Recently, at dusk, a traffic policeman stopped my friend's rented car on one of the city's busy suburban station roads. He said that the car had been going in the wrong direction on a one way street. The driver pointed out that there was no prominent sign indicating the one way, and the fact that BEST buses were allowed in both directions added to the confusion.
Insisting there was a sign, the cop added that only he--no motorist and not even his own boss--could decide whether the driver had erred or not. He demanded her licence, but she refused to hand it over, fearing that she wouldn't get it back. My Mumbai-born and bred colleague was getting late for an engagement. So she got out of the car and tried to mediate the stand-off in Marathi. Pleading guilt on her chauffeur's behalf, she said the woman had driven carefully all day, and that the violation was a genuine mistake and not a disregard for traffic rules.
Shrewdly taking the cue, the driver pledged never to repeat the error. Suddenly softening his stance just a little, the cop said magnanimously, "You have admitted your mistake. I've done my job by making you understand that you were wrong. And I've decided to let you off."
Then, almost without a pause, he turned to my friend and demanded, "Do you speak Marathi?" She was flabbergasted. Not only had the entire conversation taken place in Marathi, but the question had no relevance to the situation. Surely the city's traffic rules are the same in any language.