Sunday, April 12, 2009

Me first and the rest can wait

“ If someone hits your car on the road, you should not show any kind of emotion. Not even a facial expression. You may in fact think of thanking him for teaching you a right lesson for being on his way . No harsh words , no intention of fight shanti shanti shanti…..” This was the sane advice from a colleague who regularly drives down to work from Delhi to NOIDA when I told him that I am planning to buy a car . He claims that he has seen people getting shot by country made pistol in these petty you-hit-my car fights . That is not road rage, that is simple Delhi male machismo. It is not unusual in Delhi for any car to get a dent even when it is perfectly parked or standing at a red light . It is also not unusual for people to get out of cars to settle the case on the road. Crash and there goes the front mirror. Bang and here is for your front seat ! A punch for the face may be with appropriate sound effects right there right now! Who believes in police anyways?
The metro roads on most Indian cities are buzzing with these musical sounds – which some lunatics see as noise. Getting hit by another car for no fault of yours, is just one of the perils of driving on Indian roads . Rash, reckless and even drunken driving has come of age . Its a deadly cocktail of loud music, alcohal and speeding without a reason .The Delhi drivers, fully aware of their social responsibility towards vehicles nearby , believe in playing their music on full volume. Music is good , why not share it with others. Not only that, have you not noticed that some drivers just love the sound of their horn. In a jam , just to ensure that the horn is alright , they keep buzzing it again and again. I at time feel like turning back and yelling – I am still driving an old version that can’t fly .
Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you , but not in the one ahead. --Bill Mcglashen
In smaller metros like Lucknow there is another problem of VIP sirens . Almost every second car has a dignitary passenger who claims the right of priority passage by blowing the sirens. Some intelligent car drivers even have detachable sirens, which can be used only when they can effectively pull some weight . Please do not think that our VIPs (mind you even ex-panchayat member is one!) are making noises on roads . We always have ambulances taking the nursing staff from their residences blowing a siren. In general my feelings about giving way to ambulances is echoed in this beautiful blog by Alice. But in Kolkata for the first time I noticed that ambulances of private hospitals being used for carrying the hospital staff from their residences. They shamelessly blow the sirens in a crowded street and no wonder even if there is a genuine case with a patient inside , the ambulances hardly get a way . On second thoughts , however, I feel that despite the misuse, one must give way to ambulances as just the thought of having a loved one inside it, is disturbing. Coming back to the musical roads of India , I must mention the autowallahs who feel their vehicles have model like waists and can catwalk between the zigzag of other vehicles. The scratches and marks contributed by their efforts to reach about 30 seconds earlier ….well they are incidental. Be ready for choicest of adjectives if you bar their way on the roads . If these categories of music are not enough to make Indian roads –alive with the sound of music , we also have brave hearts in pedestrians who always want to cross the road when traffic is on. You touch them and there will be a new melody instantly . Take it from me, even if the pedestrian was at fault, everyone is going to blame it on the car driver . Though sometimes, say in rainy season, when I see a car speeding and splashing the water on the poor office going pedestrians , I too feel bad. . is it that in our anxiety and urgency we fail to understand that they are exposed to the elements that we are not, or are we doing this without the slightest regard to the lesser privileged people (in terms of vehicle ownership!)?
Best sight and sound of all is the moving market on the traffic signals. So far I had seen magazines, newspapers, balloons , car cleaning service, strawberry packs and flowers …but on Delhi NOIDA highway(no.24) one can also find suit pieces , toys, vases, sport equipments and even watches with these street vendors . They must be world’s smartest salespersons for their business call time is in seconds. Their deals are unbelievable, bargain period is less then a minute and yet they do a decent business everyday . The flourish on roads because they are good for everybody- the traffic policeman gets some money from them, the passengers get some bargain deals and for rest they are tolerable distractions at signals.

I have often seen people coming back from other countries admiring the fact how people there drive without honking or without breaking rules. But all of us forget to behave in that manner in our own roads. While breaking the rules is extremely subjective in a country like India, at least the noise factor is something we can slowly progress towards abolishing. A little bit of common sense and patience if used by all , will go a long long way in improving the situations that we drive in these days. Recently in Delhi there was a drive to promote less honking. It does not appear to be very effective because an average Indian loves everything from cinema to cricket with sounds of music . A friend from Bangalore once told me that he has given up honking. “What is the use? " he argued “ …Its futile and doesn't affect anyone - animals, humans, scooter drivers , auto drivers, bus drivers et all." I don’t know if it is our ego driving our cars or our attitude of “me first at any cost” . Everyone wants to get ahead of the other even if it is a matter of seconds . We do not respect others' rights.The key is perhaps lack of COMMON SENSE. I have lost count of the number of times these "Me first at any cost" drivers overtake on the wrong side. Only to find later that our desi Schumacher is just a couple of cars ahead... or worse, cooling his heels at the next signal !!This attitude problem not only reflects in our driving style but also in our upkeep of our surroundings. I've seen educated people spitting paan on roads, chucking wrappers, banana peels and whole lot of other stuff - out of their car windows. The same lot admires the American/continental streets in more glorifying terms . The same colleague who gave me the advice for Delhi road driving, once told me the sad fact that a common thing in India is that courtesy is abused/overused instead of being appreciated. If you let one person/vehicle pass through, there will invariably be 101 vehicles behind him trying to get through.. to rub salt, they will be DEMANDING courtesy by tooting their stupid horns. Well , we do need some meditation (om shanti shanti shanti!) and some basic lessons in patience . Which on roads is definitely , the ability to idle your motors when you feel like stripping your gears.

1 comment:

alice said...

It reminds me how desperately we had tried to spot a car without a dent on our first visit to Delhi almost a decade ago..
I liked the way you have compared cacophony on the roads to music...its humourous. The loud, blaring music from the cars and also the private blue line buses. My God how often I used to get headaches from those punju songs and bhangra beats...