Friday, 22 July 2011

“Bad roads—so, what’s the deal with them?”

Walking in the roads is a huge pain these days. And so is driving. And so is the use of any form of public transport that runs on surface; except maybe the state transport buses—they’re a hazard by themselves, and right now, adding those to the equation would be the perfect recipe for either a colossal disaster, or perhaps, the best bloody ride of our lives.

Anyway, I suppose you get my point: this post is a ramble/rant against bad roads. I know it’s probably an old issue by now (well, Hindustan Times certainly has found a new issue for the second page; about time, I’d say!) but as with all other notes, I wanted to be sure of the, let’s say, gravity of the issue here. Suffice to say that after thirty-one near misses in the nearly two month’s abstinence from driving, and a month long campaign by HT, I have decided that the issue has sufficient gravity.

Bad roads. Hmm. So, where does it start? Well, while a section of the civil society would scream “politicians!”, “corruption!”, I, sir, would beg to differ. There is, I believe, a matter of great scientific inquiry involved—which thanks to the sorry levels of public intellect—is absent from all discussions of public importance. I would not talk of contractors and the BMC here, partly because of the scientific nature of my inquiry, and mostly because I know very little of it. What I will focus on, as always, is how we Indians adapt, or rather, should adapt.

Thanks to Anna Hazare and his “team” of civil society members, the people of India have lost one it’s most enshrined of virtues: adaptability. People no longer think it to be cool to duck, jump, side-step, run, and even sleep, while doing most of our daily tasks. Make no mistake; I am not equating adaptability with complacency here. The former is an active process, involving a high level of cognition and fine-motor skill dependency; the latter is, well, doing nothing other than not doing what I just described.

Let me illustrate. So, they say bad roads are dangerous. I concur, they are; but let’s adapt, shall we? The SAS and the Royal Marines are among the best military units in the world because they train in the harsh environs of moors in northern England. We have a Dartmoor on practically every station road, and during the monsoons, there is nothing better than cross-country training while on your way to work (the dirty clothes would irk many. But as of now, that’s the only glitch I see in my near-perfect hypothesis).
Yes, I agree that cars and other large vehicles are very clearly a hazard. So, I’d say, we should ban them from the roads. Sounds simplistic? Well, that’s because it is. Until you bring up that bit about political will and public apathy.

We’re so accustomed to the comfort of our cars, that we’d yell “bloody murder!” to any such proposition. Now that, ladies and gents, is complacency. I mean, we can all agree that cars and other vehicles are huge contributing factor to pollution levels in the city, and the abomination we collectively call ‘traffic jams’ (hmm, funny jargon; mental note for next post). Most of them have very low ground clearance, use a lot of fuel on account of driving on for miles in second gear, and frankly, they come in some very horrible colours. They are also, correct me if I’m wrong, a major contributing factor to the whole pot-hole scenario as well.

Any road has a carrying capacity; if a road is built with a carrying capacity of 50,000 cars in say, six months, then they end up carrying over two-hundred thousand in the same period in the real world (Note: I think my figures are maybe a tad bit exaggerated). The point being: our roads, no matter how corrupt the contractor is (Yes, sue me, Mr Hazare; or better still, go on a fast), are built to carry a certain amount of cars in a given period of time, as they are anywhere else in the world—except perhaps Cuba and some other failed Communist states. And if there’s a marked increase in the pressure on roads, particularly due to faulty driving (this is India!), braking and speeding (and not the mention, the state transport buses)—all of which we see plenty in India—the roads naturally would suffer. And here we aim to hang the poor contractors. Tsk Tsk.

Another thing most of us fail to see is the potential for rally cars and sports utility vehicles. Yes, those very idiotic, large, the all-brawn-no-brain, Sunny Deol type SUVs; particularly the Range Rovers and Land Rovers. What we need are more liberal policies and a reduction on taxation. Heck, they’re even coming up with the ‘green’ versions for the eco-mentalists (what an aberration, but still—).

So, bottom line: if India wants to figure on the global map for reasons other than its loud civil society and Mayawati’s spat with Assange, we seriously need to look into the potential bad roads have for us. And once again, we must prove to the world how adaptable we are. Adaptable, mind you, not complacent!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Blood And Tears

To say anything like "I am shocked!", or "This is appalling!" would be an understatement. I am shocked, appalled and scared. And I believe so are you. That's fine. In fact, that is a sane reaction.
Mumbai was hit by blasts again, three of them this time; official sources say around twenty killed and sixty injured. But those are just statistics. Just numbers. But for many unfortunate survivors, they are names; mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends...

Through my personal observations, I can say that there are two broad responses to such tragedies. One, a sense of hopelessness and despair, soon replaced by what many call the 'spirit of Mumbai', that is, our ability to go on ahead with life, whilst upholding the innate psyche that this city builds in our minds: "Bad things happen, and will keep happening. Will that stop us? Hell no."
And two, is a path of public indignation; usually amplified by political voices. Here, governments are blamed, security agencies are too. Every political big-wig has an opinion. And, strangely, this stage of response follows the first one; candle light vigils and the sorts, you know.

Yesterday, as I sat watching various news channels, I realized these processes were already set into play. Some leader from the Shiv Sena was at Dadar, to "inspect" the site apparently. And this is before the NIA team arrived. He and his party "asked" the government to find out who was behind the blasts. Hmm, I wonder how long the politeness would last.
And in another clip, somewhere in Jhaveri Bazaar, I think, I saw a flash mob gathering near the CM's convoy...shouting protest slogans. Now that is progress.

People often comment that the Indian government is unconcerned towards its 1.2 billion citizenry, and worse still, it tends to value some over the others. The Kalka Mail accident, for example was an appalling example of this fact. Inevitably, discourses on corruption and selfishness of netas follow.
We need a scapegoat. And, in most cases, an inefficient administration suffices. I am not sympathizing with the government, mind you. I believe that they are indeed inefficient and to a very large extent, even unprofessional in dealing with crises like these. They suffer some serious lapses, lack of standardized protocol, incompetence, interdepartmental rivalry, political one-up-man-ship and the gravest of all, lack of political will, to name a few.

Then again, how virtuous is the Indian public? My answer is, not very.

True, one sees a spirit of humanity and solidarity at work when tragedy strikes. The 26/7 floods, the 11/7 train bombings and now this. Also, we've had candle-lights vigils and what-not after 26/11. Yes, India, there is hope- that's what many said.

Half of Mumbai didn't vote in the elections in 2009. But thousands came in support of Team India at Wankehede. Funny world, no?

Not wanting to be accused of cynicism again, I would like to end this post with my personal view on counter-terrorism. Why, because terrorism is a crime of the most depraved nature (let's face it, this is what we're fighting; not a war against our ideas or some abstract struggle), and thus, has to be dealt with ruthlessly. What we need is a competent and well-trained security services and an unhindered chain-of-command. A complete overhaul in our security mechanisms, procedures, protocols and basically, the way we think. And the knowledge of the fact that safety of citizens is of paramount importance. Unless this is realized by the government, I am afraid we are looking at very dark times.

In the face of such troubled times, there is very little what people like you and me can do. But what we can do is, not let the pain wash away by some mind-numbing, defeatist rhetoric. For as long as we remember the wounds and the pain, we will be conscious of what caused it.  Because if we choose to move on, to surrender to fate, spirit or whatever we might call it, then, we are doing a grave injustice to the very people whose losses we mourned; to the tears and blood they have shed.