gott, zis is crazy."
We are at our most officious when laying down the law especially when the law, to quote Mr Bumble, "is an ass." Some years ago I happened to be at an army mess in Mumbai and was searching for the little boys' room. A helpful lady at the telephone booth (remember them?) pointed me in what I assumed was the right direction and I gratefully pointed Percy at the porcelain. I emerged to find a grim-faced guard all set to court-martial yours truly for conduct unbecoming. No, I hadn't violated the "Generals Only" marble pissoir rule; my crime was that I wasn't wearing a tie. I was wearing a churidar-kurta which may have passed muster at Rohit Bal's farmhouse but apparently wasn't quite what military intelligence had ordered.
I should have just grinned and borne it but something about the patent idiocy of the rule got my goat. On further enquiry, I established that there was no separate toilet where sartorial elegance was dispensed with as the price of admission. The toilet was common but those wanting to use the facilities were required to sneak around the back entrance, not stroll casually through the main door as I had done. I didn't argue with the guard since he seemed a reasonable sort as faujis go: he didn't ask me to take back what I had already done. He merely pointed out my error and counseled me as to my future course of action, should I wish to do No 1 again.
Sighing inwardly I was about to rejoin the festivities when I caught sight of the notice board which illustrated graphically why military intelligence has been described as a contradiction in terms. "Foreigners Banned. No one is allowed to knowingly/unknowingly bring foreigners to the Club. By Order."
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, people, so the next time you are locked up in the brig on a charge of espionage, there's no point in whining that your guest is an NRI whose been watching too much Netflix. And lay off the beer, unless you're wearing a tie....