Friday, June 16, 2006

Why do they call it 'Rush Hour' when nothing moves?

That's a Robin Williams quote, if I am right. Quite true, though - 'rush hour' is quite the misnomer, if there ever was one. Here, I narrate a couple of my experiences over the last month:

Chennai: Mon to Fri
Now, I work on the 'IT Corridor' in Chennai; yeah, the same general area where the proposed six-lane highway is going to come up by the end of the year (optimistic, aren't they!). Irrespective of lanes and highways, I hope they think of repairing the roads sometime before the end of this decade. Riding a bike on OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road) would be easier if you have ever played a bike-racing game; the potholes, traffic and terrible driving sense would make this a truly memorable experience.

Now, there is this particular junction called SRP Tools on this road; a month ago, the traffic jams here looked like the release of a Rajnikanth movie. Honking, screaming cars with their bonnets angled in every possible direction; hapless two-wheelers trapped between the maze of cars with no way out, with their drivers' eyes darting left and right through the helmets, looking for the slightest opening; far-sighted (literally!!) two-wheelers giving this whole chakravyuha a wide berth, encroaching upon the oncoming vehicles in a desperate bid to reach the other side; abuses hurled galore - we had it all. Of course, needless to add, there is no traffic signal here! Most importantly, not one driver had the simple courtesy of giving way; everybody was bent on inching forward centimeter by centimeter, at the same time. A deadlock that would have had even Dijkstra tearing out his hair in frustration, I am afraid.

From the beginning of this month, I was pleasantly suprised to find able policement patrolling this junction to make sure that such hopeless traffic-jams do not occur. Things are much better than they were before, although the roads are still horrible and people still have horrible driving-sense. The cops have their job truly cut out, and they are doing some fine work in this highly congested area. A big thanks to them, and to the administration for acting in time.

Mumbai: A Weekend last month
I was in Mumbai for my aunt's 25th wedding anniversary celebrations, and the stifling heat as well as the overpowering dust put me off immediately. Trust me, Chennai and Bangalore seem nowhere as hot and dusty as Mumbai was (that particular weekend, at least!). Needless to say, I don't plan to return anytime soon.

But during the way back to the Mumbai airport, I had a whiff of what everybody talks about: the indomitable Mumbai 'spirit'. The roads were hopelessly jammed, with all kinds of vehicles blocking each other. And not a policeman in sight, to boot; I was resigned to the fact that I'd miss my flight (even accounting for the hopeless ineptitude of the Mumbai airport, but that is another story altogether!). But then, I'd not bargained for the resilience of some citizens (a Marwari, another guy who looked like a chauffeur, and a couple of others) who came out of their vehicles and forced the jammed vehicles to back off - one by one, inch by inch. Cajoling a lady on a scooty, berating a truck-driver who tried to inch forward while everybody else was backing off, exchanging good-natured banter with the auto and taxi-wallahs - they did all this and more with an easy familarity.

The junction (with no traffic signal, of course) was finally cleared, and the volunteers (for want of a better word) stayed at the junction to ensure that all the vehicles cleared that junction smoothly. This is something I have seen in no other Indian city before, and I have been to many cities in South India. Indeed, if somebody tried the likes of this in Kerala, he'd have probably got hit for trying to act too smart (and there'd have been a Communist bandh as well as a Congress bandth too). I was really, really impressed (and needless to add, thankful for saving me my 5000 bucks!).

As Govinda would put it, it happens only in India :).

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