I waited. And he waited. I waited some more and he too waited some more. Impasse. Flustered and confused, I looked at him — and waited again. He too stared at me, with a hint of impatience and bafflement.
My first day at Cambridge, UK, on a pleasant May morning. I had stepped out and while making my way along the pavement saw a cyclist coming down the same way (cyclists and pedestrians share the same pathways skirting the roads). Used to Bangalore’s "get-out-of-my-way" culture, I assumed he had right of way, and waited, while he, following the local road manners, waited for me to pass because pedestrians have right of way.
I now have to remind myself constantly, that I don’t need to scurry and get out of the way to save my life and limb when I am out , and that as a pedestrian I have as much right as any other resident using the road, even one driving a fancy expensive car. I can even stop traffic by pressing a button and cross the road in safety. The cars wait till I am through. No honking, no angry revving. After living in Bangalore I had forgotten that this is how traffic is meant to move. One afternoon, an exuberant student on a cycle took a swift turn to the right, and though he had put out a hand to signal his intention, the car behind him honked — just a short , a very short honk, and heads turned in surprise and alarm, at the noise. Honking is rude, not done. Not even a short one, forget about the kind of prolonged ear-splitting blasts that even BBMP drivers treat us to, routinely
Even when there is no traffic at the signal, a car that drives up stops and waits quietly and patiently for the lights to change to green, the driver does not go through just because there is no one around. At Jayanagar, I have lost count of the number of times I have noted down the numbers of vehicles that merrily speed through a red light, sometimes even with a policeman standing by.
Over the weekend I went over to Naples — and found that prime minister Berlusconi has sent in troops this third week of May, to clear the 4,100 tons of garbage that has been left uncleared from the city’ streets. It was, the city administration conceded, a "crisis".
Troops? In namma ooru garbage is left uncleared even by contractors who are paid by the BBMP from taxpayers’ money to clear garbage. Routinely, and without any guilt or apologies. (We have all paid an additional garbage cess too, last month, in addition to the property tax we owe the municipality) I have not seen anyone, the BBMP commissioner, or corporators, or politicians, or anyone in authority, call it a "crisis". We have become immune to mounds of rotting rubbish by the roadside, and will probably be shocked if it was all cleared away one morning. That is how far we have let things slide, in what is fondly described by our state administration as a "global city".
No no no no, I should not be writing about these things, I should quickly delete it all. Because if some corporator or minister reads these accounts, he or she will immediately book a trip to Cambridge UK, to "study the traffic flow in that city"(and the tour, with an entourage of assistants and family members, will be at taxpayers’ expense, a junket) while another group of ministers and corporators will head for Naples, there to "study the garbage removal strategy" for the benefit of citizens back home. Nice time of the year too, for travel in England and Europe, with balmy summer weather (with a side trip to London thrown in, to watch the Olympic torch being taken round). When it is a question of finding money to buy additional trucks to clear garbage, or lay good pavements for pedestrian, there is a "financial crunch", but when it is a "study tour" for those in seats of power, money is never a problem.
Along the road that I take to get to the grocery store, there is a notice stuck to a lamp post, saying "if a roadside light is not working, call 0-800- ( a toll free number). We may be a "global city" or one in the making, but we are still a long, long way from treating taxpaying citizens as individuals who are entitled to some basic facilities and a safe environment.
I am already worried about the time when I will be back in Bangalore — after getting used to assuming safety while crossing roads, I will have to re-learn the art of dodging and scurrying, if I am to escape being run over. And forget the pleasure of garbage-free surroundings.
Welcome back to namma ooru…