Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unraveling tangles and knots गुंतता मार्ग हे ....

It has been my secret wish, that all the Maharashtra ministers should shift residences to the suburb where i live. It is scenic, has a lake, hills, forests, crocodiles, fish, temples, churches, masjids, gurudwaras, 5-star hotels, malls, and whats more, is close to both airports in Mumbai ; a very important thing when you always need to fly off to the capital , sirens blaring.

Why ?

(Aeons ago, I lived with my parents in some proletarian government flats, in one of South Mumbai's poshest areas, which looked down on a huge expanse of ministers villas, with endless lawns, numerous cars with beacons, and pilot cars to clear the roads. If you were in a BEST bus lumbering behind such a car, you always reached office early. And if there was a hint of a pothole in the morning, by evening the road would be smooth as, as Lalu Prasad Yadav says, Ms. Hema Malini's cheeks.)

That is the only way, they will stop digging the roads here. Earlier it was like a hobby, with telephonewallas being the most skilled exponents, closely followed by the water pipe entrepreneurs. My visitors from abroad have never seen a normal road on their way to our house, and have remarked on it. In all the excitement of handing out lucrative contracts to various diggers , footpaths have become totally unfashionable.
We now have roads in the midst of potholes, rather than the other way around.

And so , hope sprang (eternal ?) in my mind when I heard of the impending visit to our campus by the First Citizen of the Nation to preside over the special Convocation. I had visions of my autorickshaw gliding over smooth roads, something I never expected would happen in my liftetime. Someone said the First Citizen of the Nation would come by helicopter. I fervently hoped against that.

All of a sudden, we started seeing more police jeeps on campus, carefully driving around; cops keenly observing people ,(like me, carrying 500 gms of karela and two papayas)
, with tough,questioning , unsmiling looks. A mother in a hurry, zipping on to the road in front of the jeep, with 4 kg of vegetables, and 3 school children riding pillion, was given pitying looks; they were now other things to worry about. (See ya later, ma'am). Everyone entering campus was questioned. My household help was worried; six different chaps checked her id-card, and one of her friends was not allowed in at all, because her id-card( kept in a bag she tucked into her waist,) fell off somewhere when she got off a hugely crowded bus in torrential rain, a day earlier, and now she had nothing to show. Mumbai police had those metal barricades put up on our very low traffic-density campus, just in case a primary school kid on his trainer-wheels bike decided he had to cross the road, during his lunchtime trip home, regardless of the Occasion. Whistles. Walkie-talkies, terraces populated by plain clothes types, serious faces, a systematic identification of every participant in the day's program, photo passes, rehearsal drills. Very exciting.

I now realise, that either the municipal types have a hotline to the weather gods, or they are just good statistical forecasters. One day to go for the great First Visit.The potholes, and craters on the roads outside continued to proliferate. No action. Earlier a trip to the market would be rewarded with the acrid smell of burning tar mixed with the smell of wet earth, diesel exhaust, and frying wada pau flavours. This time the tar was missing.

Then a day before the First Arrival, traffic was thrown into chaos by sudden large scale pothole repairs, , nay fillings. No one knows what they were filling the potholes with, given that that a proper blind eye is always turned to such activities by our city managers. A day later, after the First event, and another batch of heavy rains, all the stuff got washed away and we were back to roads in the middle of craters. Some guys went laughing all the way to the bank, and some folks on motorcycles, ladies riding pillion, limped home holding their backs.

Given all this hype , the actual Convocation event was a lesson in common sense, as opposed to pomp and ceremony. The First Citizen of the nation, arrived with State dignitaries in ordinary Ambasaador cars, not hitherto known for their shock absorbers and suspensions The weight of the State rests very amiably on the First shoulders. A dignified walk at the head of the academic procession, the resounding National Anthem sung by the students, and the First citizen took her seat on the dais, , smilingly looking at all the excited parents and guests. Awards of ,medals and prizes. Names announced. Students coming up to have medals placed around their necks. Some touching the First feet , like one would for a grandparent. Restrained applause, in august company.

And then it happened. One of the medal ribbons got tangled. Knotted inadvertently. The scholar stood patiently, seeing the search for a solution of this terribly low tech problem, in a high tech technological ambiance. The head of the Institute tried . No success. Then the First fingers automatically took over. The picture of the Head of State trying to unravel a knot, using an expertise of so many years of attending to her children, was just what was needed to bring a fresh spray of lighthearted fun into the proceedings. First there was a hint of applause. Then it grew. The students thought it was wonderful. Parents joined in. BUT THE KNOT REFUSED TO UNRAVEL ! The President thought there had been enough effort, and she simply smilingly handed over the medal to the student, patting him , as the way it was knotted it wouldn't go over his head. He would probably remember it all his life, and never hear the end of it from his classmates. The applause was deafening.

Several speeches later , the First Citizen departed, across potholes ready to shed their fillings .A noticeable reduction in tension. Several deep breaths. The police cars are now where they should be, monitoring traffic jams at junctions, and testing the salutes of the constables, as they struggle to manage the traffic, with one eye on a possible sahib who might just whiz past, beacons flashing. Occasionally a two wheeler will get special attention.

Cars and two wheelers, dipping sideways as they manoeuvre the freshly washed away fake-filled deep potholes. Vehicles coming to sudden standstills, and folks veering suddenly to avoid six inch ditches.

The First Visit is over.

The battle of the Pothole has just begin.

There is going to be some tangle of traffic. Someone will try and unravel it.

Unlike what happened earlier to a First Knot, I just hope this time the knot is completely unraveled

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