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 ......