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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Thank You For The Music

Dear Mr. Khattar,

(For the uninitiated, Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar is the Chief Minister of Haryana, the state where Gurgaon, where I live, lies)

Thank you for the music on the night of Friday, 18th August, extending into the wee hours of Saturday, 19th August. Yes last night.

Music that I neither asked for nor wanted.

Music that I understand is supposed to stop at 10 PM.

I realise the pains you have to go through to provide these little pleasures to your residents. Pleasures that residents of few leading cities in the world get to savour. Of free, unasked for music at unearthly hours. Not for nothing is Gurgaon known as the millennium city. After the destruction of overground vegetation and underground water reservoirs, this is perhaps a logical way forward for a modern, progressive city.

My last faint memory of the night is of purple lights blinking inside my head to the thumping of loud, remixed music. This must have been around 12.50 PM at night. But I could be mistaken. The only certain marker of time I have from last night is of the last call I received from the Sector 29 Police Station informing me that they will arrange for a Police Control Room (PCR) van to go to the establishment spreading the joy and ask them to switch off the music. That was around 12.40 AM.

My wife had initially called to complain (silly woman – complaining about a civic nuisance!) at about 11.25 PM. She had called the Sector 40 Police Station under whose jurisdiction our housing society falls.

Of course, till 12.30 AM nothing had been done. In fact, the music had grown louder and was belting out some foot-tapping scores.

Reluctantly I called the same Police Station again. After failing to connect with the PCR on “100”. The person answering the call expressed surprise that the music had not stopped despite him having done nothing about it. I offered that the music might be coming from across the road, from the eatery attached to the shiny new liquor vend that has come up near our building.

Though he might have expected the music to have stopped on its own, on hearing this he immediately said that that area is under the jurisdiction of the Sector 29 Police Station. The Doklam standoff between China and India may have nothing on this border dispute between the Police Stations of Sector 29 and Sector 40.

Notwithstanding the border dispute, he was kind enough to give me another number for reaching the PCR which, unfortunately, connected. The PCR might have conveyed the message to the Sector 29 Police Station which is perhaps why they called me.

I must stop here and apologise for my rudeness to the person who called. I asked him if they at the Police Station could not hear the music and why did they have to wait for a complaint. I also had the temerity to ask him about the punitive action that would be taken against the establishment. What was I thinking? If he gave a response I did not hear it. If you get a chance, please convey my sincere apologies to the person for asking inappropriate questions.

I am also extremely sorry I was not able to participate in the festivities longer than 12.50 AM. I have made a mental note to sleep through the day tomorrow so that I can enjoy the late night festivities you and your administration have arranged for unsuspecting and ungrateful residents like me.

I will also try to communicate the same to children who need to get up early for school and seniors living in our building to ensure that they also sleep through the day so that we can all enjoy this unexpected treat from the authorities together. It will hopefully bring us all together cutting across lines of age, gender, religion, occupation, etc. We cannot thank you enough.

Of course I understand. If we cannot stop rapes, molestations and murders in the city, what right do we have to expect such trifles to be prevented? How can the police be expected to know that an establishment in their vicinity is playing loud music beyond permitted hours and censure them? They can only know if a resident complains. Isn’t it?

On another note, I also thank you for the early practice, as the silly season begins in October when the weather turns for the better and outdoor merriment starts. It is good to get one’s ear accustomed to unauthorised late night music as HUDA Gymkhana Club and Kingdom of Dreams, both within a stone’s throw of our building, who have been the bellwethers of unauthorised late night music in our neck of the woods till last year, begin their respective acts.

Equally, it is wonderful to see that the administration, as behoves an administration in a market economy, is leaving no stone unturned to introduce greater competition in this area as well. After all, why should HUDA Gymkhana Club and Kingdom of Dreams have a free run on late night unauthorised music?

Would it be possible to publish a playlist for the night’s unauthorised music playing so that residents can be better prepared with the right accompaniments for the music being dished out? If not, can we introduce a system through which “requests” can be sent to the erring establishment so that the unauthorised music could be to the liking of the forced audience?

Even if the above requests cannot be entertained, please don’t fret. You are keeping us entertained, albeit against our wishes. Your good deeds will stand you well. Remind me again when the next elections are due.

If I sound distracted in writing this thank you note, I apologise. I am writing this at 2.30 AM, after waking from a fitful sleep with those purple lights still flashing inside my head. It seems the music has restarted. Thanks again. Apologies if my complaint caused the music to be shut down for a few minutes, or was it seconds. I realise that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth. Who knows, we may be condemned to live in a city with rule of law.

Sincerely,

An ungrateful resident.

Police Academy

The serial blasts that rocked the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bihar’s Gaya district two days back, have united the world in expressing shock against this dastardly deed targeting one of the holiest shrines of Buddhism, arguably the most peacable amongst religions.

Developments in the case are hogging headlines, placing those involved in the ensuing investigations, like the police, squarely in the limelight, leading to a public debate on the practices they have been following.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) questions man for Bodh Gaya blasts”, a leading national daily has reported today in bold headlines.

“This is a marked departure from past practices followed by the police and other investigative agencies in the state, who have blamed cattle, stray dogs, and other animate and inanimate objects, for instances of a criminal nature, with great success”, the same national daily then, apparently, forgetting to add in the write-up.

Police old-timers have expressed dismay at this development. “What was the need to change practices that have served the state so well since independence?” they have rightly queried. Their concern “where will we find enough men to question for the number of crimes taking place in the state?” remains unanswered.

In a separate development, senior police officials clarified that despite allegations by political parties, there was no intelligence failure on the part of the police. Talking to reporters at the police station, a senior police official has claimed that he was fully aware of the bombing plans.

In order to further buttress his astonishing claim, he called several of his team-members to the meeting and asked them if they were aware of the bombing plans as well. Sensing hesitation amongst team-members, he asked them to speak the truth fearlessly without fear of reprisals.

One by one, each of the team-members came up and said that they were aware of plans to bomb the temple.

After each one of them had got a chance to say their piece, which was almost identical, watched by a proud senior official, he (senior official) looked the reporters square in the eye, twirled his moustache and asked, “You heard it yourself. Each one of my team-members was aware of the bombing plan. Can you call this an intelligence failure? Please ask the politicians to mind their own business and not meddle in what they know nothing about”.

Politicians guilty of calling this an intelligence failure have apologised and nominated the police department for a special award in recognition of their education and knowledge about events past, present and future.