I can’t remember the last time an ad struck such an immediate chord with me. It opens with a guy driving a scooter with his pregnant wife sitting behind him. They are discussing the movie they just saw, laughing and joking with one another. Just then, a car comes crashing into the street, jumping a red light – and nearly running them down in the process. The man brakes just in time and the camera moves to a close-up of his shocked face.
“Are you okay?” he asks his wife, who is clutching her baby bump protectively. His ashen-faced wife responds with a breathless, “Yes, I am fine.”
And the voiceover says, “Because the streets are filled with idiots.
It doesn’t really matter where you live. One metro is as bad as the other and the smaller towns are no better. People run signals with impunity, jump lanes at will, turn without bothering with the indicator, overtake from the wrong side, side-swipe you at the slightest provocation, and drive much too fast on roads with far too much traffic, weaving in and out like mad drunks (which, scarily enough, some of them are).
You need nerves of steel to survive a day out on Indian roads. If you are driving a car, you have to look out for jaywalking pedestrians who believe that they have right of way in every situation; you must dodge oversized buses and overloaded trucks which think nothing of squeezing you off the road; you need to watch for fellow drivers who happily flout every traffic rule, taking a U-turn where it is expressly forbidden and driving down the wrong direction in one-way lanes.
Sometimes when I watch the chaos that characterises our roads from the safety of the back seat – unfortunately (or do I mean fortunately?) I never did learn how to drive in my youth and now it is far too late – I wonder how we manage to survive the madness: the road rage; the reckless overtaking; the illegal parking; and yes, the sheer idiocy.
The streets are filled with idiots. I had an encounter with one shining example a couple of weeks ago when I emerged from my bank. The bright spark had parked his car bang in the middle of the street outside and then disappeared on some mysterious errand. The traffic backed up on the road creating a complete logjam while the parking attendants scrambled around to find him. After a good 15 minutes, he emerged from one of the adjacent buildings, completely ignored the irate shouts of the people stuck in their cars because of him, calmly started his car and drove away.
I guess it could have been worse. He could have shouted back, the fight could have escalated, violence could have resulted and someone could have been killed.
Yes, that’s been known to happen too, most famously in Delhi’s tony Khan Market, where an altercation led to the death of a manager of a nearby restaurant. He got into a fight with another man at the crossing, was angry enough to step out of his car to hit him, the other driver tried to speed away and ran over him – accidentally, or so the story goes – resulting in his death.
Sadly, such events are not as rare as we would like to think. Every week or so there is a story in our newspapers about one such case. Two neighbours got into a spat about a parking space; one pulled out a gun and shot the other fellow dead. Two cars collided with one another in a busy street; one driver was beaten so badly that he ended up in hospital. A child was run over by a DTC bus, the driver is now absconding. A carload of people were killed as they ran into a truck on a highway.
What is even more worrying is the stuff that is considered so routine that we no longer even bother to bat an eyelid at it. The odd scratch and bump on the car is seen as par for the course if you drive on Indian roads. Nobody thinks twice about driving back home after a party, no matter how many drinks you have put away in the course of the evening. And running a light or taking an illegal turn is okay so long as there is no cop around to note your car number and send you a challaan.
One of the reasons why there are so many idiots out on the road is just this sab-chalta-hai attitude most of us adopt on the roads. After all, if we don’t hold ourselves up to any significant standard of good behaviour when we are behind the wheel, how on earth can we expect other people to behave with a modicum of good sense?
Until that changes, I am afraid, the tag line of that ad will remain as accurate as ever – and our streets will remain filled with idiots.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami.
- From HT Brunch, April 24
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