So it was to be Goa, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Nestled on the mid west coast of India with its lush green jungles and sparkling blue oceans being gently caressed by sweet tropical breezes. It was amidst the honey dripping sunshine of this paradise,……..I had my first run in with the Indian Rozzers.
Jonny law, The Five-O, Thula, Ole Bill, The Boys In Blue (well, Light Tan here), Smokey The Bear, A Dick, A Flatfoot, The Man, Some Coppers, Maame……That’s right, the dreaded Indian Traffic Police! After almost a year of bobbing and weaving my way through Delhi traffic completely unscathed, here, on the far side of a blind corner in Mandrem, I was to meet my doom. My spotless driving record forever tarnished.
It was mid morning on a lovely day in October, just before tourist season REALLY starts; but the weather is perfect. My Princes Bride was looking lovely, perched like a delicate bird on the back of a rented Royal Enfield 350 Bullet. The bike however had seen better days. I mean, I wouldn’t call her ugly…but she did have some serious complexion issues.
You can rent bikes off the main drag in Bagga Beach from a guy named “Just call me Shiv” for as little as 400 Rs (about $11 CAD) a day. This transaction is made in cash with little more than a valid license and a smile. Fuel you purchase 500 ml at a time from road side vegetable or fruit stands in old Nestea or Aquafina water bottles. You see where I am going with this? These bikes are not exactly put through any kind of stringent safety tests, any tests at all really. So caveat emptor, let the renter beware. This particular model featured such exciting extras as no rear brake, no third gear, only one mirror that gave a permanent, albeit excellent view of my right foot and on our return journey that night, we discovered…only the high beam option was available on the headlight! A super treat for all the oncoming traffic we encountered on the dark jungle roads.
Carlos Santana was playing smooth melodies in our ear buds as I wound the grotesque beast…sorry, the bike, up route 19 towards Arambol. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will be wondering if I named this particular bike….yes, yes I did. But decorum dictates I do not repeat that particular moniker here. Now as stated, Santana, sunny day, heading to an unexplored beach….I was feeling pretty good…I wasn’t paying attention. That’s when it happened. Just after the route 19/18 split, on the far side of that blind corner. He was there. I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t weaving, I wasn’t really doing ANYTHING. But what I was wasn’t doing, was wearing a helmet.
He had me, dead to rights. A wicked smile spread over his lips as he motioned for me to join his other victims on the side of the road. I counted at least four other bikes and a half a dozen scooties. One with three bikini clad Russian tourist girls, that distracted me for a moment…..but then, my instincts took over again… RUN! By the time they got mobilized, I could be well away! Ms. R could assist by pelting them with bits of fresh pineapple we had in a plastic bag (brought fresh that morning while getting fuel) if they pursued! At that very moment, the bike coughed and sputtered, as if to remind me there was no hope of out running ANYTHING on her. I was forced to abandon the “flee for my life” plan.
I wheeled the ditch-pig on to the side of the road slowly (there, I said it). It resembled a used bike lot. I was looking around for “Just Call Me Shiv”! The white uniformed traffic cops darted in and out, round and round like buzzing bees, pen and note books in hand, looking at paperwork and checking license plates. But I had drawn the attention of the Tan Uniform…the regular beat cop, the supervisor….out-*X#$%-standing!
He started coyly enough. “Good Morning Sir!”… Obviously he was an old hat at this. “Do you know why you’ve been stopped?” He was using the old bait and switch technique! He WANTED me to say “Cos I’m driving a wreck with no indicators and mirrors?” or even worse to say “No sir” and let HIM come up with a list of infractions! Well, this ain’t my first rodeo either, cowboy. I went straight for the lesser offence. “Yes officer, I am not wearing my helmet” I said with a weak smile.
I glanced over his shoulder as a Hero Honda with a man, his wife riding sidesaddle while breastfeeding their baby and a two year old sprawling on the gas tank roared by. He followed my gaze and his returned smile seemed to say…”HE’S wearing his helmet” Look, I’m not judging, I have LONG ago given up on my North American riding practices while in Goa or Rishikesh. Leather jackets, jeans and boots have been replaced with cutoff tees, shorts and flip flops. Delhi is different, but here in paradise……the rules are a bit more lax. “That’s right, no helmet” he smiled some more as his eyes began twinkling at the prospect of an imminent tourist funded payday…. “May I see your driving license please?”
At least I still had THAT trump card to play! I produced my Indian driving license with all the flourish and showmanship of a Las Vegas magician! BOOM! The smile on his face twisted into a frown as he watched his impending gratuity get sliced in half….right before his very eyes. The sour look on his face said it all “He’s not a tourist…he lives here…in DELHI no less…he KNOWS how much it will take to buy me off!” I grinned up at him with all the innocence of a new born kitten. ~blink blink~ I had clearly won this round of negotiation. “I always wear my helmet at home sir,” I added for flavor “but on vacation, sometimes I forget” I flashed a quick Namaste and bobbed my head from side to side.
But alas, this was no rookie cop, he was a battle tested veteran, had spent his time on the front lines, he was ready for this contingency, he had a back up plan. Now I say this with deep humility and respect, his next move was absolutely BRILLIANT, completely unexpected, a veritable stroke of policing GENIUS! His smile slowly returned. “There is a small fine for not wearing a helmet in India. As you are aware sir,” he emphasized the latter part of the sentence, as he handed my license back. “It is very dangerous not to be wearing your helmet. So please, just sit there for a moment, sit and think on what you have done.” And with a quick and curt tilt of the head, he walked away. AWAY! I had no idea what to do next. I quickly consulted Ms. R…she was of no help, as lost as I at this strange development. We sat there somewhat dumbfounded. I had just been scolded by a policeman, and I honestly didn’t know how to feel about it. As the minutes passed, the remorse grew, all of my rebellious attitude abandoned me. It drained from my body, slowly replaced with timid school boy apprehension! I watched him as he strolled from person to person, chatting with them, laughing occasionally. This wasn’t a cop…..IT WAS MY DAD! He was yelling at me for being a scoundrel, he wasn’t evil, he was caring and loving. He was concerned for me, for my welfare, he was guiding me. I held back the welling tears as I dug out my wallet.
I won’t go into any further detail on the exchange that followed. There is no point really, and it’s kind of embarrassing. Suffice to say there was some gushing and a lot of thank you siring going on, but the end result was this, I rode away 200Rs lighter in my wallet (I discovered later I could have got away with a 50). But, I was feeling grateful! Grateful there were such good men looking over the motorized citizens of Goa! Men who cared, men who gave their lives in service to the community and asked nothing in return! It wasn’t until much later that day, lying on a sun bed on Arambol beach, sipping a watermelon smoothie and munching on deep fried calamari, that it hit me. Hit me like a mule kick to the chest. Boy….you done been out maneuvered! Out savvied, out classed and flat out, out hustled! Well played Goa PD……well played.