Jan 25, 2012

Dead Right, Pune

This was saved in my drafts for over two months. I desisted from publishing it because I didn't know if this was a harsh over-reaction to everyday life in Pune. But today, after hearing this incident, I felt compelled to put it out. Yes, this was a unique case, one 'madman' causing damage at such a scale. But what we face each day is, IMO, just the same only at a smaller scale. Caused by us 'sane' people.

What would you say if I told you I was facing death threats? ("Lucky you" isn't the right answer.) That some persons outside, entirely unknown to me, represent a grave mortal danger to my well-being? Each day? And these numbered not in the ones or the tens, but in the hundreds?

I am not joking.

That's just how it is to go out on the streets these days. I don't think it's an exaggeration. I don't see a difference between sending these people into the city with a bunch of loaded guns with their safety catches off. Though, people with gun licenses are infinitely more responsible than with driving licences.

There are people who are blissfully unaware of most rules of traffic (don't insult the jungle by making a comparison - at least the jungle's rules are followed). There are people who will miss a turn, then reverse half a kilometer to avoid taking the next gap in the divider ahead. There are people who think flashing their lights at vehicles and passers-by automatically empties the road. There are people who will force you into a mistake by honking repeatedly. There are small people in big, ugly vehicles who think driving in a big box enables them to muscle another person off the planet. There are people who will ruin your day for you, for free.

These are people who can maim you. Or kill you. Or someone close to you.

There's nothing very funny about "that's the way we drive". You might not like it if I, like some Middle Eastern despot, shot off rounds randomly at you and said "that's the way we shoot here".

It's sickening to see anyone on foot, especially the elderly, having to scamper for their lives, each time they step out. Insensitively, I guess the problem is that somehow not enough people die in front of us. That the answer lies in mashing up Stalin's quote: one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. We need a million personal tragedies.

You may think it's more terrifying to live in Karachi, or Kandahar, or Karbala, where bombs go off each day, where people don't know if they'll make it through the next 24 hours. You might not think of it in these terms, but people who venture out each day don't know which idiot might run into them. A conscious culture of casual and opportunistic lawlessness prevails, where each one nudges the other to skip that signal, break that no-entry, burst through the wrong lane, and see these as the de facto rules. I bet more people die of road accidents in a year than in terrorist attacks. (Anyway, eventually, we don't do much about either.)

You might not have noticed, but it can be terrifying to go out there.

To tell you the truth, when I see people breaking the rules and putting others in danger, I wish something nasty happens to them during that very act. And only to them. I see them as a menace to society (even if society is busy being a menace to itself) and the only way to make the roads safer is to get them out off the way.

This is dangerous thinking. But sometimes, it's me or them.

I'm convinced that the only way to look at this is in black and white. To hammer in the bare-faced social and personal costs of bad driving. Realise this: we are an army of assassins-at-large.

And we'll get you eventually.


Vcat said...

Speaking for myself, I should say 'they', 'them', 'those' and not 'we'. It can't be 'we', when I never travel that way.

Among several delightful incidents I was witness to last year:

Scooter rider jumped a red light and was KO'd by a crossing mini-van.

Biker riding with 2 others, and on her phone crashed hard into a car coming the other way - that driver on the phone.

Pompous woman who had parked in the middle of N.Main Rd for an errand, had her car rammed brilliantly by a truck with poor/no brakes.

Most gratifying.

(Sure they didn't learn a thing.)

snehal said...

How true. I feel I need anger management classes every time I reach work / home. I re-run wishful images in my mind of cursing/ yelling / even slapping people who made my travel a hell.
Having said that, my heart goes out for the traffic cops (inept as they are) - whom I think risk their lives every single day amidst this raging traffic and pollution. I wish they lose temper someday and thrash the hell out of people breaking traffic rules. (actual / real)traffic rules that is..

Preeti said...

And then there is the anxiety that makes you wake up in the middle of the night to urgently dial the numbers of your loved ones. Only to make sure that they have reached office or home safely. How many times have I been yelled at to not panic needlessly and disturb them in the middle of their work days, but knowing the dangers and living so far away from home, I have no other way to deal with my fears. I know that even if you are a careful driver, others around you are not. So, it is useless telling me that you drive slowly and follow all rules. I lost a brilliant classmate a few years ago to a rash truck driver. All I could do was eulogise about her in print. This time around a neighbor was hit by a car and passed away a day before I was to leave Pune. Last time, I saw a pedestrian - all life snuffed out of him at the side of a road. Perhaps, we are too many for anybody to care about how they should drive; it is just another life after all. Until one day it might just hit too close home to make someone mend their ways. If they are alive that is. What a sad way of learning a lesson.

Anonymous said...

1. Not just Pune
2. Its now a part of our culture - blaming accidents to "fate"
3. Lack of discipline (again, as a culture - not just on roads)
4. We do not realise its not our father's (or father-in-law's) road. Its a public place & rules HAVE to be followed
5. Solution? I bet (or rather "hope") there's a way to change our attitude / culture about this (as with corruption). I just don't know it yet.

- Dunbar

Unknown said...

VCat: not sure whether to laugh or cry (both I guess)

Snehal: true, they have a tough job, and reputation isn't kind to them either

Preeti: It's becoming almost like the casualty count of Mumbai locals. Everyone knows that it happens, and has accepted it into our daily fabric. Death has lost its sting.

Dunbar: I wish people would see these less as 'rules' but more as 'safety conventions' that increase our chances of survival.

Sridhar Raman said...

This issue is prevalent all across the country, I guess. Definitely in Bangalore.

There is this huge sense of entitlement that the motorists have with respect to the road. Any person/vehicle in their way should give way to them. The bigger/faster their mode of transport, more is the arrogance.

As a pedestrian or cyclist, I am constantly hounded by them. Of course, I have got into enough fights with all kinds of people.

I really wish I could just take a stone or a stick and break their vehicles and bodies. Sigh.

Unknown said...

Sridhar: I understand the sentiment :) The entitlement of motorists is further fed by traffic designs that promote one-ways, flyovers etc. with no complementary facilities for pedestrians or cyclists. So you now have vehicles that can easily go beyond 60 kmph in roads that encourage that very behaviour.

Yash Marathe said...

A confession:

A few years ago while turning off Apte Road past Santosh Bakery, a guy on a motorbike (obviously in a hurry) took the wrong side of the divider. I didn't let him merge and he crashed into an oncoming car.

What the verdict?

Vcat said...

@yes marathe

Ans: Brillo

(Ref my comment above)

Unknown said...

Yash: whatever be the emergency, if you break the rule, you've got to take the potential consequences.