Today, I can laugh about it. But in my salad days, when I was green in judgment and cold in blood, it was not so funny. There was something shameful in being copped to begin with. To then be subject to further embarrassment in the cop shed was to go from the sublime (the freedom of the open road, a first bike, and wind under the wings of your fantasy) to the ridiculous.
At the scene of the crime, the polite enough traffic policeman had confiscated my identity card despite my heated protests. Now, in the cooler climes of the cop shed, insult was to be added to injury. Holding up my NIC with no little disdain, the copper called out what he thought was written there. (Go ahead, dears, and take a moment to check out my moniker at the head of this column.)
"T. Chitra!" he sang out. No one responded, naturally enough. "T. Chitra?" a little more tentatively this time. Now an interested silence: fellow offenders curious to see who the shy, silent criminal could be. A woman? An artiste? Some politician moonlighting under a pseudonym? "T. Chitra," in a flat monotone of resignation in the persnickety officer's voice, mulling over the eventuality that his fish had slipped the bait. Then a helpful chorus joined in to make the detection.
Finally, unable to stand the cachinnation at my mauled nom de plume, I wormed my way towards the police sergeant's desk. Never sounding less like Lancelot singing "C'est moi" in the musical Camelot, I coughed discreetly and confessed to being the party of the first part. Chuckles all round, and an incredulous stare from the copper who probably earned his measly pay that day at my expense.
This was not to be my only encounter with the Sri Lankan Inquisition. Hauled up before the awful majesty of the law on another occasion, I was treated as if I had committed lèse-majesté (that's French for 'high treason', folks). First, the arresting officer - I use the term loosely - held my driving and riding licence loosely between his banana-shaped fingers and gawked loosely at it.
Then, he held it at arm's length as if he couldn't believe what he saw there and wanted to distance himself from it. Finally he put it down on the table and proceeded to process other, er, applications sotto voce. No doubt he was shaken and stirred by my nom de guerre. Everyone else's name was called out in soft, soothing decibels.
When he reached the end of his work and could postpone the painful task at hand no longer, stern duty summoned him to pluck his courage out of thin air. Picking up my DL again and muttering "Once more unto the breach, me lad!" he called out what he thought was my name… in stentorian tones that would summon Lazarus from his tomb and all the other dead in all of human history from their graves. "D. Chicken!" "D. Chicken!"
Try not to giggle so ferociously, friends. It could happen to you. In fact, worse can - and does. Only the other day my pal, playmate and helpmeet was stopped for making a wrong turn up an un-signposted broad road - only to be promptly flagged down by a copper helpfully lurking behind a telephone post rather than directing hapless motorists. A long altercation ensued, which I reproduce in précis here.
"Give me your licence."
"Tell me why."
"You made a wrong turn up a one-way."
"There is no sign."
"It is there."
"Don't you see you it?"
"Can't you see you it?"
"Oh, rogues must have stolen it."
"Ah, not my fault then…"
"But you should have known anyway."
"How can I know? There's no road sign!"
"But you broke the law; you must pay for it."
"Why don't you catch whoever stole the sign and tell them that…"
"Give me your licence."
"So that you can write me a ticket? No way!"
"Go away then, you're blocking the traffic."
"No, constable, you are."
So rather than stand there arguing with this modern Boadicea in a souped-up chariot, the generous fellow let her go.
There are the ones who don't get away. Like a chum and cobber who dared to place his mobile on the dashboard and conduct a conversation on speaker-phone.
Stopped by a cop, he pointed out that both hands were on the wheel. It transpires - after a long chat with PC Plod, a stint in the slammer, and a tête-à-tête with a magistrate - that using a hand-held device of any kind under whatever conditions is a no-go. (That includes Bluetooth, hands-free, etc., so don't say you weren't warned. Ignorance is no excuse to these ignoramuses.)
This, in a country where the long, laughable arm of the law bags petty thieves and books errant motorists; while criminal cabals rule the roost and white vans take our international reputation to the cleaners - at the same time carting citizens off to a guillotine like some contemporary tumbril.