Monday, October 13, 2008

Whistle blowing......वाहतुक , मी अणि शिट्टी

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 ......


  1. What a great post! I loved it. I could just picture you with that whistle as you stop the traffic. I hate traffic of any kind. I like nice quiet trails and sidewalks but I am afraid they are fast becoming a thing of the past here.

  2. You summed up Indian traffice so well. I grew up in Delhi and this post brought back old memories. There was another thing called "Pass" when I was in college. Guys could say this word and escape buying the ticket but girls could not. I discourage not buying of tickets completely. But hearing this word would also sour up my anger.

  3. First of all, thank you for stopping by my blog -- you're one of the reasons that blogging is so much fun. Secondly, I love your blog and will be returning. And, thirdly, I do so admire the fact that your write so beautifully in English -- what a very talented lady you are and I'm amazed! Wish I were better at languages than I am, although I do try, I surely can't come anywhere near your achievements.

  4. I can only imagine, through your words, what it must have been like and in my image ~ it was a mess. My goodness! I'd have "anger in my eyes" as well.

  5. Like being there, only decidedly safer.
    We are getting places faster and faster, aren't we? But what's happened to the journey?

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  7. What a wonderful post and I found it incredibly interesting. I love your last line - sometimes you have to be a whistle blower to succeed. Keeep whistling and I hope they keep stepping on the brakes!!

  8. Judy. Thank you. Contrary to the chaotic set up on the main road, the place where I live is a nice quiet woody area (campus), with sidewalks and all. So thats the saving grace....

    Joy We all grew up battling trraffic the same way, didnt we ? But things are really intolerable now. Basically everyone is in a hurry all the time.

    Aleta Thank you for the supporting "anger in your eyes" .....:-)

    Pearl So true. We reach destinations so fast. But the quality of the journey is totally messed up. I even wrote a blog on all this speedy stuff once.

    lilly Thank you for your whistling encouragement. I am now thinking of having a bunch of different whistles to confuse the cops :-)

  9. They say that USA drives on the right, UK drives on the left and India drives on whatever is left of the road!

    I enjoy reading your posts, you write so well.

  10. Vivek Talking about roads, have a look at :

    this post by a friend .

    And I always thought, left or right driving, we had the original potholes......:-(

  11. Dear Madam,

    We are basically US drivers driving on UK roads. The British Raj left us with their system of roads but the current generation has adopted the US mentality of driving on the left side of the roads.

  12. brilliant way of expressing them ...the colors of traffic system ha ha !!!

    and irrespective of these we still have pending construction of roads and open man hole {sigh]

    gud one

  13. Ganesh Something confusing here. I always thought the folks in the US drove on the right. ("The US mentality of driving on the left side of the road" , which you mention, must be a new thing, a precursor to the impending change from a very rightist incumbent US political party to something else. )

  14. Hi Suranga, Have just read your post and I felt that I was right there, you have a great way with words. I could almost hear the traffic and the hubbub of the situation. Good One, Kate x.

  15. Kate : Danke Schoen. Merci Beaucoup. Thank you. :-)

  16. Dear Madam,

    In US the road system is opposite to ours, wherein the road divider is to your left when you drive. People who drive on the left are in the fast lane overtaking the others and people who are on the right are in the slow lane.

  17. terrific observation and post I must say.

    perfect photograps

  18. Whoa ! That was indeed one heck of a picture of the state of our roads and the whistle blowing that is needed to keep going !

    Every time i am going to hear a whistle blow, there is a pair of eyes that will dart around like mad!!

    This was a beautiful read !

  19. ganesh Finally, "tube petli" ....thanks you for the explanation...:-)

    sayani: Thank you.

    harekrishnji Thank you

    kavi Thank you. Since the writing of this post, there has been another tangle with the cops, and I showed them my whistle :-) They said they would have a meeting when their "saheb" comes...reagrding some suggestions that a bunch of us put forward. (I am sure that will be another couple of years..)