On two occasions in the last week, I’ve had to ask someone to move their car. On the first occasion we had no choice – we were cornered in and could not leave until we found the owner of the car which was blocking us. On the second occasion, however, we did have a choice. We were driving along a lane only to discover that it was blocked due to two cars being parked on opposite sides of the road. Rather than reversing out of the lane, I insisted to my husband that we find the owner of one of the vehicles and point out the situation to him. This was easy to do – by knocking on the door of the nearest house we discovered the owner of the vehicle, who obliged us by parking his vehicle in another location.
A fairly uneventful story. Or is it? The reason that I wanted to relate this tale is to point out that we could easily have ignored the situation by reversing out of the lane. Yet we didn’t. I insisted on finding the owner of the vehicle because I wanted to make him aware of the problems that his actions were causing other Punekars, and hopefully to dissuade from acting in a similar way in future. Some of you may think I acted unreasonably. In my defence, I would like to quote George Bernard Shaw, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. Maybe I did act unreasonably but I believe that this is a small price to pay for change.
As we all know, the traffic situation in Pune is hardly ideal. However, this is not to say that it can’t be improved if we all made an effort to act like responsible citizens. This means not only following traffic rules ourselves but also encouraging our fellow citizens to do the same (and pointing it out to them when they do not!).
By pointing it out to them, I don’t mean that we have to stand at junctions with big “STOP” signs, ticking off those drivers who have stopped on the pedestrian crossing (although I really admire those who, until recently, could be found doing this on Law College Road and Fergusson College road). No, there are other methods which may be just as effective e.g. telling the rickshaw driver not to jump the signal, teaching our children about the importance of obeying traffic rules or even encouraging our friends and family to wear seat belts. The latter I have done myself and it’s worked: my husband, who had never worn a seat belt before, now feels odd if he drives without one (he tells me he feels “too loose”!).
Of course, my advice applies not only to traffic rules but to all areas of life. We have all heard (or witnessed) the stories of people who would not dream of littering in Italy or the U.S. but the first thing they do when they get home is drop something on the ground (or spit etc.) using the lame excuse “but this is different; this is India”. In fact, this has become so well-known that there are even road signs lamenting the fact. One sign at Pashan, erected just before the Commonwealth Youth Games, asks “We do not drop litter abroad then why do we do it here?”, or words to that effect.
Another sad truth is that many people who do make an effort to behave like responsible citizens are chided for being not “streetwise” enough to live in India. While it’s true that following every traffic rule will make your life a misery (if you gave way to every vehicle on a main road you would never even make it to work!), this does not mean that it is ok to jump a traffic signal for the sake of getting home two minutes earlier. What are you going to do with those two minutes anyway? I doubt that it is something that would change the world whereas the two minutes spent waiting at the traffic signal is time that is well-spent, time that will change India for the better.
And that change is already in progress. As an avid reader of Pune Mirror, I have gotten used to seeing photographs of people committing traffic offences. However, I was recently overjoyed to see a photograph of a vehicle-free pedestrian crossing – and not a single traffic policeman in sight! I was also pleased to see the readers’ response to an article in which a woman’s car, which had been parked in a no-parking zone, was towed away with her still inside it. Of course a few people condemned the traffic police for towing the woman’s car (which, I agree, is unacceptable). However, they were outnumbered by people asking “what was she doing parking her car in a no parking zone anyway?” and “why didn’t she move the car when requested to by the traffic police?” I hope Punekars continue to ask their fellow citizens these questions, and not just in writing.
Yes, it’s not easy and it will take time but, as the American people proved last week when they elected Barack Obama as their President, change is possible. I hope Punekars, and Indian citizens in general, gather together to say “yes we can” change India for the better.