Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why this Kolaveri Di?

"A developed country is not where the poor have cars, but where the rich people take public transport."

Cognizant of the fact that this quote has its origins in a statement made by the Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, an upper middle-class economy, I picked this up from one of the local newspaper articles during my visit to Singapore a few years back. It somehow got stuck in my memory. And now, when I have just spent some time in Hong Kong, my ruminations are humming - "Why this Kolaveri Di?" Incidentally, this song was released and became famous around the time I was frequently traveling to Trinidad & Tobago, more of Trinidad & Tobago, more of a high income developing country, but at the same time contributing equally to this train of thoughts.

No, it is not only about rich people using public transport. It is about the whole attitude. The attitude of behaving oneself on the road. The emotion of being responsible, being disciplined. It is about respecting the coexistence of other human beings around you when you are on the road. It is about courtesy. Not that there are no traffic violations in developed or high income developing countries. It is about the frequency with which you observe such things on the road, and end up making comparisons. Comparisons become more pertinent in case of places like Hong Kong because you experience the same number of heads around, similar population density, similar narrow streets, lack of space to walk, people in a hurry ... so many similarities, but far better when it comes to the experience on the streets. For the sake of this post, let's not bring in the incomparables like the per capita income, literacy, negligible number of two-wheelers and so on.

Overtaking from wrong side, sneaking in after taking the other side of the lane to overtake, obstructing the free-left lane when you want to go straight and unnecessary honking are so common-place in our homeland that your hands itch to take control of the vehicle when the cab-driver in other countries does not do-the-obvious. Icing-on-the-cake are the instances below where your stomach really grumbles, the head shouts out aloud and asks you to get down from the car to whack the offender mercilessly, and make you a proud member of the road-rage-bully club.
    First and foremost are the Ambulance-Obstructionists. These are the nincompoops who do not turn and see which direction is the sound of the siren coming from, who can not care to check whether they are in the ambulance's way and who do not try to figure out if they can do anything to make way for the ambulance. They are ensconced in their own little world, with the ear plugs helping them to remain cut off from such worldly pursuits. A blessing in disguise for them are the traffic cops who will not bother about doing anything to expedite the movement of the poor soul, who, perhaps fighting for life, is still wondering why the ambulance has not taken a wrong side of the road to reach the destination faster. And the entire drama becomes more ridiculous when a select group of good citizens start honking in an unsuccessful attempt to attract the traffic cop's attention and coax him to act, and end up getting stared at because they have disturbed somebody's reverie. Salt on the wound is when you see the same breed shamelessly taking advantage of the ambulance's trail once it has somehow made its way.
      Then come the Snakes-and-Escorts. These are those two-wheeler riders, and some times the big brothers, who, at a traffic signal, find it insulting to stop for it to turn green. Wherever they see some space, or scope of maneuver, they will squeeze in, slithering in a serpentine motion, putting the rear view mirrors and bumpers of the good boys at risk, gifting a scratch here and awarding a dent there, triumphantly making their way through the patient morons, to see the black-and-white flag to be waived at the end of the race. These snakes have close country cousins in the escorts, who, hunting in pairs or groups, go too close to and on both sides of a patiently moving four-wheeler, just to ensure their prey is not targeted by anyone else. You'd feel tears flow down your eyes, the tongue itching to tell them not to give you so much respect, and keep it reserved only for those squadrons you see flying in the skies during the Republic Day parade. Their friendliness becomes all the more profound when the lane width is slightly more than that of the bigger beast they are escorting, and they take it upon themselves to save us from the representatives of our next category, the Right-of-Way Atheists.

      There is a fraternity of non-believers who have utter disrespect for the concept of right-of-way. They only believe in Darwin's Theory. Be it the nonchalant interrupter from the side lane who joins the big lane traffic without waiting for as much as the way given by the other motorists, or our friend coming out of the apartment joining the street traffic straight away without bothering that is is creating chaos. These atheists indeed have a religion with a single motto - Drive to deprive. This reminds me of an  observation in Trinidad and Tobago, where the vehicle getting a shoo in used to blow the horn almost in a silent acknowledgement, just about sufficient to let the other person know about it. Back home, the horn, much louder and longer in duration, is usually blown by the big lane guy, in utter frustration, because the jolly good fellow was just caught by surprise at the audacity of the intruder. However, not every time is the intruder at fault. Think about times when you wait endlessly on the side lanes, seeking permission to join in, and are not allowed because the bully has the right-of-way!

      Last but not the least are the Thankless-Opportunists. These are the champions of shamefulness, and for a change not exactly on the wheels. These are the people who are not obstructed, who are in fact given the right-of-way by certain souls of a fast diminishing breed called Patient-and-Courteous-Drivers. In absence of this breed, it will take the opportunists an eternity to cross the road, or join the traffic, or merge. Thanklessness comes from the fact that there is no acknowledgement to the permission that has been given, risking incessant honks from the innumerable nincompoops behind, some times risking the inflow of some flowery language. A smile helps, but it is more of a smirk, making fun of the courtesy. What is outrageous is the key-chain or the sharp nails, hopefully unknowingly, making their way on the bonnet, or for that matter the far end of the hand craft, kissing your tail light, as if giving you a certificate of appreciation. To top it all, sitting right there at the pinnacle, are the pedestrians, who chose to cross the road, red signal or green, seemingly oblivious of the traffic as if it is the motorists' problem to avoid hitting them, thereby leaving the foot-over-bridge, just a few meters away, questioning its existence.

      And when you experience all this on your way back from a full day in office, kolaveri is inevitable. Isn't it?

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