Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Going for broken

If I had any doubts about the advent of the leisure society, they were put to rest the other day when I watched a chap on television blow a marshmallow out of his right nostril into the mouth of his buddy across the studio. The anchor got on his hands and knees, measured the distance from despatch to receipt on a big ruler painted on the floor of the set, and declared a new world record of 16 feet 3.5 inches.

The studio audience burst into excited applause. The world champions punched the air and hugged. The anchor’s voice broke with feeling. Everyone was really very thrilled and proud. A lot of money had gone into the show, which had nice lights, sharp suits, and upbeat music. It was probably an old taped episode, but the emotion was fresh.

This kind of thing, obviously, throws up knotty questions. How far can I blow a marshmallow out of my nostril? How many feet is average? What if I fail? Is a marshmallow more aerodynamic than a piece of popcorn? How much would I have to pay a friend to be catcher? It really got me thinking about meditation, which is the process of watching one’s thoughts and feelings in order to master them and be freed of them, but then the next event was about an old lady who has the largest number of tattoos of any senior citizen in the world, so I watched that instead.

But as long as one is interested in the excitingly improbable, it’s fun to tune into the Delhi Traffic Police. Their website (www.delhitrafficpolice.nic.in/) is full of informative trivia, such as that if your intestines happen to fall out, you must stuff them back in and clap a wet cloth over the lot, else they tend to dry out.

Anyway, according to a news report, the Delhi Traffic Police is going to spend Rs 45.65 crore on setting up pedestrian push-buttons at traffic lights, city video surveillance, interactive road information, dedicated lanes, and other fancy stuff involving “high-capacity servers, plasma screens, scanners, interface and other sub-systems for access to digital maps”.

It’s all in the service of the Commonwealth Games, which are apparently going to double as the national revenge on that Dutch diplomat who plainly talked rubbish. Delhi may be in a state of decrepitude just at the moment, but in 2010 we plan to knock the moisture-wicking socks off our sporty guests, and any foul remarks right off their forked foreign tongues.

It all hinges on finding that one brilliant way of fixing each thing, like—off the top of my head—getting the MCD to in fact remove garbage. Or convincing people who jump red lights that they should not jump red lights, or least not those equipped with push-buttons. Or extracting god-promises from all motorists that they will stop driving into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road on the assumption that putting their beams on bright is fair enough warning—actually we could begin with a pinky promise from all Delhi Police vehicles on that one. I imagine that the new plasma screens will cause people to immediately start sticking to their lanes.

There is also much to be said for good contingency planning, like having lots of spare push-buttons on hand to replace those wrenched off by the push-button mafia which, if it doesn’t yet exist, is no doubt organising busily as we speak.

On the other hand, who wants to be a wet blanket? We may well end up with a beautiful push-button-rich city. I look forward to that, but for now I just have to nip out and steal some bulbs from the streetlights.

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