Monday, May 5, 2014

On a somber note! As I walk the streets of Bengaluru.

Initially I used to walk with a lot of innocence after my return from Bangkok. Not that Bangkok was anything close to the pleasures of walking in the US. But it is not as nightmarish as walking in Bengaluru.

I distinctly remember the time and my disbelief when I found out that a pedestrian had rights in USA!   I was walking near my daughter's home in Seattle.About to cross I saw a car gently cruising on the other half of the road. I believe he had seen me and had anticipated that I would cross the street. I stepped out of the footpath to cover my half of the road and waited for the car to pass on its side of the road. Nothing wrong with that and in fact, it is good time study. But the car which was still a little away stopped and waited for me to cross. I did not understand this and waited as we do here. Then the driver sort of moved his palm to tell me to cross the road and he did not look irritated.  Neither did he speed up to cut me off from crossing! There are many such examples which confuse you initially in the west. But it is dangerous to believe that we have such rights in our dear city of Bengaluru.


I call it traffic dharmas and we better learn them to survive. The lessons come the hard way. My first lesson was when I stepped out to cross with one foot onto the road and  saw a two wheeler gunning down at me. I stepped back in time to let him pass. The two wheeler or any wheeler will never slow down. Maintaining speed at any cost is his or her right! The reason he was aiming in my direction was the speed bump I was at had a small gap between the footpath and the road for rain water to pass! I did not know I was in his way!  The moving vehicles show the same property as a river in floods. Speed bumps or not, they gush down with impunity in the direction of least resistance. Hence they turn and twist and do whatever they can to maintain this dharma of never slowing down. Most drivers have no patience and lack common courtesy. 


The second lesson was when I stepped out on a zebra crossing with the green light in my favour but an auto driver almost hit me and I would have been badly hurt as he just zoomed past. Now I never fully trust the traffic lights. Apart from their own idiosyncrasies, they are often in locations which cannot be seen by the drivers. They behave in unpredictable ways. Some switch from red to green in a split second. Some have both the red light and the green light on at the same time. Yellow lights when seen are interpreted by drivers as they like. They stop or more often they speed up like hell. (Like the auto driver who just missed me!)


I used to joke there could be some benefit, here and hereafter, if you are hit by a speeding vehicle on a zebra crossing. Possibly some sins would be cancelled . I do not joke anymore. It is scary to decide which way to go even  in a controlled(?) situation at a traffic light. I wait for another to cross after the light turns in my favour. If there are women I follow them. I have seen there are better chances that the drivers slow down. But not entirely true as papers do report women being hit while crossing the road. But to imagine that you are better off driving is not entirely true. But that will be another story!


 But this blog was prompted when I read a NY times article, struck on the street: four surviors. I always wondered about injured people, who are more in number in accidents. Read the article but I quote a few sentences which struck a cord and made me wish for a better deal for us in India. I remember being totally irritated with a guru on TV who spoke to an obvious NRI crowd. He said Indian roads teach you to be in the present. The group around him sniggered! True enough, but I would have had more respect for him if he had said that bad drivers would face the wrath of God!


I quote:

We are the lucky ones and we know it. We all lived. We enjoyed the support of family, friends, colleagues and countless talented doctors, nurses and physical therapists. We had good health insurance. The first cop who stopped to help me said: “Lady, if the truck had rolled over you two inches higher, all of your major organs would have been crushed. You wouldn’t be here.” 

Our stories share certain similarities: We looked up at faces looking down, asking if we were O.K. None of the drivers who hit us were charged by the police with any misdoing — significant because part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan is stricter enforcement of traffic laws. Passers-by, belying the reputation of our area, rushed to help. And we were all deeply moved by the support of our friends and co-workers. 


Still, though we have all mostly recovered, we travel around our city with a sense of permanent vulnerability. Nearly four years after she was hit, Denise Fuhs, a news design editor, put it this way in an email account of her accident: “I still cannot cross very many streets without looking both ways about four times and looking over my shoulder a dozen times while crossing. If a car gets too close, or if I think a driver turning my way doesn’t see me, I panic, sometimes freeze.”


“Don’t get me started,” he said. “I’ll say this much: Among the triumphs of our civilization is how rarely we must encounter sudden, life-threatening harm. There are still occasional perils: natural disasters, a much-reduced threat of crime, but mostly cars. Our complacency about this seems inexplicable to one of their victims.”


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