The restaurant broke the business curfew, and should’ve been closed down by the officers of the Haji Ali police post, which was only twenty metres away. But Indian pragmatism recognised that civilised people in large, modern cities needed places to gather and hunt. The owners of certain oases of noise and fun were permitted to bribe various officials and cops in order to stay open, virtually all night. That wasn’t, however, the same thing as having a licence. Such restaurants and bars were operating illegally, and sometimes the appearance of compliance had to be displayed. Regular phone calls alerted the police post at Haji Ali when a commissioner or a minister or some other VIP intended to drive past. With a co-operative bustle, the lights were turned out, the cars dispersed, and the restaurant was forced to a temporary close. Far from discouraging people, that small inconvenience added a touch of glamour and adventure to the commonplace act of buying snacks. Everyone knew that the restaurant at Haji Ali, like every other illegal nightspot in town that faked a close, would reopen in less than half an hour. Everyone knew about the bribes that were paid and taken. Everyone knew about the warning phone calls. Everyone profited, and everyone was well pleased. The worst thing about corruption as a system of governance, Didier once said, is that it works so well.

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A quote saved on Nov. 5, 2015.


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