There are some who claim that Indians are the most skillful car drivers in the world — coz they can chat on the phone, carry 8 passengers, eat food, sing songs, drive on the wrong side of the road etc — all at the same time! There are others who say that the traffic scene on Indian roads is all the proof one needs about the existence of God! But I foresee the day that foreign cars will be sold with a statutory warning — Don’t let the Indian drive!
For the purpose of motorized transport is to add convenience to life, to get you to places faster. But in the hands of our countrymen, it becomes yet another opportunity to show how even the apparently educated can flout every tenet of basic human decency and good citizenship. 90% of jams one sees on Indian roads are caused by people cutting into the wrong lane and pushing forward till they have choked up every possibility of free vehicular movement. The other 90% (yes, that’s how percentages work here as well!) are caused by flagrant disregard for any kind of safety norms — old, rickety vehicles, lack of signage, randomly dug-up roads, people and animals strolling across expressways; it’s an absolute wonder that there aren’t more fatalities every single minute!
This also throws up a broader issue, that of an utter lack of civic sense in the vast majority of our populace. Very rarely are we taught to respect private space and public property, and even the most rudimentary things like how to walk on a sidewalk or cross a road (and don’t even get me started on the cellphone issue!) are not part of our social consciousness. They say that China (and even Germany) progressed simply by providing better and better infrastructure, so that people grew accustomed to following the rules of the autobahns and skyscrapers as they were acutely conscious of the value addition it provided to their lives. There are some who feel that if we provide this level of infrastructure in India, then people will automatically become socially conscious and polite, and toe the line according to those structures.
I feel the problem has gone a bit deeper than that, and is only compounded by the inordinately large population we have. (Still, if China can do it…)
In fact, as my cousin in Singapore pointed out, the number of new mobile phone subscribers each year in India is equal to the entire population of Singapore. Govern that, dude! So we need to initiate a curriculum of teaching civic sense to every single child, rural or urban, from early childhood. Just as we have, in many places, established in their consciousness the value of education, of health, hygiene and sanitation, so must we now ingrain basic things like not spitting, crossing roads properly, not honking while driving, knocking before entering, asking people if they have a minute before launching a tirade on the cellphone, not talking SO FREAKIN LOUD in public places…well I could go on and each of you could supplement this list. Actually why don’t you do just that — please post comments specifying basic social courtesies and manners that all of us should follow — sort of like a wish list. And then we shall educate, agitate, elevate, and most of all, pray!!