A Day In Our Life!
Mere desh ki dharti…
In the olden days, non-resident Indians seldom retraced their steps. Only a handful of rebels dared to try out, and most of them couldn’t survive the experiment beyond the first year. Fortunately, times have changed. Today, non-resident Indians resettling in India is very much the norm. The acclimatization with the harsh realities of a developing nation happens rather rapidly. Sure, our country has its share of ugliness, but we are also home to some of the world’s most delightful people and places. For instance, try a monsoon drive through the clouds of the Western Ghats, and then feel the warm spirit of Indian youth dousing themselves under cool drizzly waterfalls—–that’s the aroma of our country’s soil at its best.
One such recent weekend found our family driving back from Aamby Valley to Lonavala, enroute to Pune. On a regular day, this drive lasts a mere thirty minutes (even by my driving standards ). But just as we descended the last stretch of the mountain and hit the plains, we screeched into a traffic jam. It is a narrow, two-lane road; the traffic is usually thin here eliminating the need of a divider to separate the ongoing traffic from the incoming traffic. But the clouds and the waterfalls had changed it into a makeshift tourist hotspot.
Lonavala was only 6 km away, we leisurely waited for the traffic to move. All of a sudden, a small car overtook us and ended up semi-blocking the traffic coming from the opposite lane. I, along with a few of my neighboring car drivers jumped out, gave the traffic breaker a piece of our minds and made him back up all the way behind the last car in the queue. Satisfied, I got back into the car as the traffic started nudging ahead.
The relief didn’t last long, the next hour saw us barely covering a km-long stretch. It was not looking good. The traffic now was at a standstill. There were no approaching cars from the opposite side, indicating a definite standoff ahead. I got out of my car once again, and walked ahead to investigate. The traffic bottleneck point lay about five hundred feet ahead. The drivers of three parallel cars were in direct eye contact with the drivers of three facing cars! Next to the blockage was a fence with a locked gate leading to a large commercial piece of land. The dire situation demanded drastic measures. I joined the law (and lock) breakers, as we gatecrashed the renegade cars into the grounds of the deserted plot.
Our car inched ahead. An excruciating hour later, we were back to a grinding halt. The only difference, the traffic was clogged parallel on both sides—ongoing as well as incoming vehicles. It was obvious that unless the reverse lane moved, our lane wouldn’t see any improvement either. This time I got down and walked backwards. Many fellow travelers joined my initiative, as we helped clear the path for the opposite traffic to get moving.
Our car started its crusade again, i.e. if you call alternating between one-minute crawls and ten-minute stops a “crusade”! Over the next couple of hours, I picked up verbal and finger pointing duels with several cheeky drivers who dared to overtake and sneak back in the correct lane. I was determined—under no circumstance was I going to allow any room for the felons to steal the slot ahead of my car.
But it was a losing battle. We were stuck for over five hours in the jam, and the end of ‘eveningmare’ was nowhere in sight. Resigned, the moment called for whatever it took to make it to home-sweet-home. So I started assisting the offenders in the overtaking lane. All were welcome to get ahead of my car; I was creating exclusive room for them to cut in so that the damn traffic could at least move!
After seven long hours and countless “why did I move back to India” curses, we made it to Lonavala (and back to Pune shortly thereafter). The sun finally disappeared on the (un)forgettable day. But not before the reappearance of the dormant doubt—is it really worth living in India? Perhaps we are being a bit harsh here? After all, wasn’t it just a one-off day in Indian life? Or maybe it caught the essence of a wider calendar—The days of Indian lives?
Schooling in India has a lot of emphasis on moral education. We are taught to do the right things. As kids, we dream of a society as pure as a waterfall after the rain. Anytime we come across a wrongdoer, we correct the culprit right there. If it means the lawbreaker has come in the wrong lane, we make him reverse all the way until he is put in the right place.
Then we enter our college years, and the hot blood brings the aggressive desire to fix the world. If a wrong action can correct a bigger wrong thing, then so be it. A passionate youth seldom blinks before breaking the locks of a gate if that is what it takes to clear the way for a righteous kingdom.
Then we graduate and enter the professional world. Now we have sobered with a toned-down practical view of the world. We become men of constructive action. Rather than continuously correcting wrong things, we hunt for pragmatic workarounds. When we are stuck in a jam, we walk back in our lane, do patchwork on the broken stuff so that the clogging can be opened up.
Then our priorities change as we get entrenched in our growing families. Our spouse and kids become a bigger part of our being than the society at large. Let humanity sort out its own mess, it’s not our problem. We are here to take care of our own kin, nobody dare cut across the lanes of our loved ones!
Then we start aging and watch our next generation wage the same war we combated all our life. But now the bloodshed doesn’t bother us as much. The years of battle have taken their toll; we are not even judgmental of those who are responsible for our scars. In fact, many of our dear ones have crossed over to the enemy lane. The resignation and acceptance of the anarchy is now institutionalized in our DNA. We are tired and just want to get home.
So does this mean that the waterfall has all dried up? That all hope is lost in the congestion of our lives? Of course not! I didn’t cross over to the wrong lane, did I? And if I was stuck all over again, I still won’t opt for the 5-hour cheat drive to beat the 7-hour honest one. As would the majority of my fellow citizens who stood alongside on the ‘left’ side! We will patiently wait for the lanes to get wider, dividers to come in, systems for better traffic controls, dilution of crowding by way of more tourist options and, above all, the wisdom for our disoriented comrades.
Meanwhile, here is an interesting poll to figure out the mindset of my fellow-travelers. At which stop in the above journey do the readers of this blog find themselves today?