Travelling is not only travail but a downright nightmare in India today. No mode of transport is reliable anymore. You get a seat booked in the train and you reach the station on time, only to be told that the train has been cancelled because at some point the agitating farmers are squatting on the track. In the corridors of power files move only, when the aggrieved party adopts an agitational approach and the general public is inconvenienced like hell. The other option of going by air remains botched more often than not, owing to strikes by staff or unfavorable weather conditions or man made glitches. Now if you opt for the third option i.e. driving in your own car if the distance is short, don’t expect any smooth sailing either. Consider it a windfall if you reach your destination unobstructed.
My own experience of driving (with my husband) from Amritsar to Patiala has a story to tell. Amritsar is notorious for its maddening melee on the roads. The bus and truck drivers blare horns continuously and scare you to no end. They take recourse to brazen aggression and recklessness to make their way out of the crazy rush.
But the crowded roads simply can’t contain so many aggressively driven and overloaded vehicles and some ridiculously oversized contraptions with narrow snouts and abnormally wide rears grazing and denting cars with impunity, without a glance behind. When stuck in serpentine queues of vehicles- which happens every other day- people outdo each other in going ahead and causing complete breakdown of rules and stonewalling any movement of the traffic. The scenario shifts to harrowing jams which run into miles and no body moving a little finger to do anything. You’d be lucky if a cop appears from somewhere to monitor the suffocating line up.
Coming back to the scary journey of seven hours I underwent a few days back with tensed up back, aching shoulders and frazzled nerves. Within five minutes of our starting the journey we were holed up near a bridge. Sitting in your car and imprisoned in the middle of the traffic you never come to know what is causing the blockade. When the traffic cleared partially we could move at a snail’s pace. Finally on entering the GT road, we thought that the worst was over. But we were sadly mistaken. We kept on facing sporadic halts throughout, sending shivers of fear because the evening was approaching and we had a lot of distance to cover. At Phagwara we were suddenly made to stop by cops and ordered to take a detour via other towns leaving the GT road. It was like putting salt on raw wounds as if the previous journey of zig zag meandering was not suffering enough. It was getting dark and we were not familiar with the topography of the area. To make matters worse, even there, chaos, confusion and unexplained jams stared us in the face. At times it looked like if something happened to us we might scream or wail at the top of our voice, no help would possibly be forthcoming in the deafening din of men and motor. Oscillating between the twin emotions of extreme fear of personal safety and hope we managed to finally join the GT road again at Khanna, where we expected to have some respite from those tortuous traffic snarls. Time was ticking fast and already it was night and the rest of the journey we covered by crossing our fingers and beseeching the Almighty to take us safely home, while braving the blinding oncoming traffic.
The sad part is that we continue to be complacent about the road safety measures and have closed our eyes to the disturbing statistics of innocent lives lost every day, to the countless man hours frittered away and to the tons of wasted energy. We persist in our stubborn noncompliance of traffic rules. We become utterly selfish and intolerant and display road rage which many times take an ugly turn. We don’t believe in ‘better late than never’ maxim and our youngsters fall prey to speed thrills and jeopardize their own and other people’s lives.
The need of the hour is deterrent and stringent punishment to violators of traffic regulations. Rigorous written and driving tests before issuing of licenses and launching of road safety awareness campaigns regularly should become, must do exercises. Most urgent is the need of concerted efforts both by Govt. agencies and NGOs to put in place procedures for population control, otherwise all measures will fall short of the desired results, when so many new vehicles would continue to hit the roads every day.