There was a time when getting a number plate for your vehicle was a simple-matter. The Man from Madras Musings speaks of a not so distant past when each time you bought a new vehicle (which was not so often, no matter how well to do you were), you took it to the Regional Transport Office, applied for a number and got one eventually, along with the number plate, this being the RTO’s responsibility. There was a standard for the number plate and that is what everyone followed.

Then came this craze for customised number plates. Some wanted them to be in outlandish fonts. Others had strange ways of depicting the number. A third felt that zeroes before any number were useless anyway. The Government vehicles wanted a ‘G’ to indicate that they were ferrying Gods on earth and so were above any and all laws.

Then came doctors who had a plus put on their vehicles and in case that did not make it plain to the meanest intelligence as to who was driving or travelling in the vehicle, a ‘Dr’ was also added. MMM is not sure if the Drs expect the police to believe that they always are on emergency services and so need to be waved on at all traffic lights. But he would assume that if this were to be the case, they could also add ‘Er’ (short for Emergency) on their number plates.

MMM also assumes that the Drs would have done this had it not been for the Engineers who rather nimbly stole a march and usurped those letters. Now why should an engineer need to jump signals? But they were not alone, for along came the lawyers who put up stickers depicting collar bands. That can have only one implied message – don’t mess with me on traffic rules or I will see you in court.

Be that as it may, number plates now come in all shapes and sizes. Like many other things in our country, the making of number plates has been privatised and so there is really no standard. The latest craze was sold on the basis of patriotism. Apparently many countries have number plates that have the initials of the nation on the side with a hologram below. Those who travelled abroad would often lament about how India was lagging behind on this. And then one day, presto! The Government okayed those number plates with IND followed by a hologram and many, including MMM, took to using them. Only it now transpires that the Government never sanctioned these. As to who sanctioned them, we shall never know and it will rank among those all time mysteries such as the Man in the Iron Mask and closer home, the Bhawal Sanyasi case.

The upshot is that the police have swung into action with what can only be termed as glee. They lurk behind trees and jump out at cars thereby causing nervous drivers to shy and rear. In fact, were it not for the seat belt law, many could fall off their saddles. But this is no concern of the police. They are after the IND plates with holograms and their duty being their sole concern, they have been apprehending motorists and fining them. Some, who later unburdened their feelings to MMM, also informed him that they made bold to ask the police as to what their crime was. To this they were told that the police were not so sure themselves but this they did know that something was being violated and so a fine would have to be paid. And that, as they say, was that!

When MMM lamented about his IND number plate to his chauffeur he was told not to worry, the matter was in capable hands. It was only later that MMM got to know what had been done. It was a typical Indian solution – a piece of paper had been pasted over the IND and the hologram. When MMM protested, he was told to remain silent, for, said the chauffeur, you never knew when the IND number plates would become legal again. This way, he said, you did not incur the cost of changing number plates twice.