Friday, 6 April 2012

The Great Indian Traffic Tamasha

Creating this post sitting in the plush premises of the Delhi Domestic Airport, Terminal 1D on my way to Namma Bengaluru.

As my cab snaked its way through the narrow labyrinths of Noida and the wide corridors of New Delhi a great saga unfolded in my restless mind.

I may sound like a bickering old hag all the while complaining the plight of affairs in our country. Hell yeah! I have spent a jolly good part of my life on these dusty lanes travelling from point A to point B. But the journey in between these 2 dots on the Google map is what makes the mere sight of the destination a monumental occasion.

Traffic on Indian roads have great stories to tell if you have the ears and the eyes for it. Many a great director of the glorious Indian film Industry (as Bachan Saab prefers it) built castles in the air waiting for the signal to turn green on the busy Mumbai roads during rush hour.

Supposedly, an average person spends almost 5 years of his lifetime waiting in traffic. 5 years is good enough to fetch you a handsome package of gratuity. Yet, all these lost moments do have something in store for all of us. It enriches your experience. It changes your outlook towards the mundane. It makes you sink in a feeling of gratitude towards your old man and woman and the supreme deity (for the believers) for the good life that your bestowed with.

How often do we just wish we are teleported from our places of work to our home just like they do on Star Trek. "Beam me up Scotty!!" you would instruct your maid at home. Scientific minds working regardless of the position of the sun outside their cordoned off laboratories have in fact already achieved this feat at the atomic level. Science fiction is no longer that. It is on the threshold of becoming an application.

Tamasha is a folk dance - drama art form which was much sought after by Maharashtra's great rulers. It also imbibes the unique art of satire and tease.

The Traffic scenario on the Indian roads is no less a Tamasha. If you have the writer's eye for it, you will observe it has so much more to offer than just dust and smoke and the sore sight of that haggardly beggar pestering you for small change at every next traffic junction.

While In Bangalore I had the distinction of travelling the furthest and I would boast about it shamelessly in front of my colleagues. How it was an advantage in my quest for superiority is unknown. Travelling almost 65 km on my trusty Bajaj Pulsar 150, I connected the south to the north of the Garden City. The mornings were virtually event free but in the twilight of the setting sun, I saw the nocturnal beings come out of their hiding.

There were freelancing salesmen hawking the strangest of wares such as a 64 GB pen drive, cheap knock offs of expensive looking Police and Rayban Sunglasses and cute looking toys which you could use to decorate your car's dashboard. There were also less interesting "items" such as those horrid ear buds (you would have already come across an email warning you against buying those), those oh so expensive rag clothes, etc etc.

Stopping at the one of the countless traffic junctions, one could see an entire family of wanderers, nomads or the desi Bedouins camping at one of the sprawling pavements or under one of those newly constructed flyovers dotting the city - scape, putting up for display brightly coloured porcelain figurines, baskets, vases, lamp shades made out of bamboo straw, hammocks and such other interesting stuff. One can see a newly born sleeping on a make shift cradle while the elder kids are seen playing or enjoying a friendly fight. The women folk are busy arranging the crude stove for the family's evening fiesta. This is an entire family trying to make an honest living. We often ignore them and move on when the signal turns green never to think once if the man of the house has been able to earn enough that day to provide for his folk.

One also sees at a corner a spread of popular books for sale. You see Stephen king rubbing shoulders with Stephen Hawking, Shiv Khera flirting with Tasleema Nasreen, John Grisham demanding attention over the Chetan Bhagats. Copy right infringement or not, Indians with an active appetite for reading mill around such corners in droves to get a great deal on some equally great paper backs. You have books on management, inspirational - motivational, religion, Sci - fi, fiction & non fiction, biographies and graphic novels.

It isn't a problem in Delhi, but come down to Mumbai and Bangalore, it is sometimes scary to stop at a traffic junction. If it is not the thick pall of smoke from BEST or BMTC buses depending on where you are, that frightens you, it is the sight of harassing transvestites doing their daily rounds demanding alms from hapless commuters. Moreover, you do not get rid of them by shelling out coins and notes of a lower denomination. Anything less than a Rs 10 note then you are in for a truckload of profanities thrown at you. Even worse, you are often blackmailed into paying ransom money of sorts to protect your modesty from the transgenders. The police are helpless as they are too held up regulating the ocean of traffic.

The policemen stationed at all traffic junctions are real heroes who are doing the society an awesome service through their unrelenting efforts at keeping the traffic from getting out of control. Their patience and perseverance ensures that we all get home to our dear ones on time and enjoy a warm evening with them.
We often feel that the policemen are not polite enough and often behave in a manner unbecoming of their role of protecting and guiding the citizens.
But, imagine spending morning - noon - evening in a 5 x 5 feet area manning thousands of gas guzzling and smoke belching automobiles, unruly pedestrians, jaywalkers who put at risk their own lives as well as that of speeding motorists. Working in total oblivion to both ethereal and kernel damage their health is undergoing, they go about with their duties. Sincerely, they deserve at least a moment of thought and appreciation from one and all.

India is the maternal home of the Holy Cow. We have the largest number of cattle in the world. Indian cities are the only places where the cows and oxen hobnob with the BMWs, Toyotas and the Mercs. It is common sight for us all to see a motley herd of cows and calves chewing on cud resting in the middle of busy roads totally ignorant of the morning rush hour. Motorists in India are adept in negotiating around these benign creatures. Of course, these gentle beings are politely ushered out of the roads if the situation gets out of hand.
Stray cattle are our long standing companions on the road and we often feel something's amiss when we don't see them on a particularly odd day.

The Indian traffic scene is a very big petting zoo where you come across farm animals other than the proverbial holy cow. You are greeted by howling packs of stray canines, cats of myriad colours crossing the roads, rats & bandicoots scurrying towards the nearest drain, pigs scavenging on the road side refuse dump, the dhobi's donkeys just chilling out and the tangewallah's mules loitering around in their off time.

They say India has as many Gods as there are people. This is a holy land where there are more temples and shrines than there are homes for the homeless and the poor. The traffic scene in India also witnesses crowds of believers queuing up in front of shrines that seem to come up from nowhere bang in the center of a busy road. We are a God fearing nation and we are more than glad to have a temple of our favourite deity to have come up on the road. Of course, it is because of divine intervention that we all survive the madness. We see people stopping their posh 4 wheelers and genuflecting in front of the idol, bribing the priest to pray on their behalf. On special occasions such as birthdays of mythical warrior kings who are revered as Gods, we see men & women swarming the road - shrine seeking Their blessings. Of course, this throws traffic out of gear, but hey! we are a tolerant nation and surely we do not mind compromising on our Log in time in return for a celestial favor.

India's two greatest passions are cricket and movies. Entertainment is a cure all for the battered & bruised average Indian who finds solace in it. The slow moving traffic provides easy access to the latest updates in the arena of entertainment to the star struck Indian looking out for a quick gateway to the dream world. The rooftops of hotels, office spaces, commercial complexes and even houses lined on either side of the roads are hosts to huge fabricated structures called billboards endorsing a product or the latest release on the marquee.
Motorists are quite often distracted by the beckoning of the attractive female on the poster strategically positioned by the advertising agency to garner maximum attention of the passing motorists.

The Indian spirit of adventurism is an unconventional one as we experience adventure in the seemingly mundane. The traffic scene gives us the rare opportunity for self introspection and to reflect upon our past. As we circumnavigate the sprawling traffic island, our life too comes full circle.

I salute the indomitable Indian spirit and thank the supreme almighty that blesses the children of this majestic country the courage and patience to survive the Great Indian Traffic Tamasha.

“Experience is by far the best teacher. You know, ever since I was a little girl I knew that if you look both ways when you cross the street, you'll see a lot more than traffic.”
 - Mae West, American Actress (1892 - 1980)

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