When a jam puts you in a pickle
One of my earliest memories is a warning from a great-grandmother who advised a group of us cousins visiting her at her village thus: “Be careful when you cross the road. Sometimes vehicles come from both directions at the same time.” Those were the days! Or perhaps they weren’t, and we are merely projecting current frustrations on to a perceived past that never existed except in the minds of great-grandmothers.
Anyway, I write this while being stuck in a traffic jam (too many vehicles chasing too few roads, as one writer defined it), my second of the week, and in two different cities. This is not because the traffic was organised on the other five days in-between, but simply because I decided not to step out.
The traffic jam in my city is different in texture from the one up north, but apparently the latter type is the one all traffic jams in the country aspire to. At home, it is usually the state of the roads or the odd truck that has given up the ghost and is now lying east-west on a north-south road that holds up the traffic. Vehicles move, but slowly, and if you give yourself an extra three hours to make it to your appointment you are likely to be only one hour late. Up north in a taxi, I was catching up on some light reading at a traffic signal stop and when I put my book away with a sigh (the author having cleverly tricked me into thinking the wrong man was the murderer), I was startled to discover we hadn’t moved an inch. To add to the fun, we seemed to be an island with vehicles from everywhere – six, I counted – all facing us.
Just as I was having nightmares about spending the rest of my fast-fading life in the back seat of a taxi, a bright young man got out from one of the other stuck vehicles and guided the traffic back into sanity.
A trip that should have taken half an hour took an extra four hours, but at least I didn’t get to regret manufacturers not constructing a toilet in the back seats of their taxis.
Two things to remember when you are caught in a traffic jam: In 2010, a 100km-long traffic jam lasted 12 days. It was caused by heavy trucks carrying construction supplies for roadworks designed to ease congestion. So comforting.
Meanwhile, we have started moving, and I am so excited I have forgotten what the second thing to remember is.
Suresh Menon is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world but later decided to leave it as it is.