Reckless drivers, road rage, speeding filmstars. . .
There was a time when Mumbai city prided itself on being a highly disciplined city as far as traffic sense was concerned. All over India, Mumbai was considered a model city where traffic regulations were adhered to. Over the last two years, however, I have seen this city degenerate into one of the worst cities to drive in, anywhere in India. Traffic sense and respect for regulations have fallen to an all time low. Mumbai in my opinion is in fact an unsafe city to live in, mugging, kidnapping, rape and now even traffic issues are becoming the bane of this city. Something somewhere has gone drastically wrong. I do not know what it is, but Maximum City is turning more dangerous than even when it was under the fear of the underworld.
You may have read this several times, but my rant about this city is not going to stop. On any given day at least two people in this city die due to traffic related incidents. Two-wheeler users are invariably at the receiving end of Death's scythe but they are also often to blame. The Mumbai RTO for instance has raked up over 94,000 cases of riding without a helmet in this city so far. That's 60 per cent more than last year, even though it is mandatory to wear a lid. Four-wheeler users aren't any better. With them, the incidents simply escalate to a whole new level when things go wrong.
More than anything else, driving in this city is slowly turning frustrating. I've got into a dangerously murderous mood at times. It's shocked me to see how I react every week. I can turn on some soft music, consciously ignore the way traffic is moving recklessly and do everything to soothe my nerves. Inevitably though, it takes no more than ten kilometres for my mood to darken and my commute to work is at least 30 kilometres long. But what scares me even more is the insensitivity I'm building up towards all things. We all have our limits and beyond a point, I can see how this city and even I can get desensitised to the ills that befall us. This city has been bombed, gotten washed away, even been terrorised once upon a time by the underworld. Nothing can come close to the terror we seem to be inflicting on our own selves, an aggressive nature that seems hell bent on getting ahead of the car ahead, at any cost!
There used to be a time when my wife would religiously say a prayer every time I drove off on an outstation shoot or road trip for some story or the other. Now she does it every morning when I leave for work.
I've stopped speeding, overtaking recklessly and basically doing things that at this age seem stupid but a few years ago were the ultimate thrill. I've sobered down to the point where I often find myself the only one standing at a red light while the world around chooses to ignore it and just drives on. Most even honk at me in retaliation. I allow the vehicle running parallel to me inching closer and closer pushing me further into the next lane or divider, forcing me to slow down till it can pass me and move ahead into my lane.
For the first time in my life I returned to India from a long three week road trip holiday in the United Kingdom and was scared to drive to work. The first two days I was a wreck and it seemed like the holiday that was supposed to refresh me, had washed off in just a couple of days. Some friends who travel with me enjoy hearing the expletives rolling off my tongue, non-stop!
So where is all this chaos emanating from? Why don't we seem to have the slightest patience and sense when it comes to driving or riding on our roads? And why is the government still blind to this state of affairs?
One thing I have noticed is that the traffic policemen seem to be absent from their jobs. The only time I see cops managing traffic is after midnight doing a drunk driving check. Have they all transferred to another shift? Just a few nights ago, I witnessed a traffic constable haul up a two-wheeler rider who broke a red light jumping straight into fast moving traffic. I was under the impression that things were getting sorted, seconds later though I saw the constable wave him off like nothing ever happened.
I had a bit of faith in the government when it announced its ambitious plans to revamp the motor vehicle act. I was utterly disgusted when they announced that the repercussions for recalls was being subdued and that apparently there is already talk of revising the fines proposed to a lower rate. The Salman Khan case is already a slap in the face of those who were trying to do some good by preventing or bringing to book those too inebriated to drive. Mumbai is slowly falling into depths I feel it's going to be impossible to get out of. These days even I've joined my wife in prayer that not just me but others get to where they're going, safely.