Road Rage – Altering the Hard-Wiring of the Brain

Just last week there were two incidents where people were attacked because they pointed out traffic misdemeanours. One of them was stabbed and the other, a woman was abused with her clothes torn off. In fact, if news reports are to be believed, bystanders stood by placidly while the latter incident took place. This is appalling and should be totally unacceptable.

If momentary madness takes possession of a person, what prevents others from jumping to the rescue.

Having said that, I have been a perpetrator of road rage in reverse. When my moral radar gets activated, I get annoyed and behave like a banshee on the road. Many years ago, a rickshaw stopped in the middle of the road to have an argument with a car that brushed past it while trying to overtake.

As a result, traffic was stalled for a while. I walked up to them and requested they park their vehicles to the side and continue their argument. The rickshaw driver abused me and asked me to mind my own business. I requested him not to hold up the traffic and there was no noticeable damage to his vehicle so to be magnanimous and move on. After much back and forth and some abuse to my person, I let rip and abused him back even going to the extent of kicking his rickshaw.

I was lucky I escaped with a few choice expletives and my honour remained intact as did my clothes. Another time I remember driving behind an open tempo on a narrow one-way street. One of the workers in the tempo, hocked and spat on the road. I honked in annoyance and with relevant gestures expressed my ire, even rolling down my car window and yelling at them to be mindful and not spit on the road.

Imagine my chagrin when every person in the tempo began spitting on the road in front of me. I could do nothing but stare in disgust and irritation because it was a narrow lane and there was no hope of overtaking the vehicle. They laughed at my rage and were thrilled at my obvious discomfort and annoyance. Annoying a ‘memsahib’ in her car certainly gave them their kicks.

Following traffic rules and showing basic civic sense is not asking for much. I get enraged when people flout these rules. My kid’s school was located on a one-way street. More often than not, army trucks would lumber down the road in the wrong direction. Two wheelers and rickshaws also took the easy way out instead of taking a longish route. My instant road rage meant I always stood in the middle of the road and blocked them, indulging in a shouting match. It was easy to stand in front of a two-wheeler, car or rickshaw and insist they turn back but I always failed with the army trucks. Might is right is the motto they follow!

While road rage is not uncommon given the stressful lives people lead, in India it is taken to another level.

While people in the US indulge their rage with some even known to shoot randomly at people. These people are generally diagnosed with mental illness.

On the whole, people show tremendous patience and follow the rules diligently. There are very few instances of people cutting red lights, not stopping for pedestrians, overtaking from the wrong side, spitting from a moving vehicle and other such incidents.

If there is a traffic jam – and there are plenty of those especially during rush hour or if you live in New York, all the time- you wait patiently in your car listening to NPR radio, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel to music from one of a few hundred radio channel choices or chat with someone via Bluetooth. It is frustrating but that’s just because of the sheer number of cars, everyone trying to get somewhere and construction. It is not because of some basic traffic rules being broken. America works on an honour code. People follow rules.

You go to a post office or bank you wait in line: leading away from the counter, not parallel to the counter. You may be in a rush but you wait in line. If you are buying a ticket and say you are a student but have forgotten your id, they tend to believe you and charge you accordingly.

In India, it is all about being on a power trip. The disparity between those in power and the others is so wide, when people get a chance to show might, they grab the opportunity. Recently a photographer friend of mine landed at New Delhi airport from New York. His ride was delayed so he waited inside the terminal answering an unending stream of calls.

While he was waiting, he unstrapped his backpack and left it by his side. When his ride eventually arrived, he rushed out and in the process, forgot his camera bag. As soon as he stepped through the door of International arrivals, he realised he had left his camera bag. He turned around to enter the terminal but was blocked by the CISF security personnel who refused to allow him entry. He pleaded since the guard had just seen him exit. He explained he left his bag, he had just arrived from New York, but to no avail. Eventually, a senior Security officer happened to come by and my friend explained the situation.

The man questioned the security man on whether he had seen my friend exit the terminal. He got an affirmative response. The senior officer allowed my friend entry and luckily for him, his camera bag was just where he had left it. The security guard was rigid in his protocol only because he had the power to be obtuse and aggressive. He could have been more helpful especially since he knew the passenger had just exited and there was every chance his request was valid. Luckily my friend was calm and respectful.

If he had shown any signs of anger, he may have ended up in the lock-up.

Road rage is one thing but rage towards those in power and woe, you better beware.
Maybe wrathful incidents increase at this time of the year. After all, we have to beware the Ides of March. Even Julius Caesar was helpless.

On a more serious note, if Indians started following basic traffic rules, road rage would become a moot point. Whether you are being chauffeured in a luxury car or swerving in and out on a two-wheeler, traffic rules do not discriminate. Following them will make driving much easier and less stressful.

Something to think about.

Monique Patel

Monique Patel

Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in Pune, her home for 28 years.
Monique Patel

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