Well, my ‘stint’ happened to have been 12 years long in the US. In the two months since my return, much against my resolve to switch off my ‘foreign’ eyes and adjust them to see things the Indian way, I must admit I am failing to do so.
Alright, my current carp is about this wholly alien species called auto-rickshaw drivers in Mumbai. Not having enough daring to commute by the notorious local trains; not trusting the reliability of the BEST bus schedules; and feeling guilty about taking the car out every day, I decided on the most annoying option left – the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw.
My commute every day is between Thane (home) and Kalina (University). For those uninitiated with the geography, Thane happens to be a neighboring city of Mumbai, and Kalina is a north-western suburb in Mumbai. Crossing over from Thane to Mumbai requires passing through a check naka and changing autos because without the necessary permits they cannot operate beyond city limits.
Frequently enough, I get a rickshawala who delivers volleys of spit, mindless of where it lands, adding to my myriad phobias and thin-skinned sensibilities.
It’s almost a month since I have been following this routine for which I mentally prepare myself to yell, argue, scold, fight with the rickshawala, even as I set out from home at 5.45 a.m., fearing that I would either be fleeced because of a tampered fare meter or be sprayed by spit or both.
Essentially then, I am required to take four different autos a day. The whole commute to and fro takes on most days, two-and-half hours. And every day in those two-and-half hours, I lose about two-and-half hours from my life span owing to the several missed heart beats, holding of breath, scrunching of nerves, narrowing of arteries and several momentary brain freezes as the rickshaw drivers take me on a death-defying ride. It’s sheer anarchy on the roads where everyone from the motorists be it the driver of a truck, bus, car, auto, bike, or pedestrians, they each own their space on the road and use it or abuse it as they deem it their fundamental right.
As I sit with my nose, ears and mouth covered with a scarf (to avoid inhaling the fumes of pollution), I try to figure these people out. Clearly, they take responsibility for neither their own safety nor that of others, because they think it is “somebody else’s”.
They defy all evolutionary norms of survival instinct. And I haven’t seen such gross under-valuation of human life anywhere in the world.
People tell me to give it a little time and that I will “get used to it.” And my response to all of them is: “I don’t want to get used to it.”
Intrinsically, I am as fatalistic as any Indian. But where I beg to differ is in owning up responsibility for my own life.