I was driving through Islamabad recently when a traffic policeman pulled me over. As a moderately conscientious motorist who has never received a ticket or fine nor been in any kind of significant accident my brushes with traffic policemen are infrequent. In fact in Pakistan the only reason I ever have to speak with one is either because they are bored and want someone to chat to, or, as happened to me recently, they want to borrow a pencil.
I didn’t have one. He seemed confused.
“If you don’t have a pencil, how do you write?” he asked.
I attempted to respond that although I liked writing I tended to do so with a computer, and, either way, that I tended not to do any kind of writing while driving, but he laughed and waved me on.
Anyway, on this particular day the policeman seemed moderately irate. This is odd, because in my experience Pakistani traffic policemen are courtesy itself. I greeted him and asked him what the matter was.
“You were talking on your phone” he said. This was undeniable. A friend had called about a meeting later in the day and I had answered. Though illegal in the West I had no idea that such a thing was also illegal in Pakistan.
I told him that I was terribly sorry and that I had no idea such a law existed. He flipped to the appropriate page in his book of fines and showed me the small print. There it was – “talking on mobile, 300 rupee fine”. Bang to rights. Caught red handed. Busted.
“I’m so sorry, sir” I replied. “You’re quite right. I ask for your forgiveness”.
He seemed dumbstruck. He scratched his head in confusion.
“You know I have to give you a ticket, right?” he said.
“Of course, you are quite right. It is your job. I am sorry to have caused you such bother”.
He didn’t know what to do. People in Pakistan generally argue in this kind of situation. Minor infractions lead to major disagreements, with lots of gesticulating, shouting, and usually bystanders getting involved for no apparent reason other than their love of a good show. Nobody ever apologises, and certainly nobody ever asks for forgiveness.
“Ok, next time” he said, with a confused face and perhaps the hint of a smile. “Don’t do it again”.