Adventure Sport

Our city leaders don’t often get the credit they deserve. While one might try to excuse it by saying that there is only so much credit one person can give; and with the central government after every ounce of it, what can state and city leaders expect, the truth is that we are a bunch self-serving, selfish, entitled people. It is a harsh indictment, but the truth.

We have seen the days when city leaders had to explain to us, logically and patiently, upon our wanting to know where the footpaths were for people to walk on, that if footpaths were left for people to walk on, where would the same people park cars and put-up electricity distribution transformers? Did we need to ask? Could we not have put two and two together ourselves?

In all fairness, we may be self-serving, selfish and entitled, but we do agree when a logical argument is presented. And, in the face of one, that was that with footpaths and the desire for footpaths to walk on.

It was, therefore, a surprise when a few months back my good friend Rohin said that he had been walking on a footpath on the city.

But there is a back-story to that.

One fine day Rohin announced that he was in hospital as a result of injuries sustained in a dangerous adventure sport.

“What?”

“When?”

“Where?”

Now Rohin is a peripatetic traveller if ever there was one. If he is not in Slovenia he is probably in Japan and if he is not in Aurangabad he is probably in Masai Mara. He writes extensively on his travels and if someone wants travel guidance from me, for whatever reason, I merely point them to his blog.

Believing he had discovered some new destination for adventures sport, I excitedly asked him those three detailed questions. In the excitement of talking about adventure sport, rarely does one worry about the condition the participant is in.

I am a nature enthusiast, at least to a degree. I have a great regard for people who test their physical limits against nature, in a respectful manner. Whether it is mountain biking, or rock climbing, or open-ocean swimming, or white-water rafting. Like Rohin. In an ocean of push-button, or picture-postcard, or even hired adventure, such examples stand out.

“In Gurgaon, where else?”

My face fell, realizing that it was not another exotic locale that I could aim for. But then, on realizing that I did not have to spend money to get to Gurgaon, as I was already there, I brightened up.

“How?”

“Outside Max Hospital,” he said, responding to my fourth detailed question. Perhaps realizing that that did not satisfy my curiosity, he added, “on the footpath.” Perhaps realizing that I was still not satisfied with his answer, he added, “I was walking on the footpath outside Max Hospital with my daughter. After some distance the footpath ended.” My ears had perked up when he said he was walking on the footpath, but I could only say, “Ended?”

“Yes. Ended.”

“Ended like…?”

“Ended like ended. Finished. Ceased. Concluded. Stopped.” He paused as if to ask if I needed more synonyms.

“I felt the breeze in my hair as I descended six feet into the gutter when the footpath ended, with a thud. It was more exciting than a bungee jump. In a bungee jump you deliberately jump, here the ground vanished from under your feet suddenly. Can you beat the sense of that thrill? You will not get such broken bones and bruises them so easily even at the best adventure sites in the world, that too for free.”

I nodded. I have done some adventure sport in my time, and I could understand what he was saying. It was beginning to make sense. While we had been mocking them, city leaders had been quietly turning the city into an adventure park.

An adventure park not like Appu Ghar, the water park, where one needs to strive for adventure, and one is conscious of it. But an adventure park where adventure can come from anywhere.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I now knew that one could walk on the streets once again, at least in some places. Seeking adventure for free, I set out immediately after hearing about Rohin’s adventure, to seek mine.

After not having found adventure on Golf Course Road, M G Road and even on the Old Delhi Road, I finally found my adventure yesterday, just when I was beginning to lose hope. Or, perhaps, my adventure found me.

It found me on the humble stretch between my home and the South City-1 colony market, less than half a km away, on the way back.

The footpath having been consumed by parking and an electricity distribution transformer as per the vision of the founding fathers, the road flooded after ten minutes of light rain, I was making my way through a dump yard that, I believe, was meant to be a park. My adventure found me as I tripped on a wire stretched across the path, barely above ground level, at the exit point of that park.

Thank you, city leaders. Together, we can make our city a popular destination for adventure sport. On second thoughts, why together; you have it in you to do it all by yourself.

My trophies from the adventure are displayed here:

Bermuda Flyover

“To my naked eye, #Dehradun cannot take the load of any more new buildings. Wherever one goes; on ones left or right, one only gets to see four storey commercial buildings coming up. This rampant and unabated construction spree is neither wise nor suitable for the sensitive #DoonValley”

What was he thinking?

I am talking about my old friend Anoop Nautiyal, Brand Ambassador Dehradun and Founder – Social Development for Communities Foundation, Uttarakhand, who said these words, apparently a few days back.

Take a guy back to a formerly pristine town that Dehradun was before it became the capital of the newly formed state of Uttarakhand and got developed, and he starts believing that he has to save the world.

Must big cities like Delhi and Gurgaon continue to bear the responsibility for creating ecological disasters? There is something known as a shared responsibility, though I suppose Doon residents would not have heard of it. Hearing Anoop, the common man might even start thinking that all the shiny new buildings in Gurgaon have been built because Gurgaon can take their load. He might even start believing that there is adequate power and water for the common man.

As luck would have it, I was on top of a brand new architectural wonder planned and constructed by the city of Gurgaon, where I live, that was thrown open to the common man to marvel at and benefit from, when I saw this message posted by Anoop. I understand there is confusion about the constitution of the seven wonders of the world, but I also know that there will be no confusion or disagreement about the inclusion of this marvel in the seven wonders, regardless of which the other six may be.

The architectural marvel I am referring to is a flyover. For readers who may be more familiar with other traffic lingo for it, a flyover is an elevated road, like an overbridge, built usually for the purpose of crossing over an obstacle, and getting traffic moving smoothly. The obstacle could be a railway track, it could be a river, it could be another road going across, it could be a traffic signal, or some such thing. There is always something.

“But is a flyover not a common structure that kills the pre-flyover businesses on the road and creates dead spaces where the homeless often take shelter, what with expanding road networks and burgeoning car numbers?” you might ask.

And you would be right. A flyover is indeed commonplace. There must be thousands of them around.

But this is not any flyover. Unlike your ordinary flyover that would have been built over a railway track, or a river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, this particular flyover goes over nothing. Well, not literally, of course. It is built on the base of solid ground and on top of the flat, ground-hugging road that was already there.

Just to give you an idea of the lay of the land, this is what I am talking about:

The light blue shaded part is the road in question before the flyover came up. There is no railway track, or river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, that is impeding the flow of traffic. The dark blue structure is meant to indicate the presence of a pedestrian bridge over the road for, what else, facilitating pedestrians crossing the road. It is well understood that the purpose for pedestrians to use an overbridge is to get to the other side, regardless of which side they start from. In this particular case, the purpose of almost all pedestrians to cross this road was to either get to, or from, the HUDA metro station. That being the case, this pedestrian bridge made no effort of delivering its users to, or from, the station. People coming out of the station would take the escalator or stairs down to the ground level and then take the escalator or stairs up the pedestrian overbridge just a few metres on, and then the escalator or stairs down on the other side. This, of course, was done by the handful conscientious ones willing to follow rules and put their lives at risk by climbing a pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge, while the masses would take the safer route, flag down the traffic and nonchalantly cross the road where you see the thinner dark blue strip across the road on the map.

But what is to be done. If a pedestrian overbridge cannot go into the HUDA metro station, it cannot. End of story.

The other manual addition made by me on the map is the red dot that represents a traffic signal.

And this is the map after the flyover was constructed. The reason you see no difference in the road is because it is an aerial view, from the top. The flyover is exactly on top of the road, which, of course, is still there, buried under the pillars and construction material of the flyover.

But that is not fully correct. I am being unfair. You don’t see the pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge in the ‘after’ picture. I think it was demolished based on another bold new policy of the government. Since we cannot build pedestrian overbridges in a manner they can be used by pedestrians, why build them at all? Sensible, I suppose. And pragmatic.

And this is the view of the flyover from the side, clicked as I was coming out from the station and down the escalator. You can see the cars waiting for the light to turn green. Fortis Hospital is visible behind it.

So, here I was, having driven up the up part of the flyover, drooling at the prospect of crossing quickly over something that I did not know existed. It was mysterious! Magical! I knew there was no railway crossing or river or road beneath the flyover, but, one does not know what one does not know. There must be something. Maybe the authorities have struck oil in that patch. It would have been difficult to drill with cars and other vehicles honking and running around all the time and trying to fill their tanks for free from the gushing oil. But with traffic diverted to a flyover, the authorities could carry on with the responsibility of running the city. Or maybe they built the flyover just in case they strike oil in that patch in future.

I jammed my brakes as the car ahead of me had stopped. As had the one if front of the one in front of me. As had…I hope you get the picture. I looked up. Actually, I looked down since I was at the pinnacle of the flyover, almost twenty vertical feet clear of where I would have been had there been no flyover. From that vantage point I could see that the traffic light at the bottom of the down part of the flyover was glowing a bright red, with the taillights of most cars ahead of me lit as they were pressing the brakes down.

Would they be jamming down on the brakes if they were waiting at the same traffic signal on a flat road?

No way.

WouId I have had this view had this flyover over nothing not been built?

No way.

Stop at traffic signal before the flyover is built and stop at same traffic signal after the flyover is built. Fair deal. I silently thanked the authorities and made a mental note to vote for the same people once again.

The transformative power of a revolutionary idea can never be underestimated. I can already see study tours led by city CEOs and corporators from around the world making a beeline to Gurgaon to learn more about this marvel. Personally, we have always struggled with sightseeing choices in Gurgaon whenever someone was visiting us, ending up with detested ones like the Sultanpur bird park and a walk in the Aravali Hills. That problem is now solved. It helps that we live but a ten-minute walk from this wonder.

With the Bermuda Triangle solved and people losing interest in the Yeti, I can even see correspondents of TV channels working on the great mysteries of the world descending in large numbers on Gurgaon, where else, and trying to unravel the new mystery. The cricket game I was watching yesterday was interrupted several times by ads which said, “Sensational discovery; why the Gurgaon flyover was really built. Coming soon to your favourite channel.”

Road to Happiness

There was once a happy stretch of road. Road1

It used to witness lots of happy people in happy cars go back and forth.Road2

There was a place where the road crossed paths with a railway track. It was called a level crossing. For protection of road traffic (a train is much bigger!!) a barrier was put on the road to ensure no one crossed the railway track when a train was passing.Road3

Cars waited patiently when the barrier was lowered to block the road and let the train pass. When the train had passed and the barrier was raised, the cars went past on their way. Happy people in happy cars on a happy road.Road4

One day, there was an impatient man waiting at the railway crossing and getting more and more restive as time passed. He did not like waiting for the train to pass. He did not like waiting. He believed he had important things to do while others did not and it was the world’s responsibility to make him succeed. He had a manic need to prove that he was better than others, all the time. He was second in the queue on one side of the track.Road5

Determined to get ahead of others, as soon as the barrier was lifted, he swerved his car to the right, overtook the car in front, swerved left again back to his lane, before the first car from the other side could reach him.road6

He was thrilled at his cleverness. And at the stupidity of the others. And that he had once again bested the others, who were following rules. He thought he was the smartest of the lot and would always stay ahead of others, as was his right. He looked back in glee at the car he had overtaken and drove off.

His feat had not gone unnoticed. Occupants of the car ahead of him, who he had overtaken, mine, were upset. Not so much at being overtaken, but overtaken rashly and then being mocked by the errant driver.  The cars on the other side who could see this manoeuvre also noticed. They thought if that guy could get away with it on his side of the road, so could they on their side. They made a mental note of adopting the same strategy next time an opportunity arose.

As luck would have it, in the not too distant future, their cars were arrayed at the railway crossing exactly as they had been earlier. This time, however, he was not the only ‘smart” one. Everyone on both sides of the track had been smarting and turned out to be as “smart”.

Before the barrier opened cars were positioned in their lanes.road7

As soon as the barrier opened, the car ahead of the “smart” car, mine, moved up swiftly in order not to allow him space to move back into the line ahead of him. The second car on the opposite side swerved right in heroic fashion, to make a dash for cutting back into the lane ahead of the car that was in front. But the car in front moved up swiftly to block the space in front.road8

At the same time the cars behind on both sides came on fast, and filled up all intervening spaces, whether in the right lane or the wrong one so that no smart driver could manoeuvre in. The result was that while they moved into the wrong lanes, they could not now come back into their own lanes.road9

Nobody on either side was able to move. They remained there for hours, honking and arguing. Some got out of their cars and started fighting with others. There were babies and sick people in some cars who were crying and getting uncomfortable. There was even an ambulance stuck in the traffic. But nobody could move.

The administration was forced to place traffic police at the intersection, incurring an unnecessary expense for the state exchequer, eventually paid for by everyone through taxes. The “smart” drivers were thrilled. They knew this was a smart move by the administration to help “smart” drivers” like himself, while the cost is borne by everyone. The traffic police, whose job was to ensure movement of traffic, ensured that the “smart” drivers got clearance before others so that oncoming traffic could be released. Punishing the errant for causing the problem, it seems, was not their goal.

Good news travels fast. Each driver involved in this episode took upon himself the task of teaching the same “smartness” to drivers at other level crossings they happened to pass, through personal example. Today, all level crossings are “smart” crossings, where traffic has to wait for hours to be on their way. Sometimes traffic police shows up to ensure “smart” drivers get right of way in the melee.

Roads everywhere are full of idiots behind wheels. Like me. Could I not have let the “smart” driver overtake me rashly and be on his way? Could the idiots in cars on the opposite side not have avoided this unhealthy competition and allowed the “smart” driver to be on his way. Disturbing questions.

One idiot is often all it takes.

 

Loud and Clear

You have to hand it to the Gurgaon administration. When it comes to deploying advanced technologies for better management of traffic, they are second to none.

After a careful review of tools that modern technology has placed at our disposal, Gurgaon traffic police has decided to introduce the cutting-edge technology known as “loudspeakers” at prominent intersections in the city, starting with two, one of them, as always, being at the intersection closest to where I stay, the HUDA City Centre. As the name goes, it is the City Centre and perhaps one of the busiest.

On a trial basis. Mind you. They make sure, don’t they? Nothing implemented till fully tested. Without any tracking or monitoring of results. They have our backs, don’t they?

Like in the case of the series of underpasses that punctuate the length of Golf Course road, that still have an “Opened for Trial” board hanging at the entrances even though it is more than two years since most of them have been thrown open, with some having already notched up enviable records of death and destruction.

Trials are trials. And must be done. Especially in cases where the project is a fait accompli. Like the series of underpasses which, I believe, are uni-directional constructions. You cannot unmake an underpass once made, can you? I mean of course you can, if you take it literally. You can get back all the rubble that was excavated to create the underpass, and fill in the big hole, and demolish all the construction that had been done and send back that rubble to the place it had been excavated from. But you know what I mean, don’t you?

But, as usual, I get distracted. Perhaps it is the excitement of being back at the fairgrounds of my youth, with loudspeakers blaring music, announcements and ad jingles and everyone having a great time.

I am fortunate enough to pass through the City Centre intersection almost daily. Today was no exception. I drove out of our building and the next thing I know is that I had stopped at the red light at the City Centre intersection.

As I was jostling for space with other motorists to be the fastest on the draw as soon as the light turned green, I heard a booming sound, “Don’t use your mobile phone while driving. If you do, it could be your last call.”

I froze. I furtively looked on either side, then guiltily at my mobile, lying silent and forlorn on the car dashboard. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Did the government then manage to even switch on the great ancient Indian invention of “Akashvaani” (literally, Celestial Voice), the celestial messaging system perfected by our ancestors and recorded in mythological texts, that sent out personalised messages to humans, in time for the next general elections. I confess that I have questioned senior ministers’ claims of having invented flying and their arguments that apes are not our ancestors since no one saw an ape turn into a human. But a personalised “Akashvaani”? That would have been the tipping point for me.

Alas, it was not to be. At least at that point. I recollected, in time, the Gurgaon traffic police’s plans of installing loudspeakers at that intersection. I looked around at drivers in other cars. Only the ones not talking on their mobiles seem to have heard the announcement. The loudspeaker strategy seemed to have achieved the desired early results.

“Please stop at the red light”, came the Akashvaani again. But this time I was ready. It was a great message, this one. Made a lot of sense to me as I was already stopped at the red light.

“Please wear seat belts while driving and please wear a helmet when on a two-wheeler,”

“Please park only in designated areas,”

“Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. Doing so could cause grievous harm, even death, to yourself and others,”

…came in quick succession, while I was still waiting for the light to turn green. Such a simple idea. How would people know that they should wear seat belts while driving, or helmets if on a two-wheeler, or park only in designated areas, or not drive on the wrong side of the road, doing which could cause grievous harm, even death, to yourself and others, unless “loudspeakered” to them at busy intersections? After all, they only been issued driving, or riding, licences, after suitable checks.

No apprehending offenders. No traffic violation fines. No cameras. No issuing tickets. No electronic tagging. No satellite tracking. No concern for noise pollution. Just plain announcements. Revolutionary.

It was mesmerising. I was transported to another world. How long before they unleash its full potential by handing over the system to corporates, was the question raging through my mind.

“While you wait for the 2 minute long red light, have a 2-minute noodle snack made by an MNC.”

“Turn your nails from green to red while the light turns from red to green.”

The possibilities boggled my mind.

“Will the black Fabia please move. The light has turned green.“

“Will the black Fabia please move. The light has turned green.”

Was it my imagination or did the loudspeaker just become even louder? There was a tap on the driver side window. I was woken from my reverie. A traffic policeman was standing there and about to tap again. I lowered the window and looked at him with some disgust as he had interrupted my train of thought. I asked him crossly, “what is the matter?”

“Sir, can you please move. The light turned green 30 seconds back and could turn red again any time again. We announced it twice already.”

“Uh, oh,” is all I could mutter while I engaged gears of my black Fabia and testily jerked out of danger of the impending red light.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for great ideas and technological innovations that further the agenda of humanity. But I draw the line at getting personal.

Defanged

Eventually, the beauty of the solution lay in its simplicity and elegance.

But that is what leaders are for. To see what the common man cannot see. To do what the common man cannot do. To hear what the common man does not say. To take decisions where the common man needs none. And to dither and vacillate where the common man needs one to be taken.

Billions of rupees have gone down the drain in the search for solutions and cures. Numerous lives sacrificed. Decades lost.

Yet, year after year the scourge has kept coming back. Like the proverbial bad penny. Developing, evolving newer and hardier strains, mocking the advances made by society. Come monsoon, typically between June and September in most parts of the country, it bares its fangs once again and readies to strike.

Even a plethora of meticulously unresearched advice, blindly forwarded on WhatsApp groups, has had no impact. Like the one I received yesterday informing me that the mosquito responsible for dengue cannot fly above knee height, hence all that people need to do is take care to cover the body below the knees, and all will be well. In my 11th floor apartment, with the dreaded buzzing sound audible as soon as I step out onto the terrace, this message was like manna from heaven. It seems the little tyke can fly upto the 11th floor of a building, significantly higher than knee high to a person at ground level, but once it reaches that height, it loses the will to fly above knee height. I took my phone and read the message aloud to the creators of the buzzing sound on the terrace to tell them how they needed to behave. A follow-up session is scheduled today evening.

By now you might have guessed that I am talking about mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, which have traditionally held sway during these months. If malaria was more lethal in one year, it would be dengue in the next. Last year, chikungunya, an unknown new mosquito-borne disease, became the flavour of the season, eclipsing malaria and dengue. Like an unheralded Boris Becker, all of seventeen years of age, coming into Wimbledon in 1985 and laying established stars low. Who knows which disease will rule the roost this year. Online bookies are doing roaring business.

Cities and governments around the country have been trying to solve the problem through planned, scientific means, with dismal results. Just when it seemed all was lost and that we were consigned to being forever held to ransom by mosquito-borne diseases every monsoon, came an inspired, swift, unilateral decision by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which has put the spring back in the steps of the common man. What is even more inspiring is that it appears that the decision is based neither on logic nor any substance.

Not for nothing has Mumbai been the commercial capital of the nation.

Public Health Department (PHD) officials of the BMC have come to the rescue of the common man from the annual mosquito menace and slapped a notice on a popular Radio Jockey (RJ) in the city whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, for breeding mosquitoes in a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of her apartment.

Now who would have thought that mosquitoes would be bred by a popular RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube. That too in a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of her apartment.

PHD officials can clearly make out that a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of the popular RJ’s apartment, the RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, is being used for breeding mosquitoes, but clay bowls kept under plant pots kept in front of the front doors of other apartments in her building, whose occupants have not put out a satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC that has garnered over a million views on YouTube, are not being used for breeding mosquitoes.

The world has changed. Clearly you can’t pull wool over the eyes of officials of the PHD of the BMC any more. They know.

“When the city has several agencies controlling roads, how can BMC be blamed for potholes, even though it is our responsibility?” the BMC has shot back at the RJ. “Problems with the railways and airlines are not because of us,” the BMC has added, bolstering their argument by citing examples of services they have nothing to do with. Even the RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, will not be able to argue with that.

As the BMC is ruled by a political party whose founder built a reputation with scathing political cartoons before turning to politics, it is only logical that scathing humour at their expense is not to be tolerated. The party has identified that since they so enjoyed and identified with it, the video was an insult to every Mumbaikar (resident of Mumbai). It was apparently a unanimous decision taken by the leader of the party alone.

In order not to get left behind, Delhi has proactively decided to retrospectively issue mosquito breeding notices to organisers of the protest march “Not In My Name” last month, despite the monsoon becoming active over Delhi only in July, as a preventive measure.

To eradicate the menace of mosquitoes from the country, it has been decided to ban all forms of creative dissent.

A simple and elegant solution, wouldn’t you agree?

Cause and Effect

On 15th April, the Delhi government took the decision to introduce the odd-even scheme for another fifteen days. Once again, private vehicles with an odd-numbered licence plate can run only on odd days and, even-numbered ones only on even days.

It appears the scheme has been reintroduced at the first available opportunity because the original odd-even scheme, introduced in January for fifteen days, was a resounding failure and did nothing to solve the problem it was introduced for, that of reducing atmospheric pollution in Delhi.

But what it did do during those fifteen days in January, as our leaders have discovered, is that it seemed to have resulted in some reduction in traffic on the roads. Quite against the run of play, it seems. Now who would have guessed that if you prohibit half the cars from coming onto the roads, the number of cars on the road will reduce.

At least not the Delhi CM, alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). How, then, can one blame the Delhi government for not knowing?

Displaying maturity and foresight far beyond any political mandate, Delhi’s political leadership has decided that atmospheric pollution, a raging issue just three months back, does not need to be solved any more. Till, of course, it becomes an unsolvable issue once again next winter, requiring drastic measures that don’t work. Which gets solved once again by the onset of the following summer, creating bigger problems to solve.

As is the case this year. Freed from the yoke of solving the pollution issue, as summer is now raging in Delhi, the government has reintroduced the odd-even scheme, this time to reduce traffic on the roads. Like atmospheric pollution, traffic needs to be reduced only for fifteen days. Of course, as with all good schemes, it has been reintroduced because of pressure from the public.

Quite a handy scheme this odd-even is turning out to be. First it is introduced to reduce atmospheric pollution which it does not. Now it is introduced to reduce traffic on the roads. Wonder what else it can be introduced for? For solving the issue of the plunging water table? For providing food to the poor? Poor performance of Delhi Daredevils in IPL? European refugee crisis?

One wonders if any other scheme will ever be required…

The big question everyone is asking is; what will the scheme solve this time. Last time it was introduced to solve the pollution issue and ended up reducing traffic on the roads. As this time it has been introduced for reducing traffic on the roads, it cannot be expected to reduce traffic on the roads. One wonders what it will really solve. At every corner tea-shop, in every metro coach, people are busy guessing the problem that the odd-even scheme will solve this time. Radio jockeys are having a field day running contests for people to guess the problem the odd-even scheme of April 2016 will solve.

There is really no saying what a decision of the government might end up solving.

A senior minister in the AAP government in Delhi, who had taken it upon himself to treat all women of visibly foreign looks as being of questionable character and personally led police teams to raid their homes, is preparing to start these raids once again.

“We don’t know what we might end up solving,” he looked somberly into the horizon and stated, while putting on his helmet in preparation for the raid later in the night.

In Gurgaon, or Gurugram now, always eager to copy from Delhi, transport authorities are busy breaching medians on busy roads, contrary to the once popular belief of reducing criss-crossing traffic to smoothen the flow.

Their response to enquiries from the media is, “We know it will solve something. As of now we don’t know what. But we will tell you as soon as we find out. Meanwhile, expect more central medians to be breached.”

The political will to take decisions without thought and logic is back.

“I have no idea what, but I might have solved something today,” is the new war-cry of members of the Delhi cabinet.

For more details of the odd-even scheme, go to post titled ODDities and EVENtualities.

ODDities and EVENtualities

No prizes for guessing what this is about. The title pretty much gives it away.

In a bid to reduce atmospheric pollution and improve the ambient air quality, that, thanks to the joint efforts of the common man and successive governments over several decades, has snowballed out of control, the Delhi government has decided that, beginning 1st January, only cars with even numbered plates will be allowed to run on even days and odd numbered ones on, you guessed it, odd days.

Their hand has been forced. They have had to resort to take this step because other, more reasonable, permanent measures, that would permit the common man the luxury of choice, have never been tried, and hence can be classified as totally ineffective. Like charging a substantially higher price for gas-guzzling vehicles. Like a road-pricing system that deters driving and parking in the city. Like an enforcement of simple traffic rules such as parking to ease needless jams. Like closing down illegal factories. Like regulating construction activities in the city. What is the government to do?

A similar mandate had once been issued in the capital of a big country, to the North and East of ours, with an even larger population. My fellow common men and women had marvelled at how quickly they had been able to take decisive steps, without bothering about process and consensus, in the interest of the nation, and how we have been mired in bureaucracy while attempting to take similar steps.

As soon as Delhi Chief Minister (CM) announced that cars with odd and even numbered plates will be allowed on odd and even dates, without bothering too much about process and consensus, my fellow common men and women have broken out in criticism, of the CM taking unilateral decisions without respecting the democratic fabric of our society and the impact of such decisions on the common man.

That the decision has been well thought through and all possible angles examined is evident from the fact that the government has promised to repeal this arrangement by the 15th of January, if the common man is inconvenienced, pollution be damned.

For the convenience of the common man, emergency vehicles, ambulance, fire, hospital, prison, hearse, enforcement vehicles, vehicles of paramilitary forces, Ministry of Defence, pilot and escort, vehicles of SPG protectees and vehicles bearing diplomatic corps registration numbers would be exempted from this rule. As will be the vehicles of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta.

As, indeed, will be vehicles of persons with disability, two-wheelers, buses, CNG vehicles, women drivers with women co-passengers and children upto 12 years of age and vehicles of persons in a medical emergency carrying proof; like a body, perhaps.

The remaining vehicles, if any, will be managed by a posse of cops withdrawn from other unimportant duties around the capital where they are deployed despite not being required so that they can be withdrawn on a whim, as well as an army of volunteers, drawn from their various important tasks of doing nothing.

In order that the arrangement gets a “trial by fire” in real-life conditions, schools in Delhi have been ordered shut till 15th January in order to decongest roads.

The Delhi government hopes to launch an App for car-pooling and giving lifts to strangers. In a display of responsible governance, it has appealed to people to avoid giving lifts to strangers for security reasons.

Meanwhile, capacity created on roads, if any, will be quickly absorbed by making new, bigger buildings, with even more grossly inadequate parking spaces, and narrowing down passageways with the help of unauthorised parking. As was so effectively done when the Delhi metro came into being and took away, we are told, some load from the roads. While absorption of road space has been planned for, it is not yet clear how the reduced pollution, if any, will be replaced, so that another hurried decision, to reduce it and save the lives of common men and women, can be taken in the future. The CM has appealed to the common man to play his part if he desires to be saved again in the future.

Vilified they may be for taking this decision, one has to grant, even if grudgingly, that the Delhi government has taken a bold step. And, in doing so, they have opened up a gloriously simple and effective path for solving many of the internecine problems plaguing the world, so that we can live together and happily, if not ever after, at least longer.

Crimes against women, committed by men, as they almost always are, will soon be history. The state government is about to issue a decree to permit men and women out on the streets on odd and even days. Only persons with disability, women with other women and children upto 12 years of age, persons in a medical emergency carrying proof, paramilitary forces, SPG protectees, diplomatic corps, the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta, will be exempt.

We can look forward to a future of rock-solid fixed-line quality connections on our mobile phones. Only even numbered phones will be allowed to function on even days, and odd numbered ones on odd days.

Death caused by irresponsible use of private fire-arms will be reduced to half by permitting only arms with an even-number registration to fire irresponsibly of even days, and, you guessed it again, odd-numbered ones on odd days.

This could change the world.

It already is changing the world. Fighting to be in the race to save the world from drowning in pollution, a village in Italy has banned the making of pizzas in wood-fired ovens, while Japan has banned smoking between 9 AM and 12 noon on weekdays. In an effort to not get left behind in the race to save the world, the Nordic countries have come together to ban walking and cycling and introduced a steep tax on all cars that are not SUVs. Found wanting in their ability to further improve the quality of their air, they hope these steps will position them well to contribute to this noble cause when the need to save the world arises the next time.

While the city celebrates, a citizen group has struck a sour note by asking the Delhi government for a refund of half of the road-tax car owners have to pay at the time of buying a car. “If you are not permitting me to use my car half the time, you can only charge 50% of the amount,” is the logic.

But the government is not letting such trifles worry them. After all, they have the power of inadequate assessment and hurried decision-making on their side.

Horse Before The Car

An earlier post, on 17th September, titled Thank God It’s Tuesday, has stirred the hornet’s nest. The nest, that we also call home. Battle lines have been drawn. Predictably, as my readers would have come to guess by now, only me on one side.

Matters came to such a pass that the entire duration of a drive to a restaurant, about a week back, lasting about forty-five minutes, one of the longest forty-five minutes I have encountered, was devoted to a discussion on the subject of car-free Tuesdays, as has been proposed, and implemented in parts of Gurgaon, and, on which subject, my earlier post was based. Despite knowing who I was up against, there being no place to hide inside a car on a forty-five minute drive, the debate was joined.

Just as well, because what was understood to be a one-day adventure, is now expected to become a weekly affair. Come Tuesday, come car-free day in Gurgaon. The next Tuesday is never far away.

Reproduced below, to the best of my memory, is a summary of what transpired in the confines of a car travelling forty-five minutes to a restaurant in Delhi, with four people inside, about a week back, as night was falling. In order that you do not go scrolling down to the bottom of this post, I will only reveal here that all four occupants came out alive, without signs of any bodily harm or physical injury.

Them:

Cannot understand the criticism of car-free Tuesdays. It is a good idea. You have to start somewhere, isn’t it? Maybe it cannot be done on other days of the week for some reason. Going car-free on one day of the week is a step in the right direction and we should encourage it. And it is OK if a cost-benefit analysis has not been done. It is not possible to have a cost-benefit for everything. This is for raising awareness amongst people, of the benefits of not using cars. Even raising awareness is a benefit, is it not?

Me:

I have nothing against it. But, if it is such a good idea, why are we doing it only on one day of the week? Every day should be a car-free day. Hastily declaring a day as a car-free day sounds fishy to me. It reeks of tokenism; doing something because you are under pressure to take some action, irrespective of eventual results. The Gurgaon administration will perhaps claim that pollution levels on Tuesday have come down thanks to this drive, without certifying if the levels on other days go up.

And what about impact on output, or GDP? Is there nobody missing a meeting? Is there nobody rescheduling planned work? Are there no workers unable to make it to work? Are they going to do that missed work on another day? Will that not increase the pollution level on that other day?

Where do the bicycles and shuttle buses being used on Tuesdays come from? Is there an alternate use which they are being forced to cancel, for their availability for car-free Tuesdays? What about the GDP loss on account of withdrawal from those services? If not, then do we have an excess of this equipment? Who is responsible for spending people’s money on buying needless equipment which will only be used on Tuesdays?

If the administration is saying that private companies are providing these resources at no cost to the exchequer, we will obviously believe them. Because private companies in India are set-up for the purpose of charity and public good. To chip-in as and when a government official gives a call for a car-free Tuesday. Making money is not part of their DNA. They will neither look for compensation nor contracts in lieu, for the services so provided.

Before the government implements a plan, there needs to be an assessment. The assessment needs to say that the plan will add value, or, be good for the world, or the part of the world they are responsible for. If assessed to be good, it should become a law, and implemented forever. If not good, what is the point of doing it even one day of the week? One does need to have a view. It may not be an exact mathematical assessment, but a view needs to be taken, based on available information, whether a proposed action will be of benefit or not.

If the population being addressed is that of adults, where is the need for “show and tell”? Are we saying out adult population is not smart enough to know what is good for them and what is not? There are education and awareness mechanisms available, like advertising. Why not use them? And, if people, based on their assessment of the world around them, have come to the conclusion that driving is the most effective means of transport for them, are they not going to continue driving on other days of the week once these special shuttle-buses and cycles stop being available on those days?

If raising awareness were to be enough, why don’t we switch off all traffic lights and make them work only on, say, Wednesdays, to raise awareness among people that it is good for them to follow traffic rules. The rest of the days should, arguably, be smooth because we would have told those foolish adults what they would never have otherwise known. Or hang people for murders committed only on Thursdays. Murders on other days will automatically stop. Of course we have a foolish adult population and we need our wise administrators to tell them what is good for them.

Though I have clearly expressed my views in the earlier post as well, having heard strong contrary opinions from my family members, I wanted to open up the debate to a larger audience. I have been known to be a fair person, especially when under pressure to be fair. Would welcome your views on the subject. Of course, any views different from mine could be subject to summary deletion.

I have also attempted to use the polling option to seek specific feedback, if you can spare a minute.

 

Thank God It’s Tuesday

Once upon a time, not so long ago, people who could afford to travel far, would tend to do so. And people who could not, would not. People who could, and would, would come back with scarcely believable stories of how they would sit alone in big, powerful, hired cars, on the smooth tarmac of wide open roads, and barely crawl, while watching cars with two and three passengers whiz by in reserved lanes. These people came back not only with these fantastic stories, but also with valid questions about our government’s commitment to development, and if ever a time would come when, after years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, what else?, the government would ask them to not drive them. The cars we mean. How long could they keep going to these faraway lands for these experiences? And, were the many, who could not, to be forever deprived of the fruits of development?

Thankfully, those dark days can be safely consigned to the dust-bin of history as a bad memory. Youngsters do not need to grow up with the burden of being born in an under-developed nation any longer. Gone are the days when one would need to travel to developed countries in the West in order to experience development. It is happening here. It is happening now.

It has been announced that Tuesdays will be observed as Car Free Days in Gurgaon, that Mecca of modern development.

You heard it right. We are there. After years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, the government is now asking people to not drive them.

The salutary effect of this announcement is already being felt all around, even though the first car-free Tuesday has not yet come around.

It has immediately ushered in a private shuttle-service provider being contracted to offer transportation services to people. A shuttle-service provider who would have had no business from the government if cars had not been prohibited for a day. A shuttle-service provider, who, being a commercial enterprise, will offer these services by losing money.

HUDA, our Urban Development Authority, has promised to repair all roads in Gurgaon. Their impeccable reasoning, it appears, is that since roads will not be used any more, at least for driving, it would be safe to repair them.

Showing solidarity with the decision, the chief of the traffic unit of Gurgaon police has committed to walk to her office that day. In the emotional aftermath of this momentous announcement, it was unclear whether she will walk to her office from across the road, or from the entrance to her office building. In any case, her able team has promised to keep her entire possible walking route clear of all pedestrian traffic on the car-free day so that she is able to effectively enable the common man to walk freely on the roads.

In addition, the traffic police has assured people that since there will be no vehicles on the road, they will ensure that not only are traffic signals not violated, but people also park only in designated places.

It is promising to be an exciting day.

“It would not have been possible without your support. This is really a celebration of your tireless efforts. You have continued to buy cars, each bigger than the last, mindlessly, while we have continued to mindfully neglect public transportation and the environment,” the Minister, just arrived in a posse of SUVs trailing dust in post-monsoon September, said, as he stepped onto the stage to speak at an event to announce the occasion.

“Did you know that this decision will save an average of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day?” he said as soon as the applause had died down. “And it does not end here. Since it is so important to save on greenhouse gas emissions, instead of a mere 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day this Tuesday, we will ensure that the savings can double to 5.2 kg per person, within a year. To enable us to meet this objective, two new car-making plants, to be set-up in Gurgaon, exclusively for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, have been sanctioned today. Now it is in your hands to ensure that Gurgaon delivers, yet again.” The rest of his words were drowned out in the thunderous applause that greeted this announcement.

To commemorate the occasion, a major South Korean car company has announced a special Car-Free Day edition of their most popular model. These cars will be collector’s item and will have only one useful function; of making the car maker rich without any logical reason.

A European car maker has announced the sacking of their CEO on account of poor performance in India and the government’s unhappiness about the same. It has been reported that if he had delivered on his targets, the Car Free Day would have been scheduled much earlier, as the desired saving target of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gases per person would have become possible earlier.

Claiming that most of the work that made this day possible had been done during their tenure of ten years, the Opposition called a Press Conference on the sidelines of the main event.

“Nothing is impossible,” the leader of the Opposition said, “when one is armed with a complete lack of ideas and knowledge about what one is doing. This concrete and glass city, is a case-study in the complete absence of policies that lead to rapid development. In a city that has come up in less than thirty years, and was meticulously planned from scratch, we have successfully failed to plan for people to cross roads, how one road will connect to another, and even for parking. If that had not been done in such a thorough manner, how would we be building this spanking new underpass where we are holding this meeting, as we speak, or the parking structure over there? Not only that, the many twists and turns you have to go through under the brand new highway to locate your turn, made more challenging by the traffic police frequently changing the direction of turns without any announcement or signage, is a shining example of the complete absence of planning. I challenge you to reach Moulsari Avenue, a mere 500 metres away, in less than 30 minutes. If this is not development, show me what is.”

Meanwhile, at the main event, the Minister revealed that delegations sent to other global cities to study their interventions have yielded many ideas that will soon be implemented. For instance, in one place, only even and odd car numbers are permitted on specific days. “Isn’t that wonderful? Now each person can buy twice the number of cars without the need to drive an inch more. I assure you that by the time my term finishes, from one car-free day per week, we will ensure that each car can be driven only on one day in the week.”

Yet another box has been checked off in our relentless drive (no pun intended) towards development.

Let us, this day, solemenly pledge to contribute to development by buying more cars, especially ones that we cannot afford, as it will help us in walking more and using public transport more.

Driving Skills – 4; Traffic Signs

In Hindi movies, cops dutifully arrive after the hero has thrashed the villain black and blue and rescued the damsel in distress, basically to put the villain away and tie up the loose ends like towing away vehicles damaged in the car-chase at the end, apologising to the people wrongly charged earlier, and other key events in the narrative.

After much of the traffic rules have been rewritten (see Driving Skills – 2 and Driving Skills – 3) by yours truly, the Surface Transport Authority has gotten into the act and finally updated archaic traffic signs to reflect the current reality and ensure that their interpretation is aligned with the understanding people have of a particular sign or signal.

Well, better late than never, we say!

 

Drive at 50 Or under 50 Or over 50

Drive at 50
Or under 50
Or over 50

 

Free Parking

Free Parking

 

Short-cut to destination

Short-cut to destination

All vehicles prohibited Except yours

All vehicles prohibited
Except yours

Check for cop If not visible, GO If visible, STOP

Check for cop
If not visible, GO
If visible, STOP

 

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

 

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

 

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop. Do not cross at this point. Jaywalk on any other part of road.

Stop. Walk at your own risk.

 

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Keep moving

Keep moving

 

In the unlikely event you took your hand off the horn…

In the unlikely event you forgot

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Overtake from left Overtake from right

Overtake from left
Overtake from right

Expect other vehicles to give way to you

Take way here

This sign has been taken out of circulation

This sign has been moved to the museum

 

These are the signs of our times. Look forward to a smooth ride on Indian roads…