Struck with a spate of military transport accidents in his command, the General Officer Commanding addressed the officers of the division. "Gentlemen, we must adopt defensive driving as our mantra." He stressed on holding training classes for the rank and file to hone the skills involved in this novel concept.
Some young officers walked up to the general during tea break and expressed apprehensions about drilling a defensive mindset rather than an offensive one. The general was amused at the offensive spirit of his young leaders.
His golden gospel, as I recollect today, nearly 30 years after I spearheaded the discussion with the general as part of the young clan of the Army, had long-term logic. 'Son, just grant an extra degree of error to fellow motorists. Hone the skill of patience and everything else will fall into place." The mantra stood by me during service exceptionally well and I ended my innings in the Army with more or less no accident, both, involving me or the troops that I commanded.
Back home, I did practise it during stints of leave. Things, however, have changed now. An unprecedented increase in vehicle population on the good old roads coupled with proportionate increase of undisciplined traffic, travails of drunken driving, distractions of mobile phones, FM music and rolled-up windows have turned the business of commuting a challenge. I have stuck to the concept of defensive driving with determination, whether it entails driving or parking. All this did test my patience and has delayed my itineraries, but has kept me away from mishaps, arguments or road rage.
The flip side of the practice, the other day, however, left me both sad and happy. During an aimless shopping jaunt a couple of days prior to Diwali, we got caught at a busy intersection with dysfunctional traffic lights. It was a typical snarl. As a principled follower of defensive driving, I patiently waited for orderliness to prevail, which materialised only once the traffic lights came back to life. The wait was a good half hour!
During this time, I had to listen to incessant honking by the trailing vehicles and of course bitter nothings and snide looks from my pretty co-passenger, my wife. We did finally reach our destination. Alas, we were late and the place had shut down for the day. The agonising delay at the traffic light point, in the lighter vein, saved me a few thousands. Thanks to defensive driving, I prefer sticking to it for life!