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Traffic rules in the world can be confusing. Americans drive on the right side of the road, the British drive on the left side of the road and Indians drive on any little open space available on the road. The irresistible urge to wedge your car into any available space on the road is so Indian. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Guwahati, tight squeezes are common scenes on the roads. We can go to any extent to claim the open space on the road. If the lane on the other side of the divider is open, we can even take that lane too. Even in Gurgaon and Noida, India’s ultramodern cities, it is not uncommon to see some desperate fellow Indian brethren braving all odds and coming head on right into your lane. Fatalities do take place in Indian underpasses from time to time as some callous drivers drive in from the wrong side.

Indians’ obsession with honking is no less than Jimi Hendrix’s enthusiasm about playing the guitar. We would make Miller Rees Hutchinson, the inventor of the vehicle-horn, turn in his grave with our absolutely non-stop raucous honking. I really hope a company comes up with a ‘talking horn’ soon that shouts back at the driver saying - “Hey dummy, can’t you see the traffic backed up right up to your neck? How can your honking clear the road?”

Then we have to put up with another bunch of restless drivers always wanting to get ahead of others even when there is a dead-end. I used to detest the truck bumper sticker that says- “Hatar nagar bhai! Narak ma khacha-khach bhid chha!” (Hey, what’s the big hurry? Hell is already too overcrowded!). Sometimes, I want to buy one too. They have the audacity to drive past a long queue of vehicles, who have been ‘patiently’ waiting for a road blockage to clear up for hours. In their mad rush to stupidly overtake others who have reached there hours before them, they end up choking the flow of traffic, thus further delaying everybody else. It’s no secret that most of these impatient fellows do not have a high level meeting to attend or a video conferencing with world leaders when they get in to their destinations.

The only way to curb such obstructive practices is to fine them extraordinarily. Just the other day, we were coming from Siliguri and a few kilometres into Sevoke, we hit a terrible jam. They were clearing the mud, debris and rock brought on by heavy rains. Our frustration at the poor traffic management got worse by the minute as we helplessly saw these morons overtaking the vehicles queued up in the jam. The utter lack of traffic management skill and poor overall supervision made the chaos way beyond the control of the few police officers that were present there. A stretch of barely 4 km seemed like 100 km. It took us a mammoth of two and a half hours to crawl past this trouble spot. This is the kind of inconvenience we face. I can’t even believe that I am actually describing our traffic problems in the 21st century. Incredible India! The West Bengal traffic police, with their enthusiasm for fining drivers somehow hasn’t exploited this opportunity. During monsoon, if they were to keep a vigil and bring all such impatient drivers to book, they would earn unprecedented revenue for their department. But most significantly, they would win a big round of applause from right thinking people stranded in the traffic jam. If the fining continued for a month, we would encounter a much improved situation in the next monsoon. Some fellows are hopelessly disposed to learn things the hard way.

Jiwan Rai

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