Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Case of the Reckless Bus Driver

And so D*, you really thought I was unaffected by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai? No Sir... I WAS affected.

However I found that my thoughts were not aligned with the popular sentiments going around then, just in the aftermath of the attacks. The common emotions that I saw in people were fear, anxiety, rage, and an overwhelming feeling that "something must be done". My reactions were not on the same lines and probably that is why you thought that I was 'unaffected'. I was, so to say, differently affected.

One thing I did feel strongly was this: after the initial hullabaloo, we would ultimately forget. I found similar sentiments echoed elsewhere (I am quoting from Moushumi Palit's piece "Enough is Enough"):
All we care about is how does this impact me? So we continue to make tut-tuting noises about the spirit of Mumbai, nod our heads diligently to the “enough is enough” phrase that pops up each time, and just move on unconcerned, uncaring; each time, sinking back into the sea of apathy within hours of the tragedy, just glad it’s not us or our family members or friends…

..., I wonder why issues that really affect our life, our families, our safety like floods each year or recurring bomb blasts and the incompetence of the govt in dealing with these don’t make us angry. Why do we adjust to these? And worse, how long will we continue to do so?

Yes there are so many issues to which we turn a blind eye. Let us take up for example, the issue of rash bus driving in Kolkata. It would be an understatement to say that buses speed on the roads. In fact, buses actually race on the roads of Kolkata.

Say, we have a bus on route 221 which starts off from its' depot in Golpark at 2:10pm. For the first 15-20 minutes, the driver drives very very slowly. The drivers take all the time in the world to pick up people - regardless of whether they are standing at the bus stop or not. Someone from amongst the passengers regularly raises a voice - "Dada driver ki ghumiye porlo naaki? (Hey, is the driver asleep or what?)" To this, the bus conductors turn a deaf ear, an art that they have honed to perfection. This goes on for a while until the conductor gives the driver the signal they have been waiting for - the bus which left the depot 10 minutes after them has been spotted some distance behind them. And with this signal, the race begins.

The driver suddenly begins to drive like someone possessed. Overtaking from left and right, all horns blaring, the bus muscles its' way through traffic. During this race, the earlier concern shown for passengers boarding the bus (and now, also those alighting) is forgotten, putting those people in grave risk. Sometimes, the two buses catch up and go neck to neck for some time. In that moment, the drivers and the conductors curse at each other. And then one of the buses takes the lead and the race goes on.

It is during these mad races that many accidents have occurred - fatal in most cases. The news of the boy studying in Class 7, or the office-goer being mowed down by a bus while trying to cross the road, has become a regular feature of newspapers. No Mumbai type media coverage here. No being hooked to the TV for 2 days straight. These acts of violence happen in small dosages - the way to deal with these snippets of bad news is simple: first, feel sorry for the poor victims, next curse the authorities and finally, turn to the sports or comic page.

I wonder - why is it that a bus full of passengers are unable to control the behaviour of 1 reckless driver and his 1 or 2 equally irresponsible compatriots. Usually one of the passengers takes the initiative but he/she is never backed up by the others. The conductors usually silence the lone protester by use of arrogant and rough language and a great deal of confident arrogance. They seem to believe that what they are doing is right, and not having to face much retaliation, carry on doing so.

Why do not the authorities bring these people to book? One particular theory is that the bus drivers' union is allied with certain political parties, and this 'connection' renders them to be above the law.

Finally, for all those people who regularly say that "something needs to be done" - here is one issue which has remained unsolved for some time now. High time we get a solution, eh?

Image Credits: Maran

PS: While searching for the above image, I came across some interesting articles on the topic.
1. An incident where the public actually took some action
2. Fines proposed, but may not be effective