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…


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