Friday, March 19, 2010

Life through a bus window

Returning back in a Volvo bus from Pune to Mumbai normally gets me home in 3 hours. And this includes all kinds of unpredictable traffic, while leaving Pune, and a similar situation for entering Mumbai. But in the years and years that I have done this, never has the bus come to a complete standstill for a non-trivial length of time. Most of the time, the hold ups happen in the mountainous Ghat section, since Pune is at an elevation, and there is a lot of heavy loaded truck traffic on the road at all hours.

So I was very surprised when we zipped down through the mountains and reached the outskirts of New Bombay, and the traffic appeared to be at a complete standstill. Unlike other times, there were just a few cops around. Doing the waving, whistling, walking-over-with-their-ticket-books routine, trying to keep the queue jumpers in check.

There is an amazing similarity in the manner and philosophy of entering-a-bus-and-squeezing-to-the-front-of-the-standees-in-the-aisle, and the method followed by n-wheeled vehicles, while cutting into little gaps and stuff in the traffic, and pushing ahead to find a great opening.

Anticipating disembarkation in 20 minutes , I was trying to get organized with my stuff, when I suddenly heard a lady's voice, shouting at someone outside in the traffic, and using some very colorful swear words in Hindi.

Turns out there was a car in front of our bus, and this lady's van (she was a passenger) was between our bus and the road divider on the right. Apparently the car in front suddenly appeared and blocked her path. It was also very clear that between the angle of our bus, and the size of her van, she couldn't have proceeded ahead anyway. It certainly didn't help that the car in front was emblazoned with all kinds of names, declarations of owners, and a luggage carrier on top, which displayed running and blinking electric rights around the periphery whenever the ignition was on.

She came out of her van, wearing a burkha, face uncovered. He, a swarthy young fellow emerged with a sense of political bravado from his car. They both were standing on the broad road divider, pointing fingers at their vehicles, then at each other, all this within hitting distance of each other. The conversation was shrill, loud, and if this was television, they would have used a beeper to beep out some words. The surprising thing was most of the beepable abuse came from the lady . There were male passengers in her van and not one came out to aid in the fight, including the driver. The guy in front was the only occupant in his vehicle, and every time he stepped out to fight and counter argue, the car would block everyone else.

This went on and on. None wanted to have the second last word. No sign of the cops anywhere. Our driver had rolled down the window on his side and was watching the whole thing , the wordy thrusts and parries, his neck nodding this way and that, like at Wimbledon. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the traffic ahead mobilizing to move.

"Oye ! Stop it. We are all Mumbaiwallas together, and we are all stuck. These things happen. Why bring in history, geography, sociology, anatomy at each other ? Keep organizing IPL cricket matches in a city which is already bursting with traffic, and this is what you get. Move it !"

The opponents glared . I half expected one of them to throw the cliche question "Is this your father's road that you advise me on how to drive on it ?". But I think the huge size of the bus was a bit intimidating. Some bus drivers like to teach errant cars a lesson. The fellow got back into the car and the electric decorative carrier lights started running around again, while the lady kept up a steady stream of abuse from the open window of her van. Surprisingly, no one else from the van uttered a word.

These are strange times that we live in. Trying to set life's priorities based on observation and your bringing up, certainly doesn't seem to be happening.

A burkha is worn in certain communities to give protection and anonymity to the woman behind the veil. And here was a woman, representing the van passengers, most males, her veil pushed back, slugging it out with the other guy, word for word, swear words included, even to the extent of shouting at the guy across lanes later on.

Here was a guy, shaking fingers at the lady, matching her word for word, throwing names around, justifying bad driving, and creating additional hassles in the jammed traffic.

There was an explanation of the absence of cops during the argument and fight.

The IPL Cricket matches were being held at a New Bombay stadium beside the expressway. The area outside the stadium was thick with cops. Every intersection leading to stadium gates, had a posse of cops directing cars to parking areas, and there were so many cars going there that normal expressway traffic was given second priority.

Helicopters were being used to bring so called eminent folks , from politics and entertainment directly to the stadium.

And this, in a city, where, almost 18 months ago, terrorists struck, the NSG commandoes from Delhi were flown down from Delhi almost 8-9 hours late, and they used ordinary city buses to ferry the troops over to the attacked hotels and buildings. Because there were no helicopters and stuff available.

According to reports 1600 cops were deputed for the IPL cricket matches, and the helicopters made 16 sorties to and fro to fly in Bollywood celebrities and political folks from across Mumbai, in the airspace above one of India's busiest international airports. .

Sometimes I wonder. Are we going too fast ? Are cops and police supposed to be "accessories" for "eminent" people ? How is eminence defined these days ? Is everything a function of money ? And does that include our security ? Is it the government's job to provide police protection for cricket matches to teams where millions are paid to people to go out into the middle with a fancy uniform, and whack a ball somewhere , and doesn't it make sense to ask the teams to get in their own security for the stadium? And pay for it ?

I wonder how many people from offices reached home several hours late that day . I wonder how ambulances with sick people made their way through the chaos that day. I wonder how many mothers of young working girls across Mumbai, worried themselves sick over when their daughter would turn up, in all that traffic chaos . I wonder how many places in Mumbai were deprived of normal protection, due to reallocation of cops for IPL Cricket matches that day .

I wonder if I am actually being stupid , wondering about all this ......


  1. Like someone once said, Never judge a book by its cover, I suppose it applies to a burkha as well.

    Really, I'm not very surprised, not after the bylanes I've had the opportunity to roam about.

    Women keep the peace there. Mostly that is.

  2. women swearing in hindi in public places is a trend these days..there are college girls; you find them smoking and swearing all the time..they think it's a cool style statement..sad but true..and this is the case of more than fifty percentage of the you seriously think none of them must have got good upbringing? I guess not..

    another thing that I have heard is - income from IPL is going to be tax Mr. Ashok Chawan says that the matter is "under consideration", it's the matter of time that it will indeed be declared tax free..

    long enough comment already :)

  3. Tumcha blog khup chhaan aahe! Ha lekh vaachlyaa nantar hi ghatana dolyapudhe ubhi raahili. Keep it going!

  4. WE live in different times indeed. Where the dogs get beds and the people who walk them are confined to huts !

    Roads are replete with such scences. so is the media. There are other scenes. Of piety, goodness, promise and humane love....that often go unnoticed !

    For long now, i have chosen to see those with a sharper eye. while these sights thrust themselves into the vision zone, i try to move on...

    Yes. We are all Mumbaiwallahs ! We could all be stuck. Or we could move on !

    Wonderful post. As usual !

  5. Yes, policemen have become accessories of the rich and influential. We aam junta or mango people of Delhi-NCR know and accept it.

  6. And women can outdo men in cursing - its no big deal

  7. Your entire post is a comment on changing nature of our society.
    We should accept and be prepared to see Burkha clad or any woman for taht matter to swear in public , just like our parliamentarians.
    we witness cases of irate behaviour ,road rage in traffic and its on a steady rise.
    The uniformed men in our society are given much less than their rightful. we amke them sleep on footpaths,make them guard IPL matches , Cinema halls and treat them like impediments when they are patrolling .
    We accept unfairness, we behave unfairly and we condone it too.

  8. Girl swearing in public was the right of the working class till a few years back. So we had colorful and verbose fights and hair pulling matches at the public taps when women filled water. From an earlier comment by Neha I understand that this is becoming more common among the educated car traveling types too. But our menfolk do know when to speak and when to keep quiet whatever the era or epoch. Why did they stay mum?Burkha or no burkha did the situation not merit male interference? What if the man in question had physically abused the girl?Would they be silent spectators even then?Our men are like the cops that act only after the issue dies a natural death. Good post as usual.

  9. The cops are never around when you need them. And as for the burkha - off late the dress is not used for the purpose it was originally meant for. We have women who come on a strictly 'ladies day' at a local exhibition and they indulge in a lot of shop lifting. For one we do not know if they are women in the burkha!
    And I always do worry for those in an ambulance in a traffic jam! I tell a small prayer for the occupants. Only god can help them.

  10. Somehow I was very thrilled reading about that woman! Have been in her place (except I don't use swear words!!) yelling at stupid male drivers plenty of times! and no, men will not step in to help a woman, they'd rather watch the fun and maybe join in a free-for-all cursing happened to me last month...I skedaddled before they started hitting me. The whole road of men was watching very interested and seemingly on the man's side and the auto driver who unnecessarily joined him in accusing me.

    As for cops and emergency services, they are truly grossly misused in India. I also say a small prayer every time an ambulance manages to squeeze past us...I've been in a position where a loved one was in an ambulance and know how it feels.

  11. IPL does get more than it's share of everything. I agree with you they should organise their own security.

    And women cursing - I wonder if sometimes it's just to show they are tough... In rural India in the North, men and women smoke (bidis) and curse the same way - it's equally good or bad for both I think :) I am never too sure if women are the gentler sex.

  12. IPL has just taken up as the highest priority in the lives of Indians - either it is taken up with happiness by cricket fanatics or it is forced on citizens like us.

    The traffic being held up for hours is just too much - while so importance to the matches, telecast, celebs is given, why cant little bit of importance be given to regulate traffic in and around the stadium ????

  13. Anil P I guess the woman was still trying to keep the peace here. And was reacting trying to preempt something. I dont know. Maybe unusual circumstances bring out dormant qualities in everyone...

    neha Regardless of what the current take of swearing by women is, one isnt used to it. My types automatically brand the person as undesirable. I suppose that needs to change now.

    tilopinion Abhari ahe. Blog war tumcha swaagat....

    Kavi Thank you. One of the things that differentiates this age from the previous (my time) is the speed with which standards and "acceptabilities" change. I still wonder why minds should change at the same rate ....

    Ritu Yes, I agree.

    kirti We have so many resources in this country and we specialize in their misuse. But does anyone listen to the person on the street ?

    Hip grandma I wondered about the men in the van too. Fellows who have no qualms teasing innocent unrelated women , suddenly with mouths clammed shut ? Hmm.

    Radha Like a wrote in a blogpost many yeas ago, in Mumbai you have to get in line even to die.

    Starry Hope you got away OK. I've tangled in my time with male drivers, and have noticed that they have no qualms shouting offensive words at you. I once challenged a chap to accompany me to the police chowky, and he vamoosed. I guess the police can be useful in absentia like this .....

    IHM I find more and more women cursing these days, whether it is in a bus, or train platform, or any crowded situation. Maybe we are in a buffer period in society between being nobodies, and somebodies (who count). The words still hurt regardless of whether they are meant for me or no. I guess thats age showing up :-)

    Ums I think the IPL is the worst thing to have hit us. Its a business, not sport. And money speaks everywhere, In politics, in particular. So the police are for protecting crooks, and standing in stadiums. And to hell with the common people....