Rulers of the road

The whole of life's tortuous journey is condensed in a kilometre of urban chaos.

With the late autumn showers no longer drenching us in our park in Mysore, I was glad to compare notes with a friend on our present and future prospects.  

“How is the traffic at your Akashavani circle these days?” asked a stroller habitué as we sat on a wobbly cement concrete bench in the park. “For me,” I replied, “this junction of six roads, sundry lanes and short-cuts is a metaphor of India: It is survival of the luckiest.” He had read my article two months ago, praising the new installed traffic lights. Thanks to divine dispensation, no major accidents at this ‘circle’ junction have been reported, yet.

There is a modicum of order in the lining up of vehicles behind the lights. But Indian independence is unimpaired, because the stop line is invisible or lost in traffic. Drivers disregard rules of the road, convinced that they are the rulers of the road in the world’s biggest democracy. The old English idiom, “Each one for himself and devil take the hindmost” could be their motto. 

We got used to the new regime at the ‘circle’ since it was not worse than the previous disorder. But we were riled when we joined the vehicular queue and found a scramble all around us, with cars, vans, trucks, autos, two-wheelers and pedestrians squeezing by to advance past makeshift barriers, ignoring the red and orange lights. We risked our lives when crossing the zone even if the light turned green for us, with speedsters rushing traffic from the other side. 

The Indian motto of “me first” was amply evident here. The worst was the car behind – blaring away on an over-loud klaxon, the driver waving his arms to urge us forward. My counter-signal pointing to the red light above was answered by a longer salvo of decibels. Once, when I was rash enough to get out and remonstrate with the rude driver, he scoffed and advised me to go back to the West. 

We could compile an anthology of traffic violations from our halts behind the frontlines. The police made the final lap of our busy street ‘one way’, which obliged us take a parallel lane below to the circle. Here we had to cope with new hazards from vehicles converging and sneaking around us as we legally inched forward at the crossing. 

I want to be positive about India. But let us honestly admit that we lack pride in our tradition of ‘paropahara’ or helping others. On motorbikes we see riders without standardised helmets, with  women and kids and cutely sandwiched infants, despite news reports of a minister being chided for a similar transgression. We have cars overtaking us from the left or right, showing no signal. Though crores of rupees are allotted to improve roads, we have bumps, humps, ruts and man-holes, live electric wires on what were footpaths – the whole of life’s tortuous journey condensed in a kilometre of urban chaos. 

We must admit our moral deficit before trying to emulate others. We can be a beacon of civilisation and progress only if we consolidate our patriotic pride.

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