Sunday, November 30, 2008

The old tiger still roars

25 kilometres from the Indo-Nepal border, framed against the Terai forests of Lakhimpur Kheri, stands a lonely house… and here they say, an old tiger still roars.

The house was empty. Rising flood waters of the Soheli had claimed these lands for long this season and while the waters had receded, the old tiger hadn’t returned yet to his Haven. On the verandah, next to stacks of mouldy books, throwing a silent challenge, rolled a solid iron barbell, loaded thick with weighted plates. I succumbed to the lure and gripped the cold steel bar and heaved. Nothing happened… I heaved again, and it moved a few reluctant inches before I gave in to gravity and let the barbell clang to the floors. “Sahab roz uthathe thhey, till about 8-10 yrs ago”, said a voice. It was the caretaker. That weight must’ve weighed many hundred pounds and ‘Sahab’ was supposedly 91 now. I wondered about the veracity of the legend. ‘Sahab’ wasn’t here though. He’d moved a few kilometers south, and we followed. I remembered what a local zamindar had said. “He isn’t very tall but used to be a very strong man. He once picked up the front axle of a tractor. Even today his arms are in better shape than yours or mine”. Then I saw him on the front porch of his house, a frail little man curled up on a high chair, a gentle smile welcoming us. He motioned for us to sit and the first thing I asked him was if he’d really picked up the tractor. “Just stories…”, boomed the man’s voice and then he shook my hand with an iron grip that suggested that these ‘stories’ must ring true… surely, the old tiger still roars.

‘Billy’ Arjan Singh is what they called him in the early days when he went about trying to be ‘The Corbett of Kheri’ as he put it, but today he prefers just plain Arjan Singh. Tracing his lineage to the royal family of Kapurthala and Anglo –Bengali Christians, ‘Billy’ loved the great outdoors. He wrestled, lifted weights and in keeping with his heritage, made friends with the hunting rifle rather early in life. He killed his first leopard at 12 and his first tiger at 14. In fact, he was quite a blood thirsty little butcher in those days, killing every possible animal within the range of his rifle. On one occasion he and his brother were returning from the forest in a car and saw a hyena loping across. They fired at the unhappy beast till they ran out of bullets. Then they tried to run the animal over and yet the suffering animal wouldn’t die. There are tales a plenty of his ‘callous brutality’ as he puts it in one of his books. And yet, the forest had claimed his soul and with each animal he killed, he felt a little emptier inside until the day he realised that he killed not for the joys of the hunt as much as he killed to quiet his own feelings of inadequacy. Since then, he has ruthlessly denounced his own weaknesses that had made him into a wanton killer. Today, as the crops stand in his fields, he tells his farm hands that the animals have first right to these crops and there would be enough for all. And sure enough, there is. There’s a sadness in those eyes when he talks of that same blood lust, greed and human insecurity that he once felt, which still turns men into poachers and forests to fallow land, but he hasn’t given up the fight… the old tiger still roars.

As an adult, Billy returned from the army after the second great war and moved to these lands bordering the forests of Dudhwa, hoping to make a living as a farmer. It was difficult because these lands were overrun by stray and wild ungulates, and yet Billy succeeded in running the farm in the lap of nature, sharing its bounties with the wild animals who frequented it. Around the same time, in the 1960s, he took up cudgels against the rather popular sport-hunting outfitters who organised trophy hunting expeditions for rich paying clients. Billy was almost single-handedly responsible for driving them out and having the government ban trophy hunting for good. In a way, he was atoning for the transgressions of his early days. And Dudhwa, especially its rare barasinghas, owe an invaluable debt to this man for dedicating his life to protecting the park from poachers, land grabbers, and securing the future of this deer.

But when I ask him of his legacy, he seems unsure. “Democracy will kill the tiger. There are just too many of us and soon these forest too will have to go. What can you do?”, he says. I’m saddened to hear him say that. I was hoping that he, more than anyone else would hold out defiant hope. After all, isn’t he the most decorated conservationist in the world, having won awards and appreciation from all quarters and corners and isn’t he the man who poachers still fear? And isn’t he the man who has repeatedly achieved the impossible, whether it be protecting a forgotten landscape from eternal destruction or be it successfully returning hand reared leopards and tigers back to the wild. “What can I do? I’m an old man now. Everybody I know is gone. I’m just waiting for the end. Soon, I’ll be gone too… and so would the forests.” I must’ve looked crestfallen, and I was. Though physically much taller, I felt dwarfed by the majesty and aura of the man. I must’ve seemed like a sad little boy who’s had his last shred of hope wrenched away from his hopeful heart. The affectionate old man seemed to take pity on the little boy sitting across him and his eyes softened… “I haven’t given up yet. I might be old but I’m not going to quit. I’m still working hard… I can’t give up the fight.” There’s fire burning in that belly yet… the old tiger roars still…

Conservationist extraordinaire Billy Arjan Singh seemed a lonely warrior. The man who had shared shikar yarns as a boy with Jim Corbett now looked back on his time spent in these forests he loves so dearly with a fondness that overwhelmed me. The proud figure, unbending, unyielding, brave of heart and stout of limb, forever chasing redemption, had shades of Victor Hugo’s unforgettable hero – Jean Valjean. It was lunch time and Billy’s man Friday, Shriram, was helping him away… As he got up to leave, he said “if you want to save the tiger, you have to give him a vote.” And then he said, “you want to know what my obituary would be?” I didn’t. There’s time yet sir, I said. “I’ll tell you… The lines are Kipling’s (Tiger--Tiger) but they speak of my soul…” He paused for a while and the lines came back, first in a trickle and then in waves… child-like joy creased his face as his voice grew strident - What of the hunting, hunter bold,

Brother the watch was long and cold.

What of the quarry ye went to kill?

Brother, he crops in the jungle still.

Where is the power that made your pride?

Brother, it ebbs from my flank and side.

Where is the haste that ye hurry by?

Brother, I go to my lair to die.

The legend that had taken on a life and aura of its own as it emanated from his being while we spoke had shrunk back into the tiny old man as he hobbled back to his room. As he stopped to turn and wave, I said a silent prayer, for I hoped and believed that old tiger will roar for long still… for who knows what these forests would become, if not for that roar.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is the heir apparent?

You’ll find this a little shocking but in all the years I spent bowling my heart out in various tournaments, I was always rooting for Pakistan. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were my heroes. Every autumn, I’d wait for the desert spectacle in Sharjah, where I was happier seeing the Ws hurling cricket balls like 90 mph grenades and blasting through Indian defenses than I was to see Sachin bludgeoning them across and over the ropes, which anyways didn’t happen too often those days.

I wanted to be a fast bowler and had read that the mighty English fast bowler Frank ‘typhoon’ Tyson had said that the ‘coming of guile to a fast bowler was like a creeping paralysis’ – it kills the purity of spirit that epitomises a ‘fast man’. In many ways, a fast bowler’s philosophy is an ode to the purity of purpose, courage, vigour and tragic glory of an Andalusian fighting bull. The odds are against him… The crowd wants to see him brought down to his knees, either by bat or blade. He is but glorified fodder for celebrated cannons and yet he keeps running in… As blood streams into sweat, he serves himself in all his taurean glory only to be carved up at the altar of public entertainment – a public that marvels as much at his sublime physicality, as it enjoys seeing that same physicality tamed and subdued. There is a tragic inevitability to their meteoric explosion, and yet, for those brief magical moments, when a great fast bowler, just like a brave bull, finds a concerted rhythm, the spectacle is both beautiful and devastating … an uncontained force of nature.

In the school nets, I’d charge in at a single stump, trying to find and unleash that force of nature in my own being. But when I sought inspiration, I couldn’t find it in India. In the late 80s and early 90s, Australia had big Merv and Mcdermott followed by McGrath. The Windies had two coconut trees that would sway down from the boundary, pelting ‘perfume balls’ from somewhere up in the sky. They went by the names of Courtney Walsh and very curtley Ambrose. They even brought in a priest to preside over the mayhem – they called him Bishop, Ian Bishop. South Africa announced its return with a burst of ‘white’ lightning that smashed Pravin Amre’s wicket to pieces. The owner of those thunderbolts was Allan Donald, one of the fastest bowlers of our times... Seeing them charge in gave me goose bumps and the batsmen cold sweat… and who knows what other bodily fluids were lost at the other end of the 22 yard strip…

But in the Indian team, the fastest bowler, barring the odd Test when Javagal Srinath got a game, happened to be a tall bespectacled spinner called Anil Kumble… So, when India played, like my friends, I too hoped to see India bat.But while they hoped to see our willow wielders, I wanted to see the opposition bowlers, most of all the guys next door. The Pakistanis proved that bowling fast wasn’t about genetics. The brown man could ball as fast as a black man or a white man. I didn’t care who they bowled against…

Indians, Australians or Sri Lankans… I just wanted to see them bowl… until… Until… I saw Ishant Sharma bowl to Ricky Ponting at Perth…

I’d been reduced to a parochial Indian fan when I gave up my dreams of playing for India. No longer did I enjoy watching sport for sports’ sake. I just watched as did everybody else, to forget for a while that we’re a third world country with news of bomb blasts and deaths two flicks away on the remote. I watched because like everybody else, for a fleeting victorious moment, I too wanted to believe that in spite of the corruption, the communalism and the anger, 11 people could still make us feel like one country…

But when I saw Ishant bowl, I realised that the twin reasons for which I sat in front of a tv watching people run around in dress pants and collared shirts would converge… we’ll see India win more matches more often and see India bowl faster than ever before.

The connection is borne out in the preceding pages (read drop anchor), but let me offer further proof of the inevitable.

In the 90s, when the baton of cricketing supremacy passed to Australia, it didn’t happen with that one defining series in 1995 when the fire of Glen McGrath and the dour will of Steve Waugh finally wrested the prize from the formidable West Indians. The seeds were sown in 1991, when the islanders lost their ODI home series to a resurgent Australia 4-1 (Losing ODIs consistently to a particular opponent implies a narrowing of the gap between teams, especially in batting and out cricket. All it takes is an added edge in bowling to take over in Tests) and barely managed to hold on to their superiority in Tests. Shaken and stirred, the Windies went to Australia, and in Adelaide, won a match they should’ve lost which allowed them to hang on to yet another series before the end came in 1995. A decade and a half later, India began challenging Australia consistently in the ODIs which culminated with India’s victory in the CB series. Similarly in Tests, each series since 2001 has been closely contested with Australia hanging on to the trophy this year in Australia because of a match they should have lost in Sydney, until the fateful Nagpur Test. It’s like a boxing match where the challenger stuns the champion with an early knockdown before the champion realises the threat, pulls up his socks, and fuelled by hurt pride, hangs on to a hard fought victory. But both know that the aura of invincibility is gone… the challenger will be back, and this time, pride won’t be good enough…

The similarities are unmistakable and I will stick my neck out and say that the coronation has begun. India will become the premier nation in world cricket and the series against England (the only other team to steal a series victory over the all conquering Aussies) will prove it. But the Australians have a great domestic set up. They won’t just roll over and die like the Windies… so Dhoni, may your majesty be warned….


Many legendary teams have ruled the roost in cricket, but the gold standard is ‘The Invincibles’ led by Don Bradman. The Australian team of 1948 was the first undefeated touring team to England. Though not as prolific, there have been many follow up acts through the years since. Ian Chappell’s ‘Ugly Australians’ ruled the 1970s (with bowlers like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson) while England were worthy opponents, propelled by all rounder Ian Botham. And then the West Indians and their much feared pace battery emerged. It didn’t hurt that they had a batsman with the destructive appetite of Vivian Richards too. Then in a symbolic power shift in 1994/95 Mark Taylor lead Australia won the series in the Caribbean and the most dominant modern team emerged. Powered by bowlers who went on to become legends (Warne, McGrath) and steamrolling batsmen (Gilchrist, Ponting and Hayden) they ruled either side of the 21st Century. And they had two 16 test winning streaks to show for it. And now depleted by the retirement of those very legends, the old order seemingly is at an inflection point. The question to ask is: Would India be the successor? Well, after all ‘tis a season for ‘change’!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

An island in the ocean

“Why do you do yoga all the time? You want to live to be 150, isn’t it? Why? What would you do at 150… all alone while your friends, your loved ones, perhaps even your children and grand children have all gone? Not worth it!” Thus spake Kakoo (uncle) – let’s call him Dr Kakoo…

Dr Kakoo happens to be my favourite uncle in the neighbourhood and he’s seen me grow from the toddler who chased after a butterfly (which, incidentally, has nothing to do with being gay; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Sir David Attenborough and Steve Irwin do pretty much the same thing on TV) into a professional gadfly. And ever since the time he suggested I might want to reconsider my decision of running away and joining the circus as a four-year-old, I’ve always found his advice timely and pertinent.

But this time, I begged to differ...

I was sitting in his living room, following up on an after dinner chat, while a replica of the Mona Lisa stared down at us from luminous white walls. He insisted that life was worth living only till about 80 (Kakoo’s in his 70s) or so and beyond that, it is but a listless wait for the end to come. And since reaching that limit, going by current gerontological standards, was a more likely statistical possibility than not amongst middle-class Indians, why bother with the mind-numbing stress of a workout for a few more years of life?

But that wasn’t all. Dr Kakoo had seen one of his aunts, a lovely loving lady, a kind pious soul, live long into her 90s. And he had seen the loneliness of her last decade which was spent mourning the loss of many who ought to have waited for her, but couldn’t… Whenever I met her, I was touched by the warmth and affection that seemed to cascade from her being, but what struck me most was the aura of quiet fortitude that seemed to envelop her. And in that sense Dr Kakoo is right. Longevity can be as much of a curse, as it is a boon. “ I don’t want to see what my aunt had to…”, he said, “And I don’t want to become a disfigured and worthless lump that is kept alive as a relic (a dynamic and successful intellectual, Kakoo has too much pride to allow himself to be reduced to that). I wish we could invent a tablet which once ingested, will ensure good health for the next decade or two and then on a random preset date (unknown to the individual), burst while asleep and euthanise us painlessly…”

‘You don’t need a tablet and you don’t need a preset date,’ I said. ‘Kakoo, don’t you think one could possibly be happy and healthy well into one’s ninth and tenth decade too? All the stuff I do is not so that I may live long, but so that no matter how long I live, I live healthy…’ Kakoo seemed willing to consider, and finding the iron hot, I told him what Kenshin, a Japanese tourist I’d met last year in Bharatpur, told me about a magical island between

Japan and China where he’d spent his early years – an island called Okinawa. In the north of this island, on the beach stands a monument that declares to the four winds and the waves the ethos of its people – “At 70, we are mere children and still young at 80; if at 90, the ancestors beckon heavenwards, ask them to wait… for we might consider proceeding only after 100” – an ethos that every Okinawan strives to emulate, for the people here live longer, healthier lives than anywhere on earth. Their average life expectancy is well into the 80s (while India’s hovers around 60 and the United States’ in the mid 70s). More significantly, Okinawans suffer greatly reduced incidences of cancer and coronary heart disease. What fascinated me was Kenshin’s account of a number of nonagenarians and centenarians, both men and woman, who not only live healthy, but in fact, active and vigorous lives… gardening, hiking, swimming and fishing…

I got back home and did some research and here’s what I found out about the Okinawans and their template for living a long, healthy and fulfilling life… here’s what I found out… Diet: A Penguin publication calls the Okinawan diet “the healthiest diet” in the world. They have a low calorie diet that is high in vegetable and fruit content (almost 10 daily servings) high in whole grains, with a generous sprinkling of soy and fish protein, legumes and omega-3 foods (you could get your daily dose from cod-liver oil tablets at the pharmacist’s or if you’re a vegan, wait till you can find some supplements made from sea algae (the primary omega-3 source). And they drink lots of green tea and jasmine tea. Just as importantly, they avoid red meat, junk food, egg yolks, alcohol, tobacco and sweets like the plague.

Exercise: Almost every Okinawan follows an exercise regimen like tai chi or yoga, or at least a regulated physical activity, and in fact becomes more regular and consistent as he grows older.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about them is their belief in ikigai – ‘a sense of purpose that makes one’s life worth living’, and supportive family groups. This sense of purpose and responsibility seems to give them a reason to go on living while many of their counterparts in other latitudes have lost theirs…

And it’s not just the Okinawans, (I had written about the Abkazhians in a previous column), for there are many such communities around the world whose shared values have contributed towards healthier, long-lived communities and families and not just individuals.

So eat right Kakoo; don’t be lazy and please exercise; and share this lifestyle with friends and family and stop worrying about being infirm or lonely… it’s bound to work. Just ask the Okinawans…..

the slip stream

Living it up… and out!

The 2007/2008 Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Program lists Iceland at the top. It would have been funny, had it not been so tragic, that this top-ranking ‘happy’ country was overnight declared bankrupt in the wake of the recent recession, leaving Icelanders at the mercy of the IMF. However, it couldn’t turn around another fact, not overnight, that they have the longest living people on earth. The explanation partly lies in the Index itself, for the HDI picks off human development measures largely in terms of life expectancy and adult literacy levels, and that is still theirs to cherish.

Owing to the social structure, lifestyle and diet of the Scandinavian countries and Japan (Okinawa is a part of the Japanese archipelago), these countries share the longevity credits with Iceland. Proximity to the sea and availability of sea food replete with nutritious fatty acids and proteins are believed to help. Besides, cold climates are known to be physically salubrious than the hot or humid climes. Close family ties, as in Japan, or remarkably reduced hang-ups about marriage and ‘moving-on’, as in Iceland could be another. After all, the world’s first elected female president was a divorced, single-mother Icelander!


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Epilogue to the age of rage: A few good men

Remmember SS? The lady with the left lane fetish? Usually, she’d sashay in, instinctively imitating a movie star on the red carpet,a ‘hi’ there, a wave here, as she walks past the bays. But today she was quiet.

Something had happened. She sat down, admired her toe-nails for a while and then looked up… “I’ve had the one of the most moving moments of my life… I’ve had an epiphany.” One of the interns looked up in horror, “oh my god! Where? Did it hurt?” Hmmm….

Well, that was one intern less for the season, but going back to SS’ story – “You might not have noticed it but I’ve been trying to make it in time for work. I leave home early and usually make it in time... like this morning... and then I hit Adhchini crossing. There was more mayhem than usual. Two cars ahead, the traffic lights weren’t working at the intersection. And of course when the lights shut down, so does common sense. So there we were, waiting behind an auto rickshaw, a truck and a Mitsubishi Lancer, all at right angles to each other, or something similarly obtuse, refusing to move an inch backward and unable to move an inch forward. Gradually, this infectious unreasonableness rippled across from its triangular epicenter and spread to all the cars around me. Happy heads bobbing to the tunes of the morning radio stilled, as the impasse deepened and frustration seeped in. The shiny happy faces became grim and I caught my surly reflection in the mirror. Then a car honked… some windows rolled down and soon enough, expletives were flying thick and fast... doors opened, executives in ties started squabbling with scruffy tractor drivers while heavily made up matrons screamed at amused truck drivers…

Meanwhile, the lights started functioning, and like cockroaches in the kitchen when the lights come on, people scurried back to their cars and lurched forward in hope… but to no avail… all of us, including me were too tired of waiting to care for the lights and shoved our noses in where we could… Traffic from the opposite side had right of way but the bus ahead of me bulldozed into them trying to forge a way through, and I and the cars behind me followed in its wake. I felt a trifle guilty. Our indiscretions had inspired traffic to break rank in other lanes too and in spite of the lights, traffic from all lanes had been reduced to a slow crawl.

Suddenly, the bus stopped dead. I braked hard behind it. A crowd had gathered around it, anticipating a knuckle fest. Apparently, the bus had shaved a coat of paint off a Tata pick-up’s flank while barging into the flow. The pick-up’s angry occupants had parked on the side and run back to the bus. I could see the two of them now as they exchanged words with the bus driver – the older of the two, clad in a dhoti, perhaps in his 40s, had a decidedly rural air, was heavily built, and bald.

The younger man was in his 20’s, perhaps a college-kid in a kurta, baggy trousers and sneakers. Livid with rage, they were thumping the body of the bus. The bus-driver seemed apologetic and since he was in the middle of the road, holding up traffic from every side, they stopped traffic, and with another warning thump, let him pass. I and the cars alongside tried to follow but the two of them beat down on the hood of our cars with their fists and screamed “ruk ja…wait for your turn! Wait for the light!” They looked menacing… but not menacing enough for the Innova on my right though, for he pushed ahead even as the two men turned their backs. At this, the bald one turned and brought his hammer fist down on the MPV’s windshield, shattering it on the spot. The car stopped, and the stunned driver froze in his seat. “Wait!” repeated the bald one, and walked away to the other end of the intersection where his companion was trying to push traffic back. After that, most fell in line but some, like an officious Ambassador just wouldn’t listen and kept pressing forward. Exasperated but unwilling to give up, the two just lay down in front of the vehicles and shamed them into moving back till the lights turned green…

It was incredible. These most likely out-of towners had crossed the intersection and though they’d lost a coat of paint, could’ve yet been on their way. Instead they returned and stopped the bus but instead of thrashing the guy, just rebuked him and then eased him out of the snarl to make way for the rest of us. While these two hollered in the heat and rolled on the road for our sakes, we selfish inconsiderate city-slickers just stayed put in our cars waiting our turn … I was embarrassed. I wanted to get down and help them, but was worried that I might be in the way… (this from a girl who wouldn’t let a 100 wild horses pull her out into the sun) Soon it was our turn and the bald one let us pass… I nodded at him and smiled and he nodded and waved. Once across, I parked the car by the kerb and went back to help them.

At the intersection though, traffic flow was normal, in tune with the lights. The men and their pick-up was nowhere to be seen. It was as if I’d imagined it all… I wondered if my sleep-deprived mind had begun playing tricks… until something on the road caught my eye – the shiny glass pieces from the Innova windshield. I know that the guilt I felt for not helping them today will make me step out next time…”

Sorting out a traffic snarl really isn’t the same as finding a cure for cancer, but for many, it is perhaps the only opportunity to touch strange lives in a positive way, an opportunity that perhaps passes us by every day… let’s take it if we care – it’ll make us better people, a happier people…

The slip stream

Retold Parables of the good samaritan

It is sad that while searching for content to support this week’s edition of ‘Typos’ one couldn’t find a lot of authenticated examples from India of individuals taking initiative in a bid to make a change that goes on to make a big difference, oftentimes, just by virtue of standing out as an inspiring example for others… Of course, this is not to say that such individuals don’t exist in this country, but perhaps we need to identify them and celebrate them with greater gusto. To this end, do write back to us with references of such exemplary individuals if you happen to have been inspired by any. Meanwhile, you could pick up The Power of One – The Unsung Everyday Heroes Rescuing America’s Cities by Debra Schweiger – a book that explores the impact of social entrepreneurs whose altruism has made a significant difference to Americans.

Or you could read Our Time is Now by Sheila Kinkade and Christina Macy which profiles 30 youth from all over the world (including two Indians) whose intent and actions have impacted local communities.

Both books discuss issues and initiatives that have the power to inspire that defining human emotion called empathy and spur us into action. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says, “We don’t notice (others’ pain) and therefore we don’t act.”

It is time we all began to notice…


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Surviving the age of rage

There maybe no dragons left to slay, nor damsels to rescue. But if you seek adventure, the greatest ride yet is that earnest ride to and back home from work which, if made with vehicle and sanity intact, is no small cause for celebration.

On our roads, damsels in distress are hard to find, for, forgive the sexist who put a gun to my head and made me write this, but damsels behind the wheel are in fact busy causing distress… (SS for instance is a rather pleasant driver, driving in the middle lane most times. But whenever possessed by the need to overtake, instead of doing it ‘right’, she slows down, and nine times out of nine, veers to her left, sending unsuspecting cyclists, jaywalkers and thhelawallahs into a frenzied scatter, before picking up the pace on a thus cleared coast. She apparently feels safer there than in the overtaking lane… ?!!!). Men of course can be far more dangerous.

Roads challenge not only our motor skills (!), but also trigger our basest emotions – anger, arrogance and vengeance. Thanks to that, cars have emerged as the greatest phallic symbols of our times, even amongst women (‘mine is bigger than yours… and… er… ahem… faster!!’), and inspired that terrible lifestyle affliction – road rage.

I offer no solutions but an experience – might help…

A rainy day – a Santro speeds past my car. Up ahead, the road is choked with sewage water. The Santro crawls to the right where water levels are lower. Here’s where hubris sets in and you tell yourself ‘this is the day for which I wore old suits with greasy stains so I could afford those EMIs; this is the day for which I put up with a rear end (the car’s, that is) that gets stuck in tight corners; this is the day for which I bought this SUV!’ So, I move up a gear, ploughing through brown slush in a manner reminiscent of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea, right past the Santro on my right. A kilometre later, the Santro shows up in my rear view mirror… at speed. I give way. It speeds past, slows down, and does a jig in front of my car, refusing to let me pass. Amused, I wonder if it’s someone I know, and pull over... Santro does likewise; the doors open, its occupants emerge – a burly driver and a short stocky man who’d been sitting in the rear seat. It became obvious why they’d wanted me to stop, for from the top of their turbaned heads to their toes, their starched white cottons were marked, rather attractively, I dare add, with big wet brown splotches. Their windows must’ve been down when I drove past, showering them with a spray of stinky brown, sewage water…

Now, for the love of God, tell me who drives in the rain with their windows rolled down? But obviously, I could see the argument wouldn’t hold water (especially sewage water). They were spitting debris caught between their teeth as they walked towards me. There was murder in their right eye (couldn’t make much of their mud caked left).

I remember choking back a smile… they might misunderstand. I weighed my options – flight (Advantage yours truly, thanks to our choice of cars and being victim of aforesaid phallic symbology), fight (odds even – inflated sense of inadequate martial arts experience versus raw rustic muscle, times two), flight (seems better option in light of fact that wet brown men seem to be locals. Others join their short vengeful march), definitely flight (more join in)… Flight!! Flight!!! Too late (for as I turn, I see other men between me and a by now rather flaccid phallic symbol).

Surrounded by the dozen, three (burly driver, stocky passenger and a youth, perhaps a nephew or neighbour) came forward. Stocky was screaming his head off but I couldn’t catch a word. But I did catch his drift as he pointed at himself. I felt sorry. Before I could say so, he slapped me. Burly landed a hook and nephew jumped in too… I did not hit back (though, you see, I could’ve…) because that would’ve inflamed the mob, but didn’t flinch either. They kept striking but I kept up the banter … (Slap2!) ‘I know you’re angry. My bad, sorry…’ (Slap 3!) ‘Don’t!! I’m sorry!’ (No one’s listening… Slap4!) ‘HEY! I said I’M SORRY! Didn’t realise you had your windows down.’ (Stocky stops… mumbles something like ‘how can you drive like this…’) I know, sorry… par aap buzurg hain… I’ve been apologising while you’ve been abusing and slapping me … (note: I didn’t say, I could’ve hit back – that would’ve ruined his guilt trip) Stocky pats my cheek ‘chal koi nahin… ho jaata hai’. Burly and nephew also stop… And then I say – ‘Sir, I think you too should apologise for while I respectfully apologised for my bit, you haven’t for your excesses.’ Believe you me, howsoever grudgingly, Stocky apologised. Nephew put his arm around me ‘Soary yaar… gussa aajata hai’. Now it was Burly’s turn, but he muttered and turned towards his car… I stopped him. I wanted my apology, but Stocky patted mine ‘let go, beta… hamne bol diya’ and walked away. Two out of three… could’ve been 12… not bad. A sore jaw in return for a sewer shower and an apology for an apology – split even, I’d say.

I could’ve fought, left one with a bleeding nose, a sore groin, but there was that mob; I could’ve abused but that would’ve made them angrier; I could’ve cowered, asked for mercy but that might’ve aggravated the bullies; I could’ve run, leaving the car behind, but then the mob would’ve smashed it to bits (option two)

Dear reader, it isn’t my intent to brag, and some might consider me a wimp, but for others, I believe this combination of calm dignity and polite apology might diffuse potentially dangerous situations with minimal damage, usually, and hopefully, only to one’s ego. Isn’t this what Sun Tzu – the ancient Chinese war philosopher called ‘winning without fighting’? If he’d had to drive cars during rush hour, he might well have…

Wheels – and more – on fire

“Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.” However much road rage may get the hype in terms of ‘psychological disorder’ or ‘epidemic’, it remains essentially an attitude issue that can’t be done in with some common sense and some more of self restraint.

Here’s how common sense helps: Start off with good driving habits.

Obey traffic lights. They are there for a reason.

Use your indicators. Ditto.

Lane driving is safe, and trouble free. Usually.

And still if you happen to be one of the 78% of people who claim to have been victims of varying degrees of road rage, here’s what you can do to prevent yourself from getting into a murderous confrontation or a volley of obscenities –

Factor in 20 minutes of Extra Time into the actual time to get to your destination, so you’re never in a hurry to get there.

If someone gives you the stare, smile back. Try it.

Think and act like one of the better-behaved souls on road.

Keep your doors and windows locked. Just in case.

And if he/she does force you off the road much against your wishes, think about how your kids will react if they saw you swear or gesticulate. No kids? Think of mom!