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Commuting In The NCR: A Microcosm Of Our Misery

02/05/2015 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - JANUARY 1: Traffic jam on the first day of New Year eve at Connaught Place, on January 1, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Pubs, restaurants, markets, malls and other popular hotspots in the city were all decked up for New Year celebrations even as security was beefed up and restrictions put in place to thwart any untoward incident. (Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Weaving in and out of car lanes is a harrowing experience on these roads. The taxi driver deftly out-manoeuvres a car that suddenly overtakes him from the left, screeching to a halt onto the zebra crossing. People waiting to cross the road stare hesitantly --this too, right in front of Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences. I watch them clutching their prescriptions, fearful of whether the cars may speed into them before the lights turn green. We swerve and then crawl at a snail's pace, past Shri Aurobindo Ashram, towards Shanthi Sthal -- but there is no peace. I fear for the traffic policeman with no armour, a solitary figure at odds with the vehicles aggressively driving past him, some barely missing him.

There is no respect. Commuters do not respect each other. It's as if everyone is issuing a challenge - catch me if you can. Everyone is in a hurry. They are all angry, aggressive and annoyed.

"I fear for the traffic policeman with no armour, a solitary figure at odds with the vehicles aggressively driving past him, some barely missing him."

Is it any wonder then India has been ranked as an unhappy country to be in? We are placed 117 out of 158 countries rated, but then do we care? Why should we be happy people?

Literacy rates are improving, but most children under five cannot read simple sentences nor do simple maths, even in the posh international schools that have mushroomed across the land.

Poverty is underrated. Bedraggled little urchins lurk on the sides of the roads, waiting to hard-sell roses or ballpoint pens. Some turn somersaults through metal hoops on the car-infested road at the traffic lights. It's enough to make your stomach churn in fear.

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The taxi driver sees my grim expression in his front-view mirror and says "Madamji....yey bachhe jante hain, bachpan se....bhaag jayenge thik samay par (Madam, they've known how to do this since childhood... they'll run off at the right moment)". Since childhood? Are they adults now? They are still small children.

My destination is still an hour away, so I settle back into the seat. Its towel-covers wick away the summer sweat, advises my taxi-driver.

Now the trees become less shady and the bulls look bewildered and out of place, even as they saunter onto the crowded streets where they had once roamed free. I watch in wonder as a cow stands still, with a calf by her side, in the midst of all the cacophony. Stoic. An old bull has decided to sit under one of the Metro Bridges, and as we Indians of a certain faith are "like that only", most cars keep a safe distance. This makes me smile, but I have to traverse another 30 minutes through this once- green agricultural land, now home to behemoth companies and multi-storeyed buildings, some precariously perched in small-plots of land and dust, with over-worked men and women, their implacable faces reminiscent of the stone friezes some of the old temples that dot our ancient land.

Where is the dignity in labour? Yes, some workers at the proposed Metros do have safety helmets and fluorescent jackets on, but the hands-on labourers nearby on the sites do not.

"The farmers have sold all their lands for a few crores," says the taxi driver. "They buy cars." Words not at odds with a Jaguar that softly cruises by. I see the Skodas, the Not-Made-In-India brands that still have to wait patiently as a herd of cattle decides to cross lanes. Shades of T S Eliot's words flit through my mind. Written 93 years ago, they remain relevant in this provocative landscape. Yes, our temples and the pyramids did get built centuries ago.

There are still a few diversions and potholes to drive by or over before I reach my destination. Over 80 minutes of some dread, some cheer-- then I have to go back. Not a happy thought. No wonder we rank 117 out of 158.

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