The Corpses of RoadsThere is something rotten about the roads of Pune.
Quite a lot actually. And despite repeatedly lamenting the state of the city (indeed, all our cities), the mind is not sated. Complaining doesn't help, but atleast it quietens the frustration for a while.
Riding through Bombay two weeks ago was an exercise in going to the trenches. I hope there will be a "better tomorrow" and all this inconvenience will be worth something. As soon as I was back in Pune, the trenches had gone, but there was quicksand in place. A highly viscous mass, choking and choked with guttural sounds to show. I didn't know why this last year has seemed more vicious than preceding years in feeling the strangulation of traffic on the roads, but I am a traffic-asthmatic now. The open roads induce a serious claustrophobia; almost every inch is packed with motor vehicles; each inch that has escaped annexation will lose that status the next moment.
A statistic appeared in the newspaper that may explain this: apparently, the population of vehicles in this city has gone up by 35%. The booming second-hand car market, the rise in affordability of vehicles, the availability of more (larger and powerful) models and the continuance of a lack of any mass transport alternative have ganged up together. For several people, it is a great ambition to possess a car, something their fathers would never have been able to contemplate so easily. But with bigger paypackets, loans and "special offers", purchasing a car is within grasp. One can hardly blame anyone for doing so and why should they be prevented? So anyone who wants to buy a car today can do so and any director/ad-film-maker/actor who cherishes a dream of working with Amitabh Bachchan can get him on board. Truly, it is the time for fulfilling fantasies.
We do have a significant number of vehicles on the streets. I'm willing to guess that most middle-class families in Pune have more than one vehicle in their name. A count of vehicles in my own apartment revealed that there are 6 cars and 10 two-wheelers for 7 flats. I can hardly blame anyone else; we ourselves have > 1 vehicle. Pune has always been a two-wheeler city and almost everyone who has to leave the house daily for work or studies uses or expects to use their own vehicle. This could directly be related to the poor standard of buses and also the relatively short distances one has to travel. Hence it becomes more convenient to employ one's own vehicle. If I had to take advantage of "flexi-time" at work, I would have to use my own gaaDi; plus there is just one bus (possessing an indifferent frequency) plying that route.
Since none of us will shy away from purchasing vehicles just because the per capita road space dwindles everyday and parking spots don't expand infinitely, we will sacrifice long-term for short-term. It is tough to start via individuals - why should I sacrifice when others won't? It is the price for the city's success and it's hard to leave the party.
There were many noises months back when Pune Municipal Corporation members wanted to mimic the great advances made in Bogota, Colombia where a professor-turned-mayor turned things around there. "If it can happen in that drug-cartel infested city where the respect for law is thought to be minimal, why not here?" is the feeling. However, the mayorship there has a greater concentration of powers and it lacked only the will. Here, the responsiblities are so divided among the executive & the political authorities, not to mention infighting & publicity hungry MPs, that both the will & wisdom is hard to find.
Nor do ordinary people care much if they can achieve their small goals of going from place A to B irrespective of the means. My veins & arteries are going to pop one day from the routine mania of the traffic violations; the behaviour is downright criminal.
I think I am a fool to feel so wretchedly about all this while others nonchalantly breeze through. Every trip through the killing fields scrapes my confidence a little; the roses of my brow are replaced by pessimistic thorns just on setting wheel to tarmac. There are three large buildings coming up on the road where my place of work is - that stretch of road used to be among the best in the city. It is impossible to imagine exactly how bad things are going to be when the thousands of residents/office workers of those buildings will start to pour in. Perhaps it will be like drowning amidst the salty ocean after the scuba gear starts to go phut. My empty rant's genesis is mostly from impotent rage and from a sense of having lent a hand to the massacre.
To bear or not to bear, that is the question.