Recently, I was caught up in one of those unpleasant situations with which every city dweller should be familiar. I refer to the annoying and unavoidable traffic jam. This particular one was caused by two motorists at a road junction — one had crossed the yellow line and the other had overshot the stop-line. They got into a heated argument and vehicles piled up bumper-to-bumper on all roads.

I was inside a bus and after the initial expressions of annoyance at this hold-up, there was a lull. In earlier times, when smoking in public places was not banned, the driver would probably have lit a cigarette and meditated on life. Now, he merely closed his eyes and relaxed. The conductor too, after making intricate entries in his trip-sheet consulting the bunch of tickets he held in his hands like a deck of cards, slumped in his seat, feeling thankful for the enforced rest.

But as a race, it is not in our genes to remain quiet when confined in limited space. A philosopher in the bus observed that life would be a lot more pleasant if only people adopt a give-and-take policy. Though not very original, this remark found general agreement in the company. Another, a humourist, wisecracked: “But at government offices, both State and Central, all the giving is done by the public and all the taking by the staff.”

After a bitter laugh, there followed several tales of woe as everyone had suffered this problem. There was absolute unanimity on the subject of corruption. Nothing unites people more effectively than a shared sense of helplessness. I thought wistfully how nice it would be if such harmony prevailed in our State legislatures and Parliament. Of course, it does on rare occasions when the issue is one of raising the salaries and perks of our MLAs and MPs.

Outside, as it usually happens, two Good Samaritans appeared out of nowhere and tried to pacify the warring drivers. Strangely, the antagonists joined forces and questioned, in unprintable words, the locus standi of the intruders, who, tasting defeat, beat a hasty retreat with their tails between the legs, so to say. Harmony, after a while, gets boring. It is argument which adds spice to an Indian’s life. To relieve the monotony, someone in the bus put the blame on one of the drivers. This acted like a red rag to a bull and there was a vertical split except for a few neutral elements like me.

Tempers rose and the debate threatened to descend to ugly physical expression. Now, it could very well have been our Parliament but for the absence of three august personalities — the ever-smiling Speaker, our poker-faced PM who speaks, if at all, in incomprehensible mumbles and, of course, the inscrutable Rajmata. With some effort, we achieved a semblance of peaceful co-existence though some rumbling could still be heard as that of distant thunder. Outside, the drivers, probably tired of their own arguments, each reversed a bit and traffic started moving slowly.

I know you are tempted to ask what the traffic police were doing all this time. You are only exhibiting your ignorance of the basic principle of traffic management: Given time, any situation will resolve itself provided there is no external meddling. Also, if you have watched our movies keenly, you would know that the police always arrive in the last scene, guns blazing and uttering the inevitable line, “You are under arrest”, when the hero, single-handedly, has already dealt with the villains.

Now, there appeared a traffic inspector on his motorcycle — very much like a monarch on his steed inspecting the battlefield after a day’s fight. He made a great show of regulating the traffic, gesticulating wildly and barking orders into his hand-held microphone, to which no one paid any heed. During all this, a middle-aged man in the opposite seat had sat with his eyes closed, his lips occasionally moving slightly. Opening his eyes and noticing my questioning look, he said: “Sir, I am not a very religious man. But, in my boyhood days, I got by heart several hymns dedicated to various gods and goddesses. At times like this, I think of them one after another and recite the appropriate hymn. Perhaps, I would get a credit entry in the Divine Ledger for this.”

Trying to be a smart alec, I asked, “What if the situation is not resolved when you finish your recital?” Unfazed, he replied, “Why, start all over again and get double credit.” Surely, this was one inexpensive way of keeping one’s BP in check. All the way home, I thought ruefully of all those wasted youthful years when I could have memorised any number of devotional hymns and reduced my medical bill.

(The writer’s email is: srikooram@gmail.com)

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