Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A pedestrian approach

She grabs her 10-year-old daughter’s hand. Then, sari firmly tucked around an ample waist, blouse fighting a losing battle with the love handles, she starts running across the street, unmindful of the vehicles hurtling down towards her. Her daughter, weighed down by the multitasking capabilities required to manage a heavy schoolbag and a dripping ice-lolly, breaks into an awkward run too.

The Crisis: A bus on route No. 47A in Kolkata
The Motto: Pran jaaye par bus na jaaye!

The empty cab puts the Mississippi to shame as it meanders, immune to the desperate horns of office-going vehicles. Just when you decide he’s going to pull up on the side, he puts on a sudden burst of speed and swerves to the right, or left, depending on which part of his brain is functioning at that moment. The horns are now replaced by the screeching of brakes and some really offensive remarks about the cabbie’s treatment of his mother and sisters.

The Crisis: Too many cabs/Too many Bihari non-drivers
The Motto:
Yeh dil, na hota bechara
Kadam, na hote awara
Jo Salt Lake wala koi apna
Pa-ssenger hota!

The light turns green. The vehicles surge forward. So do the pedestrians. For unfortunate owner’s of vehicles in Kolkata, it’s a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you stop, the car behind will have something to say about how YOU behave with YOUR mother and sisters. If you move, that hardworking representative of the proletariat, in other words, the pedestrian, will abuse your bourgeois audacity to not only own a car, but also drive it when he/she is crossing the road. Signal? It’s like your inner consciousness – it takes the shape, or colour that you decide to give it. After all, we belong to the transcendental Orient and can rise above such mechanical inventions of the materialistic West.

The Crisis: Colour blindness?
The Motto:
Yeh Mahalo, yeh takhton, yeh taajo ki duniya
Yeh insaan ke dushman riwazo ki duniya
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain?

The world is their playground. Free spirits, they are not bound by the laws of space, nor are they confined by the boundaries of streets and sidewalks. If they decide to greet a friend and exchange pleasantries in the middle of the road, there’s no stopping them. Minor things like cars or the laws of the state cannot dampen their spirit. If a car comes, it will stop – simple! The sidewalk? Boring. We like to take centre stage in all that we do. And if a car dares to use its rights of moving on the street, all that’s needed is a strong, hard stare from bloodshot eyes and a slow, oh so slow, swagger to the roadside.

The Crisis: Misplaced bravado
The Motto: Aa dekhe zara, kisme kitna hain dum!


At 2:27 AM, Blogger Shan said...

Oh how I agree with you. We idle rich, with cars and all, have no rights whatsoever on the roads...sigh!

At 5:07 AM, Blogger Mind over Matter said...

Yes, sometimes I feel guilty about owning a car in Kolkata. Here I am, living from one salary to the other; but once I'm on the road, and in my car, I'm unceremoniously grouped with all the rich men's daughters or wives, who have got the privilege of sitting in a car merely by heredity or by matrimony!

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Mitul said...

I completely agree. Driving (even backseat) in Calcutta is not for the weak hearted... people pop up in the unlikeliest of places, street lights go on the blink, jaywalking is a way of life, buses (mini & maxi) revel in bullying, and trucks back up in the middle of the thoroughfare. For over seven years, I have been travelling in a car on the BT Road and it has taken nearly 20 years off my life, I'm sure.

The other day, a colleague on a motorbike offered a lift from my home to work (some 15 km away). I love pillion-riding, having zipped down the 2nd Hooghly Bridge and EM Bypass many times in my youth. Now, I don't usually consider myself as being over the hill, but that I'm not a 'youth' any more was brought home rather forcefully on that day. Read on for more elaboration.

Thrilled at the opportunity, I strapped on the helmet and settled down. The bike zipped down the BT Road. Almost out of nowhere, a woman materialised, strolling across the road with a moony look on her face. Despite myself, I clutched the colleague's T-shirt and shut my eyes. Slamming of brakes and some illuminating instances of rare Bengali vocabulary later, we were again on our way. A little later, I saw that we were trying to overtake a humungous (even a matador looks massive from a motorbike, and this was much bigger) truck through an extremely narrow strip of road on its right. And narrow is overstating it. I seriously doubted my colleague's (and mine, for taking up the offer) sanity at that point of time. Surely, not even an anorexic cockroad could slither into that gap! I didn't get a chance to think up an excuse to hop off as we were already in that sliver of space. Huge and very intimidating wheels rolled right next to my shaking knees and I couldn't help but picture myself flattened by one of those. For what seemed an eternity, we were beside those monsters, before zooming out into life, glorious life again. It was only after we entered Salt Lake (after navigating the treacherous Ultadanga), that my heart slid down from my mouth to its rightful place. Phew! Never again, I promised myself. I may not have a gray hair yet, but I'm not a spring chicken any more to zip around the town on a motor bike. No siree!!

That we are still alive in Calcutta is a miracle. Alleluijah to that!!!


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