Self-appointed Traffic Cops

Photo by Karthikeyan K on Unsplash

Our roads in India are filled with traffic. Everyone is going somewhere, and everyone is in a hurry. Who is at home? I wonder sometimes, if the roads are chock-a-block with traffic like this at all times of night and day.

People keep yelling at others as if they are the world’s most perfect drivers. The mantra seems to be to go on the offensive first. Even if you are the guilty party and scratched past another car, if you start yelling and pointing specific fingers first, somehow you will look like the one who took the hit. The other party will begin to look guilty. Our traffic promotes ‘offense is the best form of defense’ to the core.

Then there are the traffic snarls. How do they occur? If everyone is a sensible driver, everyone is considerate and allows vehicles that are obviously ahead to move first, if no one rushes in blindly to fill gaps that can barely be seen, and if everyone carries a few bags of patience, traffic snarls would be mythical creatures.

Unfortunately, they are real. And menacing. And ugly. And dangerous. And cause unforetold delays. If only drivers used a little common sense, and played by the rules, everyone would get home on time! But, no! We will try to squeeze into impossible spaces, disregard right of way, and then yell and bicker and complain, and be stuck for hours in the self-caused logjam!

Until….until the self-appointed messiahs of clearing traffic jams manifest themselves out of nowhere. This is a strange and rare breed of humans. They just appear out of some part of the jam. They could be stuck in the jam themselves some 100 vehicles down the line, or they could just be innocent passersby.

People who are on cycles and can easily weave their way out of the jam and be on their way, pedestrians who can slither out of the jam in the blink of an eye, these are the people who appoint themselves as traffic jam dispellers. You wonder about their mental makeup. What makes them do this?

Most of us in our cars just sit there and wait for something to happen, curse all the others, crib about the system, blame the traffic police, and in general breed negativity in such a situation.

What sets the traffic jam dispellers apart is their need to clear the jam. For them, it is not someone else’s problem. There is a problem, they see it in front of their eyes, and they will stop and do whatever it takes to solve the problem. Simple as that!

Not for them the questions such as ‘what’s in it for me?’, ‘why should I do this?’, ‘where are the @#@#$$% traffic cops who should be clearing this mess?’, and so on. They have no egos or unnecessarily high self-esteem. They don’t have a shred of self-doubt. They are not worried about things like ‘why will this irate mob listen to me?’ Their quest is simple. See traffic jam, clear traffic jam.

One such traffic episode caught me by surprise and showed me how narrow my thinking is. It was a great reality check for me to understand my own self. And give me a brighter perspective about life on earth.

As usual, I was in a cab heading out to my work place. We were at a major traffic signal, and everyone was at an edge since the signals at this particular junction take a long time to switch.

I was in my cab at the T junction. At one point, traffic was moving from the left of the signal. Suddenly, I saw a chap materialize from somewhere. He walked right into the middle of the oncoming traffic. He was young, mid-twenties maybe. He had long hair, was wearing a dull gray crumpled T-shirt, and highly worn out jeans. I imagined that he had torn foot wear too.

I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘Oh God, that’s all we need. A drunk, mad guy holding up traffic during peak hour! These young irresponsible people…what is the world coming to’.

He was gesticulating wildly and shouting something. He kept trying to stop the flow of traffic from the left, and allow traffic from the right. After some confusion, people seemed to feel they had to listen to him and traffic from the left halted grudgingly, and traffic from the right began to move. There was a lot of irate honking and shouting and cacophony. I was worried that they would run over him in all that confusion. But he seemed intent on his task.

Sitting in my cab and watching from the sidelines, it all seemed super bizarre. What was going on in his head I wondered.

It was only after traffic had moved for a full minute that I realized!! He had set the right lane traffic moving to allow an Ambulance to pass through. Since there was no way for common man to switch the signal to make this happen, he did the next best thing. He regulated the traffic himself, bless his heart!

He waved the traffic forward, and regulated the traffic until the ambulance had passed uninterrupted. Then he swung out of the middle of the road, waved cheerily to his friend who was waiting patiently at the road corner, and strode jauntily towards the pavement.

How quick I was to judge him as a mad man, drunkard, etc etc. I felt ashamed of myself, and happy to note that the world is still a good place thanks to people like him!!

There are lots of traffic snarls on a daily basis, and many such self-appointed Samaritans appear, dispel the chaos, and melt back into the crowds. They don’t wait for claps or likes. They don’t wait for recognition or awards. They are leaders of a different mettle. You won’t find books about them because you can’t find them! They are everywhere and nowhere!

People like them breed hope on earth. There is a promise that the world is still a happy place, a lovely place, and that humans care about other humans. A truly comforting feeling when all you see on a regular basis is apathy.

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