ISSUE One hardly has patience for anything today. Our problem is that we’ve forgotten how long it used to take to go places or get things done
Got your test results, I hear. Sugar, BP, cholesterol — everything under control? Hope the levels are soothingly low. But there’s one test the doctor didn’t order, and most city-zens who take it are bound to fail spectacularly. It is the test of Patience. Its level has to be high, almost impossibly high, for you to survive the chaos of the city.
Do you sometimes get the feeling that your life has burst free from your fingers like a half-inflated rubber balloon and is exploding in all directions zip-zap-zoop? Meanwhile, your P level remains static — a permanent rock-bottom. I’m reminded of a volatile Asterix standing with his little arms folded, tapping one big impatient foot that goes “Pof-Pof”. We mentally go “Pof-Pof” during several of our daily encounters. Once we’re done with the minor irritants inside our homes, we step out to find major ones looming outside. What we see is not so much road rage as road roga, the disease that strikes an able-bodied human being the moment his legs stop moving and his wheels start rolling on a bustling street. An intersection without a traffic signal is an invitation to a sprinting championship. Everyone makes a mad dash for the point of convergence, for no one has the patience to let the other side go first. Look how our signal-free junctions have been, one by one, acquiring signals! First, a cop is posted to regulate the flow, and the next thing you know you have a signal-equipped signal-free circle. Now, I don’t drive, and I’m not well up on traffic regulations, but I’m vaguely aware that there’s some rule about pausing and allowing traffic from your right to proceed.
A car and a scooter are locked in conflict slap bang in the middle of the road — one of the many 80-Foot Roads in our city. My bus driver honks furiously and starts bellowing at the car driver but he doesn’t budge an inch. This makes the conductor, who clearly has a 30-second fuse, leap out and rush towards him, gesticulating wildly, and order him to take his fight to the roadside. But the car driver is intent on proving a point to the scooterwala. I begin to fear for his life, because by then every road-user in the vicinity has begun to holler and shake his fists. The brouhaha lasts less than two minutes but to those with low P levels it seems more like two hours.
Our problem is that we’ve forgotten how long it used to take to go places or get things done. Travelling in a car from dawn to dusk, with breakdowns in between, to cover a distance that would take you two hours today... The embroidery hoop framing a pattern for the cushion cover, which took weeks to complete... Waiting for the tailor to deliver the stitched clothes he had measured you for a month ago... But you don’t have to go that far back in time. Remember when you had to wait till your child got home instead of calling every few minutes on the cell to ask “Where have you reached?”
Today, a single minute’s delay can make you shuffle your feet, make you peer over a shoulder to check why the queue isn’t getting shorter, make you futilely press the lift button a second time. Computerisation raises your expectations, and if you’re not able to nip in and out of an office to pay a bill you get hot under the collar. The tiny Bangalore One centre that I frequent has served me well, and therefore I have come to expect from it a certain promptitude. One day I was third and last in the queue, and there were two staff members behind the counter: a man and a woman. Easy-peasy, I said to myself. But the woman was serving a customer holding a sheaf of bills, and the man was deeply engrossed in sorting the currency in his drawer. Hovering near him was a man with a fan. The 18-inch ceiling fan had been repaired, and payment had to be made by, instead of to, Bangalore One. The receipt had to be duly stamped with the proper seal, which was in the ‘main office’ in the BDA Complex in the adjoining compound. After a call to the main office the seal materialised and the receipt was acknowledged, during which time the queue grew a small tail that curled out toward the pavement. The woman was still busy but the man did not attend to us. He had to supervise the Fitting of the Fan. The fan was fixed to the corner of the ceiling behind the woman. He switched it on. There was a puff of smoke. The lights went out and the computers stopped working. That’s when my P level sort of collapsed with a hiss, and I hoofed it to the main office.
This office had five desks with barely one or two customers at each. But the woman I picked seemed to be in great demand, because she kept getting up from her chair to solve everyone else’s doubts and problems. By then I had attained Zen-hood. I serenely occupied a chair. Perhaps I even smiled. I lost half an hour but gained a healthy increase in my P level that day.
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