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Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos of Oman

In the last two weeks at Muscat, I visited the opera house, Grand Mosque, Sultan’s ceremonial palace, the Wadi Dayqah dam and quite a few museums (the defence museum being one of them) too. And I was struck by one thing. Nowhere was the camera disallowed. I mean there were places where I was not allowed to take pictures (or videos as the case may be), which is understandable, but visitors were allowed to keep their cameras with them at all times. Incidentally, I have experienced the same in some other countries too.

Contrast this with what happens in India. Not only are there ridiculous and obsolete rules about not taking pictures at many locations, at almost all museums and other places of interest, you are expected to deposit your camera, your mobile too if you are carrying one, before you can proceed. They don’t trust you to follow rules.

This depositing of cameras is a scary prospect. Apart from the fear you have of your valuable camera lying where its safety cannot be guaranteed is the greater one, of it being mishandled in your absence. Carelessly pushed aside, perhaps dropped, knobs turned and broken, anything could happen, with no one willing to take responsibility if indeed it does, the only loser being you.

Anyways, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. It is this: How come visitors are trusted to abide by rules in Oman (and other countries too), but not in India? Does that say something about us as a people? Are we not trustworthy? Do we lack integrity? But then more than half the people I saw over there were Indians. So is it that Indians behave better when they are over there, but cannot be trusted to follow rules in their own country?

At the Defence Museum in Muscat, for example, we were told we could take pictures but not videos. Just that. We were trusted to do the right thing. When will that happen here? People tell me there are probably cameras monitoring visitors over there. I don’t know about that. I feel such statements are ways to brush aside the fact that in reality we Indians think getting away with things is rather cool. The majority of us think so. If you are told ‘no photographs’ then taking them without being caught is what you do and later bragging about it. There is no iota of shame in going against rules, and no pride in abiding by them for the greater good.

How many have we heard bragging about getting away with things, rules and watchful eyes notwithstanding? The funny thing (not that I find it funny in that sense) is the secret admiration and envy such actions draw from others around. No, they don’t frown or express disapproval, I have noticed. The derisive laughter is reserved for the *sissies* who stick to rules. I should know, I have been laughed at, quite a few times. That’s the attitude that has to change, this hero-worship of those who do wrong. As a population, we need to learn to become trustworthy.

I know most may not like what I am saying. They haven’t when I have brought it up in conversations. They brought up Harishchandra as an example. He was the epitome of honesty, they told me. And you think that’s enough, to have one fictional character who was honest? Maybe a dozen more? I certainly do not deny there are individuals among us with integrity, but as a population, sorry, we lack the quality. Instead of getting all defensive, perhaps a little soul-searching on the matter won’t hurt.

©Shail Mohan 2016