I started this piece as a tirade against two-wheeler riders who, over and above their flagrant disregard for all possible traffic rules, have started a new trend on divider-less roads, riding along the right side of their roads and cars, into the oncoming traffic, forcing these head-on vehicles to move further left — one day someone will not give way and…boom!
This angst was precipitated by my visits to South Africa last month and Kenya last week, both third world countries, where people follow traffic rules faithfully, despite all the issues they face. And in a place like Bali last year, our driver refused to reverse his car for a mere 20 metres, because it was against the rules. If people in these countries can follow the law, why can’t we?
One way of dealing with the indignation created by these analogies is to assume that all two-wheeler riders who flout rules are morally bankrupt and essentially criminals in waiting, who in the years to come, will be the ones filling our jails as murderers and thieves. But…
…this is not really true. Those who break traffic rules may not otherwise be dishonest and those who follow rules are not necessarily the most upright. For example, Mr. Rajat Gupta, who is otherwise revered as a philanthropist and someone who goes out of his way to help others was recently indicted for passing insider corporate information to his friends.
If the world were all black and white, those who lie to insurance companies during their Mediclaim applications and deny the presence of any past or present illnesses would be criminals. And yet, when you gently tell these same people they are committing fraud, most of them will look at you as if you are a complete idiot. And these may not be the same ones who break traffic rules or commit corporate fraud while those who defraud other companies may actually tell the truth to the insurance company about a past illness.
I remember a recent incident. We were on the Expressway, in the Ghat section on our way to Pune. Suddenly we encountered a wall of vehicles in front of us and had to stop. The traffic was backed up and we had no clue what the reason was or how long it would take to clear. Ten minutes passed and soon many cars started driving on the opposite side of the Expressway along the shoulder. I decided to stay put, but after another ten minutes, I gave up and decided to follow the others. The fact that I didn’t eventually have to do so because the traffic in front cleared just then, doesn’t change the fact that I would have broken every possible rule at that point in time, just to get out of that traffic jam.
A black-and-white world really does not exist — it is the fear and extent of punishment that pushes us into the white from the grey — not necessarily our innate sense of what is correct or not. And sometimes, a herd mentality is tough to fight against!
The solution to regulate traffic though is very obvious…we need strict implementation of existing rules with stringent punishment and fines.
PS: I am touched by all the SMSes, emails, FB messages and blog comments expressing concern over last week’s incident. But really, there is no Mahavir bar (no not even for Jains) and Upper Parel does not exist (despite what some builders would like us believe) and the Nehru Home for Wayward Men is just a figment of my imagination.