Saturday, April 03, 2010

Cowboy Cabbies

4 December 2004

Those of you keen on time-travel can go down to the motor-stand and board a jeep to Siliguri. Every time one journeys down to the plains in these public jeeps and back, it is feared they would be losing two years of their lives. So, done frequently, you can be ensured an early entry into the next realm.
If you are lucky - and you don’t have to be very lucky - those adolescent cowboys on the wheels might assist you to escape the bind of present time and space right on your first trip. The nerve-wracking and gut-jarring experience on the National Highway 55 is a novelty in times of prime minister’s Golden Quadrangle Project. When rest of the country will soon be zipping around - some of them are already - on their four-lane pothole and encroachment-free highways, our nearly 130-year-old NH 55 is being maintained, one suspects, for heritage.
Since there is nothing prime ministerially-golden about our roads, it could perhaps well be that we have been included in the prime minister’s Gram Sadak Yogna - the country-wide road network being built to link villages to highways. If not, we should be. Because those roads being built in remote villages make us envious. Or this could be one way to keep our village folk from migrating to the towns - give them beautiful roads in and around the villages and make the last mile to the town a nauseating experience to the extreme. Car-sick villagers swearing never to set foot to the town again could be a wonderful thing for planners.
The only ones who seem to relish the potholes are our young drivers of public transport. Most of these kids look like they have just hit puberty. They seem to be grappling more with testosterone than the bends on the roads. If we were a rich country we could have organised go-karting for these boys. With these zit-marked boys on the wheels of public transport, every body gets to enjoy extreme sports. Thanks to our system which allows under-aged kids to drive around passengers on dangerous roads. With such level of regulations, one day you and I could be flying airplanes.
But such a thing will never happen. Not only are these airplanes costly machines to lose, but their passengers are rich and therefore the important. We who travel by public transport are poor and dispensable. And we can be driven around by under-aged teens who have illegally procured driving licenses. And since the system has been mentioned, we have to marvel at how we have managed to turn it into a beauty. How many of us went through the “mandatory” tests to get a driving license? It involved paying Rs 500 to a dalal in our days.
It has never been so easy to handle a machine that can kill. Gun licensing is tough, but tougher should have been driving licenses. Those tests should take place particularly for those who drive passenger vehicles. Repairs along the highway have finally resumed at long last. It’s good news. But when these driving kids come to mind, one is scared. These boys, will now only get rasher.
“Drive Carefully, Your Family Waits for You” reads one of the signs along NH 31A. Unfortunately, on NH 55 the matter is not in our hands. Here our lives are entrusted with kids who smoke, swear and speed. As far as the authorities are concerned, it seems they are there just to pay compensation.

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