Two rules still to go, and yet I must take a break and tell you a little story; there’s half a moral lurking in there I’m sure… The other night, I hurried off to make a pending payment to my long suffering cell-phone service provider. The night was calm and so was I… must have been the yoga workout that or the conversations… I rushed to the payment booth, but it wouldn’t take a card. I asked around for an ATM booth and the kindly security guard, reeking of hooch and sweat swayed in, waved his arms in all four directions and mumbled something incoherent in a language enriched by the dust from the cow belt… And so I went out of the doorway, got into the car and drove around for a while till I found an ATM booth, withdrew money and still steeped in that ‘I’m in love with the world’ reverie, took a u-turn towards my profoundest lesson in road-rage…
As I moved up a gear, from a blind turn, less than 20 metres to my left, a biker shot out of the darkness and swerved away from the car even as I screeched to a stop. The biker’s helmetless head cocked to the right, a cell-phone sandwiched between ear and collar and with a cigarette dangling between his lips, hardly seemed to take note of the wailing brake-pads, his hair-raising brush with death, or the incredible feat of hand-eye coordination by yours truly that saved his life.
I bristled a bit at having been ignored thus but then that dreamy spell - perhaps a good way to describe that feeling would be sweet love’s aft er-glow - took over as I moved into gear and drove up alongside the wayward biker. Dressed in a greasy tee and well worn shorts, he wouldn’t have been a day older than 28. Hair gelled into tines, tallish with limbs lean but sinewy, he looked like someone who had enough going his way to afford a little cockiness. He’d remind you of an extra from a hinterland gangster flick.
He was still busy talking on the phone while I coasted alongside and so I rolled the window down, honked, and made a polite suggestion/observation… “Dekh ke chalao… abhi gaadi ke neeche aa jatey!” One hand let go of the bike’s handle and held the phone as the extra looked up, turned, and with the bike still in motion, shift ed his gaze in my direction, frowned, curled his upper lip and snarled “toh?! Main kya karoon…!” and with that he went back to his phone conversation.
I was taken aback. Th rough all my battle-scarred years spent navigating Delhi’s roads and rage, never had I met such a response. Some have been unapologetic, others rude and accusatory, but no one had been this dismissive. I wasn’t used to this. I had slowed down to speak to him and so I picked up the pace again and drove up to him, closer than before and at an angle that forced him to slow down. “Arrey, main bhale ke liye keh raha hun… I didn’t mean harm. You would’ve gotten hurt. Chot lagjati tumhein….” I said, with the faintest of frown. But it didn’t go down well with our biker. His ego bristled and his face contorted into a furrowed scowl as he bared his teeth and growled “nikal le yahan se… chal, chal nikal le…! Get out of here or else…!”
Errr, ahem… at this point, I must take you to an early autumn morning from a few years ago. I was supposed to pick up some friends and make a long drive to the dry and dusty industrial bottom of NOIDA. I was in a tearing hurry… I went up a fly-over and sidled into the overtaking lane (yes, that’s the one on the right, ladies) and hurtled away toward the horizon. But while coming down the over-pass, my path was blocked by a sedan trundling along at the pace of a snail on sedatives. I was in a rush, this was the overtaking zone, and he should’ve been on the far left at this pace, so though I’m usually not one for honking, on this occasion I felt I was justified in a bit of a holler and a hoot… The trundler wouldn’t budge. I wondered if I should nudge… I balked, in favour of another holler… he swerved a little, made way and then, just as I was about to pass, closed back in. Oooh! He was upset! I didn’t have time for this though, so I honked a long honk again, and soon as he moved away, closed in and squeezed my way in. Like he’d done earlier, he tried to swerve back in and close the gap, but this time I stood my ground and pressed forward. The sedan’s bluff had been called, and the driver straightened out along my flank while I overtook the car. I glared at the bespectacled driver, who was about my age (read youthful), and he glared back.
I sped on ahead and forgot all about him until I saw him growing big in the side view mirror. He hadn’t liked being honked at and now, he wanted to give me a taste of my own medicine. So be it, I thought. Honk away pal, I won’t budge either. He blared away and I couldn’t care less. I stayed the course and even slowed down a little. Th at mustve really gotten his goat. He honked and swerved and tried to overtake from either flank but I had no time for games. And so I sped off. The sedan gave chase but I had a schedule to catch and I was sure the kid would tire of this game. But he screeched and swerved in dangerously close. I ignored him for as long as I could.
And then he did it. He hurled an expletive and shook his fist. Then he overtook my car and fish-tailed in front. I had to brake really hard and I was livid. I find it very difficult to ignore rudeness or abusive behaviour and so I rolled the window down and screamed “so a fight’s what you want, is it? You want to fight? You want to...? You want to?” I don’t know about you and I don’t know about him but I was shocked with what I had just said... Every kid gets into fights, at school, in the playground, and slightly messier affairs as we grow older and then realize that our clothes and faces could do without regular rearrangements and so we resort to posturing. And yet, here I was, all pumped up and ready to swing and swing hard too. Must’ve been the martial arts grading matches I had been preparing for. Evidently, I wasn’t preparing my mind the way I should have... I was embarrassed. Anger spent, I just stopped the car, looked back and waved an apology and drove off.
I must confess, I’m glad I did that because when I looked, I saw that the sedan’s driver had come out and he was one crazy critter. Way above six-feet tall, wide as a barn-door and as cantankerous as a bull in the corrida. I’m not saying I was scared Honest, I wasn’t! But you know, without anger to fuel your fists, the effort, especially against a jaw that square suddenly didn’t seem worth it. I pulled over and waved at his car as it drove up. I wanted to apologize. But he didn’t see me. Or maybe he didn’t want to. He drove off.
That night, in the face of another rude jibe, I sensed that old fire flicker inside but the mood of the night was too heavy and happy to let it flicker for long. The fire died out and I just smiled at him aand said “main aapke bhale ke liye keh raha hoon... Here I’m trying to help you stay safe... aur tum tewar dikha rahe ho... And you are shoving this attitude in my face!”.
I didn’t know how he would react but I felt calm, in control. I had done nothing wrong. I was speaking rather politely, under the circumstances and I had said all the right things. Mr Biker went a little “huh?!” I repeated my words. The gent motioned for me to wait, spoke a few words into the phone and I wondered if he was calling reinforcements. I was ok with that. I had said nothing wrong. I wasn’t going to scoot now. I was pretty sure I could reason my way out even if he had called his friends. The man put the phone aside, popped his head in through the window and in a still gruff voice, said “kya bola maine...?” I said “It’s not what you said as much. It’s how you said it that was rude... Tareeka galat tha... Usse bura lagta hai... Gussa aata hai!” Actually, it was also what he said, but I didn’t want to nit pick. If you don’t mind my saying so, the man seemed to have soft ened.
The biker broke into a bashful smile. “Kya bola maine... What did I say? Bura laga aapko... ? You felt bad? Sorry bhhai... Sorry!” I smiled back at him, waved and said “sambhal ke chalana! Drive safe!” With that, I drove off feeling more chuffed with myself than I would have if I had knocked him out cold with a hook.