It would not only be an oxymoron but a gross untruth to say I love rush hour traffic. However, being stuck in rush hour is sometimes inevitable and so given a choice, I have a preference. I choose Pune. It is like watching a soap opera unfold. Last week, while travelling from Boat Club to Kalyani Nagar, I decided to use Nagar Road instead of Koregaon Park. Despite the three-lane road morphing into a six-lane one, sans two-wheelers, the commute took the better part of a very absorbing hour.
As a Bollywood lover, I thrill to hear my favourite tunes being played on the radio. That in itself keeps me entertained. In fact, it is not uncommon to find me clapping my hands and swaying my body as I burst into song while sitting in my car. As badtameez dil was causing my heart to beat faster, I could not help noticing a badtameez person eyeing the comely visage of the woman on the scooter beside him. Her discomfort and his blatant appraisal only came to an end when the woman berated him with a few choice words. In the mean time, there was an insistent knocking on the window of my car and when I turned my head, a man was trying to sell me Kleenex boxes. Three for the price of one, he pleaded but I was not in the market for any more tissue boxes and shook my head in denial. He was immediately followed by a vendor dangling toy aeroplanes at my window and pleading me to buy some for my grandchildren. I guess my grey hair is misleading!
As we inched forward my driver suddenly pressed hard on the horn because a woman had emerged in front of our car and was trying to cross the road. She had apparently disembarked from the rickshaw in front of the car having decided it was fine to pay him off in the middle of the road and proceed on foot. I watched as she tried to cross but no car budged resulting in her standing helplessly in the middle of many stranded cars. Finally, one good samaritan driver relented and gave her a few inches to squeeze through to reach the divider. Success was almost hers. Now all she needed to do was try and cross past the flow of cars on the other side of the road and reach the pavement. Curious I followed her effort and voila, there was a brief break and our valiant trooper made a dash for it. I wanted to applaud her persistence but as I turned away I stared straight at a streak of phlegm splotching on the car windscreen. The driver of the truck on the other side had decided to pick that moment to lean out of his cabin and spit. Thank god for wipers otherwise the sight of that on my windscreen would have made me puke. I did roll down my window and exchange a few brief expletives with the driver whose only reaction was to shrug his shoulders, hawk his throat and spit out some more, thankfully on the road this time. Suddenly a loud series of honks sounded because a gap had opened up giving all the drivers the impetus to rush into the opened up space. Hallelujah, but we only managed to travel a few metres before grinding to a halt. I was glad because at least it took me away from the rude and unhygienic truck driver.
A brief glance into the car next door and I saw a harried man who seemed to be shouting into his cellphone. He kept glancing at his watch as he spoke. I imagined he was late for a meeting and was trying to explain his predicament. Just a few cars ahead I could not help noticing a young couple on a motorbike. The girl was giggling while the boy kept turning back to her and whispering into her ears. As I kept looking, he also managed to perform calisthenics by turning and giving her a kiss making her blush and giggle even more. Ah, young love in the midst of traffic. It was amusing to see the couple on the scooter right beside them. The father was driving with his young son standing in front of him. His wife was behind him and squeezed in between them was a cute little girl whose eyes were being closed by the mother since she could not be allowed to witness this blatantly sexual act being conducted in front of them.
The passenger in the rickshaw at the far end was haggling with someone trying to sell a box of fruit. I could not be sure what type of fruit it was but finally both parties seemed to be satisfied. By this time we managed to edge closer to the traffic light and realised the genesis of this traffic was the BRT signal. As we stoically awaited our turn for it to go red so we could turn, a car from the extreme right decided it needed to go straight and caused further mayhem in its endeavor to continue straight while others were trying to go right. I sat back in my car and smiled. It had been an enjoyable hour.
If I had been driving in rush hour traffic in New Jersey, I would have been bored with the unchanging scene around me. There would be no soap opera erupting in the middle of the road since disciplined drivers would resignedly sit in their cars. Lane-changers would indicate and patiently wait for a gap to open up and the few who raced around like there is no tomorrow would be mentally abused and forgotten. The radio would be giving regular traffic updates. Radio show hosts would be debating the merits of Hillary vs Trump and I would not be listening to Bollywood music. New York City is a different case in point but despite the potholes and chaos of the Big Apple, there is no beating the drama of Indian roads. And in any case, my blood-pressure skyrockets in NYC traffic because I would be sitting in the cab berating myself for not taking the subway!
Is it any wonder I would pick the masala of Pune traffic to the blandness of traffic in the US?
Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in our city, her home for 28 years. Monika’s Musings will appear every Friday on Pune365.