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.