By Ramjaane Feb. 23, 2018
While we publicly bemoan Harshad Mehta or Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya getting away by scamming the country, a tiny part of us also says “wow”. Only in India can a person be met with respect for being a large-scale racketeer.
Yesterday, I realised that there was a crackdown on rolling papers, the kind you use to roll umm… tobacco. Cops were swooping in on local panwaaris, checking if they stocked it and confiscating whatever they could find. My first instinct was to ask the shopkeeper, “Kuch ho sakta hai kya?” convinced that he must have a stash hidden somewhere.
“Kuch ho sakta hai kya?” The phrase that every Indian trots out when the rulebook is thrown at us.
We say it when we are met with a door that is closed, a deadline is missed, or a product that is banned. When we are met with a firm “No”, we promptly follow it up with a beseeching “Dekho na, please.” These two statements together are a desperate plea to find a way to get away when we have entered a one-way street, broken a signal, travelled ticketless, evaded a small tax, avoided depositing demonetised notes in time, or cheated on an exam.
No for us never means no; it almost always means there is room for negotiation, that there is a possibility that it will eventually convert into a “yes”. We will try our luck even if we know the result is guaranteed failure, like a pack of footballers arguing with referees when they pull out a card. It’s futile, but they still do it.
The fear of getting caught doesn’t exist because chances are that the person who catches you has also asked the same question when up against a wall. The “Dekho Na Kuch Ho Sakta Hai Kya” Syndrome is acceptable currency in the conversation of rule-breaking. It is the conversation that gets your foot inside a fast-closing door. I’m betting Nirav Modi must have used it to get his first LoU underway. It starts with a plea and spirals to notoriety.
Why do we do it? So many of us, whether we are Nirav Modi or Nandu Mirchi?
In a country where you have very little going for you, we live by looking for small victories to celebrate. This feeling of “Hey, I got away with it” is a strong one. It’s why we bought train tickets with old notes and cancelled them and got repaid in new ones. It’s something that commands respect in our society. It’s probably only in our country that a person can proudly claim that they evaded tax and be met with respect for having scammed the system. It is always Us vs The System.
Beating the system feels like a small victory, and it doesn’t matter what the system is
We don’t not pay taxes because we don’t believe in them or because taxes don’t give us anything. We don’t pay them because we simply can. We are classic Loophole-Spotters, and we admire that trait in others. In fact, we worship those who can. We wish we could do it too. When we bemoan Harshad Mehta or Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya getting away with it, there is also a tiny part of us that says “wow”. Deep down, in the eternal fight of Us vs The System, we want the system to lose.
This is not to say we are dishonest people. But just knowing that a loophole exists and can be exploited gives us great hope, and makes us warm inside. What separates us from the Modis and the Mallyas is just scale. For businessmen like Mallya it is 9,000 crore. For politicians like A Raja, it is 2L crore. For you and me, it is avoiding a ₹200 fine. Beating the system feels like a small victory, and it doesn’t matter what the system is.
This fight against The System is not taught to us. Our parents didn’t rear us like this. In fact, I doubt it can be taught. It’s just inherent – acquired through years of just having to function in this country.
We have been reared with stories of people always getting cornered by The System. The man who is harassed by the government, the relative who has no fees to fight the legal system, the hospital that won’t admit a sick patient. All of these stories are inside us and have built an Us vs Them narrative.
The rebels are those who defy governments, systems, rules, or teachers – they become people we look up to. You know an uncle who does this, a chacha who has taken a punt and gotten away with it. Anyone who has dared to ask “Kuch ho sakta hai kya” is a small-scale hero.