Regular readers of this paper – yes, all three of you – may have noticed the ‘Give Us A Pothole Free Mumbai’ campaign that’s being carried on a daily basis, despite the very real risk that it might overshadow other important features such as ’10 Pickup Lines To Use on Hina Rabbani’ (I’d go with “Baby, you can infiltrate my bedroom anytime.”)
Seriously though, the campaign is a great idea (hey Ed, this plug will cost you extra) Even as I write this column, I am seething with rage over these gaping voids of nothingness situated all over our highways. It’s like the government set out to build an efficient pothole system and accidentally ended up putting bits of road in between.
The campaign has thrown up some startling facts. For example, the BMC general body meeting this week was entirely devoted to discussing the renaming of 42 roads across the city. Because really, that’s what needs to be done for 42 important roads that are studded with potholes so massive that even as you read this, North Indians are moving into them and using the ditchwater to make pani-puri.
Potholes aren’t the only reason I’m pissed off. Mumbai offers drivers a veritable buffet of ‘All You Can Handle’ traffic woes. The words ‘Milan Subway’ immediately come to mind, and rightly so, for this little squirrel hole masquerading as a subway is a hugely popular monsoon destination for reporters who’re sent there when their bosses want to get rid of them, but are too afraid to do it outright. And don’t even get me started on Andheri East. If Transformers was set in Bombay, Optimus Prime would keel over and die within seconds of entering SEEPZ.
And that’s just the tip of the crapberg. Take a little trip down the Eastern Express Highway at night in a thunderstorm and marvel at the streetlamp-shaped decorations that line the entire stretch. Lifeless and impotent, these lamp posts are about as useful as that heart kid in Captain Planet.
Driving during the dry seasons is no fun either. That’s because Indians have this innate knack of enabling their own traffic woes. Take honking for instance. Indian drivers believe that honking is mandatory, which makes sense because Indian pedestrians believe that responding to a honk is optional. My favourite pedestrians are those who like to maintain an aura of suspense about their motives, shifting from the front foot to the back foot with Sachin-like dexterity, keeping you guessing until your car is just inches away, at which point they sprint across as if Jessica Alba has just materialised on the other side, begging for a full-body massage.
Such behaviour is less about traffic and more about our inability to follow rules. This seems to be a fallout of the civil disobedience movement launched during the Raj, when it was alright to break laws. We just got so used to the concept that we didn’t bother following them again. A typical exchange went like this:
Leader: We must oppose the British! Stop following their laws!
Indians: Hell yeah! Down with laws! Laws suck!
Leader: But this is just until the Brits leave haan. You’ll have to follow laws after that.
Indians: Yeah, whatever. LOLZ!
The only good thing about Bombay traffic is that people are too busy to get into a fight, unlike in Delhi, where most workplaces now accept ‘Stopped to kill bastard at traffic signal because I didn’t like the song playing in his car’ as a valid reason for late arrival. (Even the Parliament accepts this excuse – just ask that Navjot fellow)
Mumbai will continue to resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland for the next few months, after which it’ll go back to being regular wasteland. As my rage slowly subsides, all I can say is that I hope all of you stay safe. And if you act like an idiot near my car, I’ll kill you.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 31st July 2011)