Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hyderabadi Series - Lessons from Traffic

Many of the Hyderabadi's deepest desires are exhibited in the way he behaves in traffic. In fact this behavior reveals more about him than having him lying on a couch in a psychiatrist's room deep under hypnosis. There is a distinct perversion, a kink in the mind that kicks in when the Hyderabadi steps into the traffic that shows him up for what he truly is, or what she truly is too! Forget social strata, education, wealth, type of vehicle, age and so on - the animal of enterprise and risk seizes him.
Orderly scenes at the SR Nagar junction. Heroic traffic cop manning junction at 1 p.m. in searing heat.

Watch the traffic at the traffic signals tomorrow and you'll know what I mean. For starters no one stops at the red signal and everyone rushes in headlong as if it really were an invitation, even as the hapless commuters from the actual 'green side' wait helplessly. RTC buses rush in and push onwards as they entertain themselves in day long games between themselves, like little boys, racing each other. Two wheelers zip by avoiding the helpless traffic cop, the odd car goes ahead unable to miss out on all the fun and soon everyone follows. But since the guys who have the real green signal are also concerned about making progress in life, they tend to somehow, in an almost suicidal manner, manage to get into the thick of this flow of traffic and manage to slow them down and mess it all up with a jam. This is when the helpless traffic cop comes into the picture as he cajoles both the right guys (who are now wrong because the lights have turned green) and the wrong guys (who are now right) and asks them to either move on or pick someone randomly to fine and punish. Between the righteous green guys who are now red, and the enterprising wrong guys who are now right, there is much honking, altercations and great fun and drama. If you are in the middle of it, pray, bull doze your way through or just doze your way through. If you've been here long enough you'll bulldoze your way else you are stuck forever!
See what I mean? Where is he going?

Watch more carefully and you will find two wheeler riders with their a penchant to talk on cell phones, even sms while driving two wheelers sometimes (how anyone can do this on a two wheeler where one needs one hand on the accelerator and another on the clutch beats me), escape the oncoming traffic cops with a dexterity and skill few can match, zig zag through traffic on two wheelers in triples and somehow squeeze into the most impossible spaces between large vehicles. They zip over dividers, zip on the wrong side of the road, jump medians, rush headlong into one ways, travel with about ten times the load they can legally carry, turn and stop at whichever place they feel is right. With their constant appearing and disappearing act as if they were some artistes in a magic show, the two wheeler guys leave us with our mouths agape, our hearts tipping over and our blood pressure shooting up. Such acts can only show that God is alive and well and he is also very alert. If you've been around long enough you would have developed some fine sensors that pick up the slightest movement of these two wheelers and that will save you. If you have not, be very scared.
Not the best pic but an indication of things

Talking of magic and circus, one cannot ignore the auto rickshaw wallahs who go around with a huge assortment of arms and legs sticking out of them, careening madly and wildly like a drunken bull, seating passengers to the right and left of the driver, seating four to five mashed people in the back and heading off at great speeds. They can turn at right angles, stop dead, jump and spurt, cut across and behave like a live dragon - something like those bulls they ride in the rodeos. To me nothing is more stressful than these guys.Why anyone would want to take a ride in these autos is something that beats my mind unless they have suicide on their mind or a perverse liking for danger. These overfilled autos are worse than those amusement park rides which have everyone screaming at the top of their lungs - only here, we do it with live traffic. Believe me, the auto rickshaw driver really appears to have no control beyond a point but he goes on at top speed, spinning and weaving between heavy buses and trucks. One cannot but admire both the drivers and passengers here. If you have been around long enough, you will keep a healthy distance for oncoming legs and hands which stick out of the rick.

Late at night one witnesses an invasion of sorts on Hyderabadi roads especially if you are prowling the Kukatpally to Lakdikpul road. A thousand and more buses invade the city in an organised manner, like the elephants in armies of the old, standing shoulder to shoulder as they inch their way forward, menacing us with sheer bulk and size, numbers and strength. It is an awe inspiring sight to see buses cramming the almost six laned highway, hardly an inch apart from one another, moving ahead in a phalanx that would have made Alexander and his Macedonians proud. What this formation does is strike fear in my heart because for about an hour between ten and eleven, these roads are so choked up with these bulls, these private buses or tourist buses as they call themselves, move on like a motorised juggernaut, unstoppable and relentless, leaving no space even for a strand of grass between them. Wait. Turn back. Retreat. Come back later. But just get out of their way.

Four wheeler chaps in Hyderabad range from those who are new learners, L boards and all, who stutter ans stop and drive everyone bonkers, people who have been gifted their cars (look out for Mom's gift and Dad's gift stickers) who really don't feel the pinch of banging into your car,  the ones who are so concerned about their car that they get off in the middle of the traffic and mourn every single scratch and non-scratch, the bullies in SUVs, the stately luxury car guys who swing and sway. Some kind of a crazy equilibrium is maintained between the Rs. 60000 second hand car to the 2 crore luxury item and they all somehow survive. But what one needs to watch out for is the youngster in the car who has been given the car by his blackmailed parents - they just go bonkers and drive suicidally sometimes under the influence of their youth, sometimes alcohol, sometimes women friends under the influence of alcohol and so on..And the call center vehicles which have a different speed limit, a different set of traffic rules and a different set of turbo charged engines. These are clear and present danger and they could just come and hit you from behind with no provocation - that's it!

Then there are the little three wheeler commercial vehicles which carry goods within the city which also move rather dangerously, like knights on a chess board. I can never get a hang of their edges, their movements, quirky and whimsical, as they zip past. Their metal bodies pose great threat to my fibre glass car and I am really wary of them. The other category is that of the tippers that are normally carrying loads of rubble and boulders which also move rather disconcertingly for me, lurching like a slightly imbalanced chap under a heavy influence of alcohol. They could just drop their load on us so keep some distance from their backsides, as one would do with donkeys.

Compare this with the life in the 80s - I must add that for comparison. We did not have a flyover at Begumpet - there was a rail crossing at the Begumpet railway station remember? The road was a regular two lane road for a long time. We did not have the flyover at Khairtabad and we certainly had no Necklace road. The entire area was a marshy land so everyone went to Lakdikapul and then veered off to Tank Bund. You pretty much parked wherever you could in Hyderabad and Secunderabad and there was no problem with that. Not a single No Parking sign. And for many years there was no such thing as a parking fee on roads or any other place if I remember right. The traffic lights were few, traffic cops were not fainting from noxious fumes and a scooter ride from Erragadda to Osmania University was a maximum of 30 minutes or so. We had double decker buses for a while and even buses that had trailer buses at the back which were fun. The roads were full of Ambassador cars and Fiat cars and the odd Standard Herald. Fiats were the status symbols then and those with music decks were to die for. Most people took the buses, a few cycled (I cycled to my Junior college), short distances were covered in cycle rickshaws, slightly longer distances in auto rickshaws and two wheelers mostly consisted of Bajaj Chetak scooters, which were the common dowry item of the middle class, Yezdis and Javas which the stylish lads rode and the Lunas and other mopeds (like the Suvega). If there was danger on the road it was generally from the Setwin buses that had then been newly introduced and they rode a bit rashly. All roads were two laned, there were no dividers and traffic went by. We however had rules for lane discipline and helmets which were deeply resented by the general public.

What this week's roundup shows shows up is a small glimpse into certain wonderful qualities of Hyderabadis. That the Hyderabadi is intrepid and  enterprising and goes ahead into dangerous zones without a second thought as the first wave of wrong guys prove. That the Hyderabadi is one who is willing to lay down his life for the sake of something noble, for greater good, and for what is 'right' as proven by those gentlemen who arrive in the thick of the traffic on the one fact that they have a green light to support them (but not for long). And that justice is alive and well and that the traffic cop does not merely seek to punish but also to serve with compassion bu letting all the wrong doers go along because he cannot afford a jam. Also, that God is alive and well and we all must go ahead with faith in the heart and a song on our lips.

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