I have been to the Sheikh Sarai RTO just once in my life, to get my licence. I failed my written (I think I secured seven out of 20, when the pass mark was 10), but got my licence thanks to a tout who told me that people actually cough up money (pay a bribe, that is) to get a posting at RTOs — there's so much money to be made.
I still remember one of the catch-lines on the pamphlets distributed gratis at the RTO: 'Lane driving is sane driving'. I may have flunked my test, but am a fast learner; so, I've learnt that, in Delhi, if you do lane driving, you die. There's nothing more insane than drive in a straight line (isn't that what constitutes a lane?) - only you don't land up in the asylum, your body lands up in the mortuary. And you switch on indicators generally to mislead people.
We always knew that Delhi has a greater vehicular population than all the other three metros combined; its gotten worse: these days, it reportedly has more cars than the sum total in the individual states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and West Bengal, and 17 per cent of Indian cars have Delhi number plates. More than 2 lakh units are added every year into this great car-pot that's fast melting over.
Even three years ago, one of my favourite pastimes used to be driving. I loved it. I insisted on dropping car-less friends home. I went off on long drives alone, much to the consternation of people around me. But over the last three years, it's all changed. I cringe at the thought of getting behind the wheel — and it's not because I've evolved, and shifted gears to more meaningful activities like gardening. It's because something has changed on Delhi's dashboard.
I read in HT City about a kid boasting how his father gifted him a Honda City because he "passed" his boards: hell, I got pretty decent marks during my time, but couldn't even get a bicycle out of my dad! Each time I see Pretty Young Things, pillion-riders, in incredibly low-slung jeans, clinging tight to their boyfriends who are doing the Mad Max zig-zag stuff, their manes a swirling maze, I think of serums, conditioners, frizz-control hair lotions disappearing off shop-shelves. How on earth do they manage to keep their crowning glories intact? Ah well, I'll never find out.
A few days ago, I nearly fainted when I saw a bus driver take the most daring U-turn, at a crowded crossing, at night, on a road with almost no streetlights (but lots of high beams) - talking into a cellphone. Everyday, there are at least ten giant-sized cars that bear down on me viciously because they feel might is right. Or maybe they feel that with great horsepower, comes greater irresponsibility. Even cyclists are taking on car-drivers like never before: there's so much attitude in the glares they direct towards the four-wheeled variety. And nobody in his or her right sense - the sort who've passed the written at RTO — seems to want to drive any more.