It was too late to slow down – the cop had his speed-gun aimed and had his hand out signaling Runa, the trusty navigator to stop.

It had been a tediously slow drive back from the hills to Colombo as there were sporadic stretches of road in horrendous condition due to the ongoing road expansion. No amount of ranting at the mental midgets in charge of our highways had made any difference to their incompetence and the idiocy continues unabated, causing untold hardships to the residents along the route and to the unfortunates that have to experience traversing it – us among them.

The ‘done’ stretch starts around Beluhil Oya – nice and wide and with a super surface – perfect for reasonably fast-ish driving. Hardly any traffic either, so the going was pretty smooth and we were making up for lost time. Around Ratnapura, however, the traffic intensifies and since it takes only one moron to screw things up, we found ourselves behind a trail of assorted vehicles. An ancient lorry was chugging along at the pace of a speedy snail, followed by a combination of container flat-beds, a small tractor-trailer, private busses, cars and SUVs. The snaking road left few opportunities to overtake, with the oncoming traffic posing problems whenever there was a straight stretch ahead. And so the gradual process of getting ahead of the vehicle in front of us began – until finally, we got clear. And as if in celebration of the liberation, Runa stepped on it and we flew forward – free of the impediments of the crawlers. We were close to Avissawela, which meant only an hour to reach home, when the dreaded spectre with the speed-gun loomed in front and signaled us to stop.

‘Fuck!’, was the automatic expression trhat escaped my lips, whilst I quickly groped for the letter that is from a government ministry that informs whoever reads it that that this vehicle is engaged in rehabilitation work in the east. It was originally meant to ease our passage when encountering the numerous security check-points east of Monaragala on the way to Komari. This document has got us out of many a jam and has even persuaded traffic cops in many parts of the country to let us off with a warning, so it was like an automatic reaction to whip it out. I heard Runa say something to the cop, who was displaying the piddly 76 kms on the screen of his speed-gun, as he handed him the letter. Didn’t seem to work this time though, as Runa returned to get the license, registration and whatever else and followed the cop who was rendezvousing with his sergeant partner who was hiding behind some bushes – sneaky!

Anyway, we got written up and Runa was handed a scrap of paper – his temporary driver’s license, until he redeemed his own after paying the fine. All well and good! However, the major bummer was that the incompetent shit-heads didn’t have the proper form on which to write up the offense, so they told Runa to go to the Police Station, get the proper form filled up, then go to the Post Office, pay the fine, get a receipt and then he could get his license back!

Frustration personified, we went through the process. Cop shop – form filled – Post Office – fine paid (Rs. 1,100!!) – back to the spot where the cops were to get the license back –NO COPS!! Okay, be cool, I tell myself. No point in getting hassled over something entirely beyond control. So I was ‘cool’, but mouthed a few expletives for a few kilometers, wondering why I ever bother leaving the tranquility of Flower Book.

I was told later, that the best way to ease the pain is to slip a Rs. 500 note with the license, saying that if it is a spot fine please take it and they won’t need to bother with the hassle of writing it up. Never have tried that yet, but next time – who knows?

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