Nobody is to be spared. Even the dead have to be honked at and hurried along in Pune, as a recent visit to Vaikunth Crematorium taught me. The driver of the hearse behind blared his horn at us to hurry up as we were getting the deceased person out of our hearse.
|Pune roads have witnessed a sudden surge in the number of vehicles in the last five years
Now if this isn’t idiocy and insolence rolled into one, I don’t know what is. Only out of respect to the bereaved, did I not administer the OTS (one-tight-slap) to the driver concerned. Pune’s Roaring Road Hog is a species born from a long lineage.
A veritable joint family of bad decisions, poor management, corruption and apathy has engendered this misbegotten child, the Pune driver. Grandparent 1 is the abject public transport system, that has never been given any priority – or never been allowed to come up, as many people believe.
Entire reports on a sensible, people-oriented public transport system that involves rail and bus networks, it is believed, have been suppressed, depressed, repressed and compressed so that they never see the light of day.
And now we talk airily and giddily of mass transit systems and elevated rails, the making of which will no doubt be rich with scams and smokescreens. Grandparent 2 is the number of vehicles that have come on to the roads (and continue to at over 30 lakh vehicles) in a short span of five years.
No zoning, no encouraging of car-pooling, no walkonly areas, nothing. Try any of it and the citizenry is up in arms for their ‘rights’ being clipped. In the same vein as refusing to wear helmets and thinking of ourselves as heroic and radical safeguarders of our personal freedom.
And finer points like making way for an ambulance? Ah come-on, don’t be corny-senti-old-fashioned. Grandparent 3 is the shockingly easy way in which one can acquire or renew a driving licence in this city.
Touts rule the RTO, and just one of many examples will suffice to prove that we are ungoverned and ungovernable on this front: A 50-year-old rather ill friend (who passed away since) had lost the use of one leg but wanted to renew her license which was due, in the hope that one day she would drive again.
No problemo! She came home with a shiny new renewed licence, saying that the issuing person (aided by a tout) as well as the ‘doctor’ that certified her at the RTO office, did not even look up from their paperwork while she limped and hobbled to his desk.
She did not have to sit behind any wheel, her eyesight was declared 20/20 and off she went, “free to run over who I please,” she added darkly. Grandparent 4 is the almost pitiably ineffective manning and policing of signals and intersections.
There are only 980 constables and officers to monitor over 31 lakh vehicles in the city, and these constables are in themselves barely able to command traffic.
Too often one sees a terrified or confused, malnourished or overweight policeman/ woman standing ineffectually in the middle of an intersection, while traffic swirls madly around him or her. Try ignoring a police person in Mumbai and rushing past him, and see how you will meet your nemesis at the next traffic signal.
A month ago, I managed to memorise the number of a white Sumo that tailgated me and sped off while I was waiting at a red signal, gave the number to the policeman who was standing nearby but noticed nothing, got him to call the next signal to stop the vehicle, was told to go there as the vehicle had indeed been stopped, and found that a hapless red Sumo has been stopped, with none of the digits of the vehicle number in common with the one that I had told them.
When I looked askance at the woman cop at the Simla Office signal, she said a little sheepishly – “Aho Myadam, so much traffic and all this pollution is making my eyes water and I couldn’t even hear what the other cop was saying on the phone.” I almost had to hug her and say “There, there, you poor dear.”
Great! Hit and run drivers, terrorists, wrong entrants, and 14-year-olds driving Pappa’s car, go have fun. Nobody is watching, and most of the cops will be in hospital with lung diseases very soon anyway.
Then there are the parents, aunts and uncles that have lovingly brought up the Pune roaring road hog: new money without the financial or civic sense about how to use it; poor roads and bizarre planning where some intersections are structured so that everyone perforce (and with total lack of self-discipline) has to criss-cross each other in opposing directions, while pedestrians scamper across; infantile poorly-formed egos that have got utterly bound up with the vehicle that you own and how you drive it; arrogance and rage that means that even a request to please not double and triple park/halt on a narrow road in a giant SUV is met with “ay-ayy, jaaa jaa pudhe” and other such reactions.
As one person put it wearily: “Mumbai traffic is heavy but is at least a little disciplined because whatever car you are driving or cycle you are pedaling, you are part of the crawling-to-work masses.
In Pune, we are all rajas, senapatis, chhatrapatis, peshwas and pudharis. So who is going to police us?” I beg to defer on one point, though: this city was not built on the arrogance and callousness of its past royals and leaders. But it is definitely being rendered unlivable by the egotism and heartl essness of its brave new citizenry riding its steel stallions.