Friday, 4 May 2012

Fisticuffs - The North & South of them

Marvel Comics introduced its superhero character of "The incredible Hulk" sometime in the 60s. The background is well known - Dr. Bruce Banner - a physicist exposed to radiation from an experimental gamma bomb explosion turns to a mammoth green monster when enraged or provoked into anger. The introvert scientist usually reserved and withdrawn becomes a creature seething with uncontrollable rage - exuding super human strength that destroys anything and everything in his path. 

Well, so much for getting you guys warmed up to the topic of my today's post, Rage - more so on the busy 'Sadaks' of India - the North and South of them. Being a Bangalorean yet working in Noida, makes me look at things from a southern perspective. It is how I am wired. It is how we are all wired. 

A particular incident in the busy commercial space of Karol Bagh, New Delhi on a very pleasant Sunday in February this year and my sudden remembrance of the same today, triggered my blogger juices to make a post out of it. Sowmya was visiting from Bangalore and I had taken her on her maiden metro ride to the Karol Bagh shopping district to reduce my wallet's weight and add to her luggage some precious bags, jeans, jackets etc etc. While on a leisurely stroll on the crowded pavements, we came across an unusual gathering of a motley crowd at an intersection. There was a clear sight of 2 sedans parked awkwardly in the middle of the intersection blocking traffic and pedestrian flow. Out on the streets were the owners of these sedans, exchanging 'unpleasantries'. Each one aiming at one-up man ship by trying to intimidate the other with innovative mix - match of profanities, which thankfully only I understood and wifey was blissfully ignorant. We had time to kill and I insisted on staying a little while longer and watch the saga unfold. Fingers were pointed at each other & came as close as within a few centimeters from either person's eyes. 

The chill in the wind was not cold enough to sooth either of their nerves and lo! all of a sudden they turned pugilists and a fisticuffs battle ensued! I would have stayed longer and soaked in the free entertainment if Sowmya hadn't prodded me to vacate the space and move on further to spend more of my hard earned money on some vanity bags and high cut shoes for her. 

This might have been a first of a kind road rage incident for her, since not many such incidents happen near her maternal home of Mysore, where motorists are friendly and law abiding and extremely cordial towards each other. Any rare occurrence of a minor mishap would result in the drivers stepping out of their cars and inspecting the damages caused if any. No damage - no problem. Its time to move on. Of course apologies are exchanged and there are no Hulk moments. May be it is because of the subdued pace of the city or the culture of the natives that advises them against display of useless rage on the roads. 

Bangalore, my city on the other hand is quite different. Though not as 'radical' as the North, it is quite a temperamental city and road rage is a known entity on Bangalore's narrow roads and people are much more impatient and irascible compared to the royal city. However, it is interesting that in Bangalore, the tempers flare but soon subside when it comes to going beyond the normal exchange of profanities in the vernacular language. The other usual exercises of stepping out & inspecting damages do happen, but rarely does the matter proceed towards fisticuffs and an all out battle on the street. 

I have observed that in India, where there is a striking disparity amongst people, there is a greater bias against car owners / drivers when compared to riders of 2 wheelers and auto rickshaws. Call it mob justice or what, but it is common practice to hold the one driving the car to fault in cases of road mishaps - small or big. 

In the southern cities, people are more rational and more sympathetic to the situation. They construe the whole incident as unfortunate which should not have happened in the first place. However in Delhi and NCR, I have seen young chaps driving rickety bikes and old 2 stroke scooters terrorize the fellow in the car in case of a lapse in concentration. Once, on my way home from my office in Sector 127, enroute Nithari road, I saw these rider - pillion duo on an old Bajaj Chetak driving quite precariously. A Santro from behind who had to turn the other side just made a wrong calculation of his distance from the scooter and knicked the rear of 2 wheeler which made the duo taste dust. Thankfully, all this happened at quite low speeds and no one was hurt. The scooter rider immediately stood up, demanding the car windows to be rolled down (since I was in an auto rickshaw I was able to look at this in real time as my driver felt morally obliged to step out and resolve the issue if it ever went out of hand - yeah! Noida mein aisa hi hota hai - in the words of my auto driver) and when it was done, he immediately took out the car keys and barked at the car driver to step out of the vehicle and soon the fisticuffs started. 

I mentioned this incident because I myself was involved in such an incident while driving my car in Bangalore - Bull temple road to be precise. I was still a novice then and my half clutch was only average. Bangalore has the highest 2 wheeler population - not only in India but the whole of the world! There was a rather uphill road that I had to negotiate and there was a busy crossing in between. The more experienced drivers zipped past me without trouble and I was stuck with my average half clutch, the risk of the engine turning off and the fear of constant loud honking from behind. The situation was already out of control and when I put her on first gear and pushed the gas peddle, she just roared to life and plunged forward only to collide with a crossing 2 wheeler. Obviously he fell and my car came to a grinding halt. Extreme fear of public mortification & the pangs of guilt prevented me from stepping out of the car. The guy on the fallen Honda Activa stood up with a face so angry that reminded me of dad when I had done something wrong. The usual demand to roll down the windows which I meekly obliged to - being a novice with a new car and all. Much to my relief the fellow did not even lay a hand on my car let alone on me. He just showered me with his arsenal of best local profanities which I attributed to my bad karma! I was let off after a few seconds of lip service! This happens only in the south! 

I wonder what the differences were in the 2 situations except for the locations where they were placed. I have always wondered why people in the North are more susceptible to anger and how easily take it one step further to vent out their rage. Maybe they take the Hindi proverb of "Jiski Lathi Uski Bhains" logic a tad too seriously. 

In the south, people believe in poetic justice and rely on Karma making the decisions. Of late, however, I feel that the whole of India, is becoming more and more vulnerable to PDR (Public Display of Rage) and I only hope, a scientific approach to traffic management and a more responsible attitude of drivers will develop to avoid a total - No holds barred - free for all - mayhem on the streets. 

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