All right, if one more Bangalorean (or should that have been Benguluru-ian?) tells me that traffic is the city’s worst problem, I’m going to cause a traffic jam myself… Don’t worry about how I’m going to manage that, there are enough examples around me to learn really quickly from, I guess the bigger problem is going to be finding an unclogged street to clog!
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up at 12:23 in the night, this is why…
Some time ago, this evening, I was in a taxi (no names, I’m afraid of lawsuits, but they’re the one’s with the bluish Logans in Bangalore and bluish Esteems in Bombay, now you guess…) trying to get from a remote-ish part of town to a slightly less remote part of town and we’d just started… when something really weird (but common in Bangalore, I was told) happened. Our chauffeur was guiding the taxi out of a mud road into an intersection where in front of us, there was a truck approaching and from the distant right, a bike with three people on it… Neither the truck driver nor our chauffeur expected the biker to try to squeeze in between us, two larger vehicles almost nose to nose on a narrow road, but believe it or not, he did… and ended up crashing into the taxi’s driver side door at decent speed causing a sizeable dent, and almost inserting his pillion riders under the truck’s wheels. The truck driver, obviously worldly-wise about bike-etiquette in this part of town, braked long enough for the two passengers to pick themselves up and run like their bums were on fire, and then drove casually along to wherever he was headed…
The rider of the ill-fated motorcycle, a scared, weepy schoolkid without (obviously!) a drivers license, or any money, was quickly rounded up by the locals, one of whom(I’ll call him the idea-man) decided to educate our chauffeur on the best strategy to adopt to settle this issue, while some drunks from a local “country” joint decided to entertain themselves by trying to slap some good driving habits into this kid.
Now, since the kid did not have any money, the crowd decided that they would keep the bike hostage while the kid arranged for the funds to repair the taxi. At this point, I was very curious to know what they’d planned for me to do in the meanwhile. The chauffeur said after consultations with idea-man, that he’d leave the bike there but keep the key, drop me to my destination, then come back and sort this out. I went back and sat in the car, which was parked(?) brilliantly in the middle of the road, and waited…
Looking impatiently out of the window, I suddenly saw Mr. idea-man hurriedly taking Mr. chauffeur aside, while the crowd decided to disperse rather quickly, leaving only the three of them there. Considering the commotion just a moment ago, you’d find it difficult to believe how scores of people can disappear that quickly. But they did, and so did Mr. idea man, probably after running out of ideas. Mr. Chauffeur had a quick chat with Mr. Biker and I saw Mr. Biker hand his mobile phone over to Mr. Chauffeur, and take his key back… Now I was puzzled, big time!
When Mr. Chauffeur returned and finally drove us away, I asked him what made the crowd disappear like that, and he said, “Sir, that boy… that boy, Muslim boy, people don’t want trouble…”. The statement floored me, it was almost as if he’d said that kid was from Mars and had a plasma-gun in his pants. I asked him why he took his mobile phone, and he said “I ask him to give call on his own phone, that way he won’t know my number… no trouble for me… then when he calls, I ask him come to workshop and settle repair money, I not come here again…” …end of story!
I know this sounds preachy, but for a country that’s upto it’s own neck in all we keep saying and saying about protecting ourselves from hostile outsiders, we have a long way to go in facing our own prejudices.
I remember someone asking me recently, how I feel when I go into a Muslim-dominated area… all right, let’s give this some thought… how am I supposed to feel? Hang on a minute, am I even supposed to feel something? If I wanted to go to some place where I wanted to feel something, I’d go to Venice, or Everest, or the North Pole for God’s sake (now don’t ask me which one… God that is…)
What I feel when I go to a Muslim-dominated area is nothing… I don’t feel like patronizing anybody by saying I feel more love for humanity when I go there, I also don’t feel alienated like a lot of people would admit to feeling.
I am a Hindu, but I’m not proud of it… it’s not the religion I have a problem with, it’s being slotted. The day I was born, I was the same ugly, pink, wailing, slimy little creature with a pipeline hanging out of my belly like everybody else… I didn’t ask to be categorized on the basis of my birthday, my colour, my religion, my nationality, my education, my IQ, my political views, my sexuality… it’s something that happened after that, and its something I have to live with. Hopefully, by the time my child grows up, we’d have done something about this human fascination with categorization… hopefully!
One image comes to mind, and floods me with hope… an image of a policeman shot in the chest outside CST Station in Mumbai, being carried like a child by a huge bearded man, his religious preference being made obvious by his missing moustache, on a bike to hospital in an obvious disregard to religious prejudices, probably ending up saving his life. I guess it takes an attack to our very core, to bring out the humans in us… but I wish there was an easier way, a way that wouldn’t have to take close to 200 lives…
This post ended up a little profound, and it wasn’t intended… but what the hell, it’s my blog!
See you on the other side of some more Bengaluru-traffic-and-its-strange-stories.