Are you listening?

 

In my daily drive to the office and other sundry places, one particular situation attracts my attention always. I think aloud when I see such situations. Even within the closed compartment of the car where no sound can go out, I murmur, shout, grimace, rebuke, make faces and sometimes (when I am alone in the car) use expletives as if the outside world is listening. The situation is the careless attitude of the passenger in any vehicle, the pedestrians, the cyclist and the standing crowd of men and machine (read vehicles).

Let us check the person who has just hailed a cycle rickshaw puller and after a bit of bargaining on the fare climbs on the seat. Immediately after sitting, he or she, if alone, would pull out the earphone sockets from his/her bag or pocket and after fixing one end to the phone and the other to both the ears, either start a conversation or listen to music. The rickshaw puller just feels the load on his rickshaw and pulls it on in his own way. The passenger does not at all bother as to how the puller is negotiating the crowded, potholed, uneven road. Both are in their different world. The rickshaw puller, however unruly about traffic rules, is at least careful about his own safety. The passenger is totally unmindful, ignorant and oblivious to the threat. He or she has surrendered himself or herself at the hand of the rickshaw-wala. That too without knowing, without realising. The passenger is not bothered at all the way the rickshaw-wala is cycling and negotiating the traffic. Dishonouring all the traffic rules, turning dangerously at curves, riding in the fast lane ignoring the honks of the fast moving traffic behind, sandwiching between the bare (or barely?!) space between two vehicles. The passenger is just indifferent to all these perils though he or she is most vulnerable species under the circumstances if anything goes wrong.

Now let’s check the passenger who has hailed a rickety shared auto rickshaw. In a capacity of just 3 passengers, the driver has taken at least 11 passengers. 4 passengers on the factory fitted seat, 4 are on a six inch wide improvised plank (wooden covered with a layer of resin) with back on the driver, 2 are on the left of the driver and 1 on his right side. The driver’s seat has been modified to accommodate additional two whereas he takes minimum three passengers. Two of them on the extreme right and extreme left, literally remain hung with one of their bums managing to find a place in the seat. The right or left knee (depending on which side the passenger is precariously balancing himself) is protruding out of the periphery of the vehicle and at the mercy of the passing vehicles. The ride will be from 15 minutes to an hour for any passenger depending on the traffic. During this period, the passengers are at God’s mercy (or should I say at the driver’s mercy!). Here also some are just trying to balance themselves all the while during the journey. The fortunate ones sitting in the factory fitted seat of the automobile indulge in either their mobile phones (earphone duly socketed) or chatting with one another. They never mind as to how the vehicle is driven. Among the drivers of the assorted vehicles, I find drivers of the shared auto rickshaw are the most undisciplined, arrogant, quarrelsome, and always ready to pick up fights. I am told that the owners are influential and hence the haughtiness of the drivers. God help the passengers!

Let’s check now a bit fortunate class of passenger who has just hailed an auto rickshaw which is not generally shared. Though these vehicles are supposed to be metered, but fares are negotiated as neither the passenger nor the driver believes in the meter reading. The condition of the vehicle is far better than the rickety shared auto-rickshaw whose loose, sharp and rusty metal is protruding from all directions. The seat is cushioned and there is some protection on the right side. The passenger hops in. The driver starts the vehicle. Now, these two occupants are in their own world. The passenger, like his/her counterparts in other vehicles, either on the mobile phone (earphone duly socketed as usual) or busy in talking if he or she has company. The driver is now focussed on reaching the destination as quickly as possible. He would manoeuvre the vehicle in all possible way (except flying over). He would break the traffic rules left, right and centre. He would also answer calls in between holding the instrument in a deft way between his tilted head and the angled left shoulder. He would enter any service lane, any gully, opposite to one-way roads and even on pavements sometimes to reach the destination as fast as possible. The passenger, meanwhile, is just as indifferent as a sack full of grain. The imminent risks are known to the driver and accordingly, he is mentally prepared to face any eventuality. But the passenger is just casual. He or she would never question the driver as to why he is driving so recklessly. In the event of a mishap, he or she would suffer maximum injury, at time fatal injury.

Last but not the least in this blog post, the hapless pillion rider on two-wheelers, especially bikes. I pity them. Pity them because the biker is just ignorant that he has a pillion rider. The women pillion riders in traditional Indian attire are most vulnerable. Due to the typical dress, the female is compelled to sit in bench style clutching the rider either on the shoulder or around his waistline depending upon the relationship between the biker and the female. If there is only one pillion rider the matter is somewhat manageable. The problem starts when the woman is either holding a baby or the third passenger on the bike. Three on a bike is a normal view. What intrigues me is the indifference of the biker as if he is alone on the bike. He would drive the bike the way the auto rickshaw driver does in the previous para. No wonder, fatalities in bike accidents are highest. I can go on and on and on about the pitiable driving sense of the bikers.

In my childhood days, I have seen people hanging on the door handles of buses or trains. I have seen people travelling on the roof of the bus or even trains. To be honest, I myself have undertaken such risky journeys. Accidents did happen. Sometimes fatal. But I haven’t seen careless passengers. Climbing on the rooftops of buses or trains was purely for the reason that hanging on the door handles was far too dangerous in comparison and there is not even an inch space inside. I used to prefer the bus roof solely for the reason that I could not hang on holding the door handle and I could judge the risk. Rooftop travel was risky at times due to low branches of roadside trees or an occasional overhead electric wire. But the passengers were careful as they negotiated those hazardous moments. They were alert and at times got down to avert any crisis. There were no mobile phones, fortunately.

I don’t find the same alertness among the passengers these days. I fail to understand the triviality. I see pedestrians crossing the roads hurriedly without caring for their own lives. Vehicles are wheezing past as a fast pace, the pedestrian signal at the traffic junction is either dead or showing red, assorted vehicles are on the road, ignorant and careless drivers are manoeuvring their vehicles dangerously with no respect for pedestrian rights, yet my dear pedestrians are just apathetic to the looming threat on their lives.

Hence I become vocal. Vocal to their apathy, vocal to the drivers’ careless attitude, vocal to the helplessness of the traffic police, vocal to the lawlessness of all concerned. But I remain within the cosy confines of my vehicle with the air conditioner running and the audio humming. My voice doesn’t reach out. It wouldn’t help either even it reaches out as the earphones are duly socketed and people are busy in talking to one another.

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