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!


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