Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Mumbai is rude on the roads - an after thought

Yesterday I wrote about an old survey that proclaimed Mumbai the rudest city on earth. I wrote that I agreed with the fact pointed out by many Mumbaikars that the criteria used to judge the cities was too 'western'. A couple of people commented that amongst other cities, Mumbai is a lot more 'sophisticated'. Agreed again. But that said, I ask, of what use is it to compare oneself with those worse off than you? Why not look ahead and try to improve?

Now comes the deal. I thought, where does such a huge difference in road culture come from? Rather why? Is it something in or culture? I guess not, since the first human civilization was Indian - the Harappan civilization. And I guess the lack of civility and politeness is what we're talking about. And then this happened. The other day, a coffee in hand, I got into a friend's car. Talking as usual, we kept driving. At a light, she looked in my direction, and I saw her face turn scarlet. Well, not really red as a beetroot thing, but she asked me to 'please belt up'. Expecting a display of some F1 racing driving skills, I played the joke, saying, "You can't drive that fast!!" At which she said, " Well, if I get caught or seen by the police with an un-belted passenger, my points increase, which means, my insurance premium will be raised. Here I am fighting to retain my job with a mortgage to pay down, the last thing I need is a heightened premium because of an un-belted Indian tourist!"

Oops! I sheepishly belted up and looked straight ahead. (She promised to get me a short mild tomorrow to atone for the loss in temper. Yay!!) But then, since we're on the topic of driving and culture on roads, I thought that maybe people are unruly on roads, since no one will subject the errant drivers to punitive action. An uncle of mine greatly disapproved of my driver's license. He said, "You may be a sterling driver, but on Indian roads, you have a bunch of baboons with blinkers behind the wheel. It's they I am afraid of, not your driving acumen. Perhaps we need to introduce a 'No driving without insurance' law as well, by which our traffic could also perhaps be a lot more responsible.

Ultimately, we are all primates, and primates understand the word of the whip. Many people don't shovel snow from their front yard. The result - snow becomes ice an ice can be awfully slippery. Postmen and other delivery people fall, and sue the state, the resident, whoever. The resident enters into a painful trial, at times back-suing the state, for faulty winter gear provided to the postmen! A measure suggested by the Canadian Government - fines to be imposed if anyone leaves snow unattended.

Eco-friendly regulations. Till the time, that no regulations were in place, people never carried shopping bags to malls. It was the omnipresent plastic bag that flew off cash counter hooks. Till the time people were urged to care for the environment, their eco-friendliness was contingent on convenience. A five cent cost per bag, suddenly brought out all old shopping bags and discarded carts.

But then again, only policing may not be the panacea. Consider the skiing season in Canada this year. 8 people died in a massive avalanche attack in BC. The people and the families held police authorities and the resort authorities responsible. Later sources revealed that the tourists were skiing in 'avalanche - danger' marked areas. Could such a tragedy have been averted if the people had been a tad more responsible? Perhaps. The resort people later said, 'how much or how many can we police? People need to realize that they have families waiting at home.'

It is up to us to weigh the options, and wonder about what we want. Whether we need to lose mental peace each time we step out on the roads, expecting self-regulation, which almost always is a matter of convenience or look for very strict policing in matters that rob our peace. Understanding what we Indians are like (social mores blah blah blah), I guess the latter would only work. What say?

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