My initiation into a morally bankrupt society

A payment of Rs1,000 will solve the problem sir, Rs200 will be my share and the rest go to the ‘kitty’.

Taimur Arbab May 30, 2012
A few days back, taking advantage of my weekly holiday, I decided to renew my passport. Fearing that a late arrival at the passport office would lead to having to wait in a never ending line, I made sure I reached the premises at around 8 am.

Having paid the renewal fee of Rs3,000, I joined a few others, who also wanted to take advantage of the early hours.

At the same time, there were many ‘shady’ agents outside, who were keen on offering their ‘expertise’ for down-the-table payment. I brushed them off, thinking that after all; it was only a matter of getting the passport renewed.

Who needed to indulge in a bribe?

What I didn’t realise was that I was about to learn my first practical lesson for survival in a Pakistani society.

What followed was a real encounter with the wretched moral carcass of our society.

At about 9 am, the doors of the facility opened and we were asked to form a queue.

When my turn came, to my utter surprise, one of the lower staff officers did not allow me to enter, citing the fact that my NIC was from a district, which was administered by the Saddar branch only.

The same official had taken a look at my NIC earlier too, when I had asked him for advice, upon arrival. At that time, he had not informed me of any such prospective problem.

Disappointed to have wasted my day, I turned to leave; it was too late to go to the other branch now and start the whole process there from scratch.

As I started to leave, one of the agents approached me and told me straight up;
“Sir, your passport can be made from here and you do not need to worry at all.”

I was surprised at his optimism but he continued,
“A payment of Rs1,000 will solve the problem sir, Rs200 will be my share and the rest go to the ‘kitty’”

I weighed my options.

What could I do?

Should I just go home, come at a later date, for another experience of having to wait in line, just to have my passport renewed or should I just hand him the money and be done with it now? I was in a fix.

The agent opposite me, reading my mind, clarified the matter for me stating,
“Sir, at the end of the day, even over there, you will be delayed if you do not give some ‘kharcha pani’ (bribe). Those who do are preferred over those who don’t.”

I made my decision.

I was a part of a morally moribund society, where ‘money’ was the only power. Moral didactics were better left to textbooks and flimsy dreams of a utopia that didn’t exist; I was a part of society which had taken its last breath of morality and principles quite a long time ago.

Upon assenting, an official from inside the building came to receive me.

Within the next thirty minutes, all the processes of data entry, picture taking, biometric fingerprints and passport verification were expedited and I was done.

While those who had come with me still waited at different points in the whole inefficient process, I was done.

The official who had barred me earlier was unable to look me in the eye throughout the event.

I came back and made the payment.

The agent noticed my father’s picture in the wallet, with him donning an army uniform.

As cherry on top of the icing, the man looked at me and eagerly exclaimed,
“Oh sir, you are a fool, you should have asked your father to come along with you. All of these officials work straightforwardly only when they see an army wala!’

I shook my head with disgust and went off.

I had given a bribe to the ‘system’ and this was my first occasion of having done so. I felt I had wronged but I did not feel the guilt for it.

I felt like I had just been initiated into a society I never knew I would have to be a part of.

Read more by Taimur here.
Taimur Arbab A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Language and a graduate student at Aga Khan Institute for Educational Development, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.