Gotcha ! Ha ha. (Not that I am her fan (far from it), but ever since Sarah Palin popularized "Betcha!" as part of mainstream vice presidential vocabulary, I've been dying to say something similar, just for fun. I am not running for anything, except, probably the bus. But more about that below. ).
This really is about blowing whistles. Real ones , not idiomatically.
Our roads in Mumbai , now figure on world records.
In the meanwhile, I have heard motorcycle aficionados say things.
Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.
Well, one wheel comes close to crushing my left toe. ( We will talk about 3 wheels later).
The arterial road outside the campus where I live, continues to be marked for redevelopment and widening, for the last several years. While it may make municipal folks living in South Mumbai, feel important , as they pour over road development maps and plans, for what they may consider, the deplorable suburbs going to seed, etc etc., there has been a completely unexpected benefit from all this, for the common man and woman, in terms of quick reflexes and alertness.And we dont really speak of certain law enforcement folks , who have, in this case, what may loosely be described as a Midas touch.
What do you do, when 6 lanes of speeding , fairly random traffic, of various sizes and power, is suddenly forced into 2 lanes , that too, on a turning? What do you do when pavements and footpaths, hitherto a sign of civilized road development, are dug up with a vengeance, leading one to wonder if they expect a fortune to appear in barrels underground?
The walk to the market to get items of household and kitchen use, has become like a obstacle race. Most motorcycle riders have now perfected the art of overtaking the rest of the traffic from the left, tickled no end about the small width of their motorcycle. (We are a country that drives on the left; hangovers from the Raj. )
I was returning from a trip to a rather posh suburb of Mumbai, by bus. The bus, generally kind of hesitantly stops at a stop, and sometimes even doesn't, unless you stand close to the exit door, and tell the driver, after having huffed, puffed, squeezed and sworn your way through a mass of people in the bus aisle, that gives a new meaning to "no free space". Just when you reach the third and last step of the bus, and are about to hit Terra firma, there is a recurring revving to your left, and an apparition with a helmet, on a motorcycle, if you are lucky, stops a centimetre away from your toe.
When this happened too many times, I took to carrying a whistle in my purse. One of the few things that has actually become cheaper during the current meltdown.
But look at the irony. The next time I had to get down, folks were treated to an aunty type person, laden with bags, whistle in the mouth, adjusting bags on the shoulder (akin to getting organized for war). As the bus asymptotically stopped, I leaned out and stepped down , blowing my whistle. The motorcycle person stopped dead in his tracks, speechless with rage , shocked by the spectacle, but so did a lot of the traffic ahead of the bus.
The bus driver from his seat on a height , higher up than the rest, saw a traffic cop looking quizically, walking over.(The cop presumably hadn't known another "cop" was around). The bus driver quickly motioned me to hide my whistle and carry on on my way home, before the cop noticed this unplanned stop.
Sometimes you have to do petty crimes to stay alive.
Another time, I was standing respectfully at a distance at our Institute gate, waiting for the light to change so I could cross the road. We stand there for ages, watching the light change to amber , organizing ourselves to accelerate our feet as it turns green for us, and red for the other traffic.
Unfortunately, a three wheeler rickshaw behind me was doing the same.
The minute the light turned red for the main road, , the three wheeler revved up behind me, crashed into gear, started forward, and took a sharp left, coming from my right. Just as I was about to cross, I felt a hand emerge from the passenger side of the three wheeler, and I was rudely pushed back. Stumbling, , half falling, I shouted at the guy to ask him what he thought he was up to. And I was told in no uncertain terms, that he pushed me to save my toes being run over by a three wheeler; and never mind that he could have taken a wider turn.
In the meanwhile the main lights changed to green , and the impatient traffic on n-wheels, continued its relentless flow down the road. While some folks came up to check if I was OK, others speculated from a distance , whether it actually served me right, for being in such a hurry; The watchman looked on in boredom; this probably happened several times daily.
What this does to you, is it makes your reflexes very sharp. Sometimes too sharp. You suspect everyone. The entire family of 15, stuffed in a van on its way to a wedding, the corporate type pretending to read a paper while having serious economic discussions on his cell phone (prey, whats the use now?), while his driver swears at the traffic (and probably me), few private taxis taking people to the airport, a lady in her small compact car carrying the not so compact week's supply of fruits and vegetables back to her apartment, and before we forget, an entire hoard of two and three wheelers, which I am convinced, are bearing down on me. Guilty until proven innocent.
After hearing of someone whose fluttering dupatta (long scarf worn across your front and shoulders) got stuck in a passing motorcycle (but luckily left the lady traumatically dupatta-less), as she stood on a central divider while crossing, I have now taken to folding mine and sticking it in a bag as i cross the road.
The interesting thing is none of these motorcycles and rickshaws get caught for what they do , which may euphemistically called, driving. Like I said, the cops haul them over to the side of the road, and demand to see papers. Some types of rectangular papers, make these cops feel they have the Midas touch.
In the meanwhile, if you see a tired, middle aged, bag-laden, lady trying to hesitantly cross the road , stuffing her dupatta in a bag, with a whistle in her mouth and anger in her eyes, and you find no one listening, then please, do step on the brakes.
I even wonder sometimes, if the road development project will get done in my life time.
In the meanwhile, it has occurred to me , that , sometimes you have to be a whistle blower to succeed ......