We get five newspapers at home but I just use them for my selfish pleasure, taking their Sudokus and crosswords and then, just as they think I’m ready for a commitment, cruelly dumping them to frolic with other, younger publications. Anyway, that’s why it fell to someone else to tell me that the Delhi government is considering imposing a fine on jaywalkers in our glorious city, which to me is clinching proof that the boiling July heat has simply become too much to take in the corridors of power, and everyone there has quietly gone mad.
I don’t know about you, but when I think about the problems that plague traffic in Delhi, the first thing that leaps to mind is not ‘jaywalking’, although it’s true that jaywalkers tend to add more chaos to street traffic already characterised by savage aggression, inconsideration and stupidity.
On a recent flight I was seated between two burly American gentlemen who talked incessantly about how much they drank and benchpressed, but when they told me about their visit to Delhi, their hands began to shake. They asked me if I drive. Yes, I said. How brave you are, they breathed, awestruck. “Or stupid,” one of them muttered after a small pause.
After eleven years on the road I don’t think about it much, but it’s true. All of us who live in Delhi risk dying a violent and messy death on our roads every day, and that only occasionally because of an actual accident—it could just be from being in the driver’s seat, because if I had to pick the one thing that raises my blood pressure to a fatal level, I’d pick the incredible rage that seizes me while at the wheel, placing foam in my mouth, expletives on my tongue and my elbow on the horn. And while much of that is directed at other drivers, at least as much is directed at the bright sparks who plan, implement and maintain the roads.
I would start with a big fat fine on the city for letting hoardings obscure signals, erecting directions to traffic in hopelessly small letters placed far past the point when traffic might actually be able to comply (not that it would anyway, being comprised of said savagely aggressive, inconsiderate and stupid motorists), for allowing encroachment and not providing pavements, for breaking up roads and medians and leaving cement blocks and other debris lying unlit in the middle of busy streets, for allowing herds of cattle to roam unchecked, for unscientifically-built speed breakers without any paint or signs alerting people to their existence, for tolerating a police force that can be seen committing the same driving offences as everyone else and can be bribed out of any spot of trouble, for setting up long and complicated procedures for obtaining a licence, thereby encouraging unqualified drivers to simply buy one from a tout, and for undertaking infrastructural projects that think no more than five years into the future.
As for the motorists, it’s as if nobody told them that it’s not possible for two objects to exist in the same space at the same time without an almighty crunching noise. And they really don’t believe that the rules were written for them, personally. Just the other day I saw a motorist, confronted by a cop for trying to jump a light, leap out of his car and actually box the cop in the face. As they say, Blueline buses don’t kill people; Delhi drivers kill people.
No, it’s not the jaywalkers I’m worried about.