A follow-up post to Life in 1732kms
Some of my friends, who have left the country for a while, often tell me that “India is happening” and I am lucky to be in the right place, almost saying that it was a good idea that I chose not to leave the country, when it wasn’t as happening. I usually agree with them, don’t quite argue on the situation that really exists, feel good about it and let them feel good about it.
I often wonder, how the guys during the Renaissance felt. That is, the folks who lived and were young when it occurred, not for those who read about it later. While I will never know it, I think I feel the same way. I live in a country that is at the crossroads of being the best place to be live in (in the future), but isn’t there yet. And since it is a crossroad, for various reasons, if it takes the sharp left (or right), we’ll have a very interesting could-have-been story.
Most of the 1732kms that I travelled in the last week of the December of 2010, were on roads that wanted to be more than they have always been. Not just to bear more vehicles, but to be smarter, faster and smoother. Some of the roads have already achieved that, some are in the process and some are only yearning for it. I had a good share of the best and worst roads that week.
One of the worst patches, was from Indore, MP to Dahod, GJ. Work is on along this patch to make this into the short-sighted dual carriageway that is a hallmark of NHAI, but it is bone-crushing in it’s own way.
The highlight of these 1732kms (and why we took an off route) is a different story altogether. No suspense; it was approximately a 20+km traffic jam, just as we left the border of Maharashtra into Madhya Pradesh. Starting at Hadakhed and ending just before Sendhwa, all through Borghat. Analysing traffic jams is fun, if you aren’t the kind that gets frustrated easily – it is an academic exercise, but when you have nothing else to do, it serves useful purposes.
In the five and a half hours that I spent in Borghat, I learnt that there are three levels of complexity that cause such traffic jams.
For one, trucks in India are overloaded to no end. The limit of loading a truck is very well-defined, actually. If it will stay on the truck, load it. What would usually take three trucks to transport, we manage in two (sometimes, horrifically so, we manage in one.) So the traffic jam problem, really starts with cost cutting – at the cost of safety. Don’t get me started on cost-cutting; it is a synonym of short-sightedness: let that suffice for now. Overloaded trucks have a tendency to topple, and two of them did, on this patch. I saw one overloaded truck trying to get out of the way for us, doing a wheelie — and I am not exaggerating. It, no doubt, was a factor of the overloading.
Secondly, we have a very inefficient and untrained traffic policing system that is grossly underpaid to even think twice about refusing bribes. I am sure (but I don’t know this for a fact) that there is a law that disallows a truck to be overloaded. Weigh-bridges at every possible junction stand witness to the potential existence of such a law. Further, (in most places) we have no limits or scheduled times regarding when certain types of vehicles are allowed to ply on certain roads. I remember, way back, in the ’70s, I believe, the Khambatki Ghat, used to be closed at night to avoid accidents. It was a single carriageway then.
Finally, you and I are the one who screw up the most in a situation that is such trucks make worse. We cut lanes, disrupt traffic coming from the opposite side — because we have overwhelming faith in our small and manoeuvrable vehicles. When all the trucks are lined up like an army, we break ranks with gay abandon and rush to meet the oncoming traffic. This, unfortunately is not a highway phenomenon: I have seen this happen even in Mumbai – which I believe has one of the most disciplined traffic etiquette. I am not against overtaking, but the manner in which we do it – defies logic and reason.
But, being there – for those five-odd hours was cathartic for me. Late in the night, with a few headlights directing rays in an almost laser show, a part of me felt peaceful. The other part was utterly frustrated – but I ignored that part. I was able to imagine this under-construction-road, how it would be when it was all done, when we would not give another thought to the travails of those that tread this path when it was being built. I allowed it to become a forced instance for me to stop and think of all the things that have bothered me for long. My friend, tired from navigating for almost 14 hours took a nap. I shut down the car and got out to watch the stars. To be on the incline of a tall hill at night is a revelation. The stars don’t really talk to you; they don’t send messages; nor do they have answers. To get out of your car (because you have no choice) and sit on a ledge that overlooks a far away city, identified only by the lights that it chooses to leave on at night, and wonder at a life — is a privilege. It is a rare experience. To be with a group, but distanced by vehicles that came between us, and therefore be alone — is a privilege. As I sat on the ledge — I remembered what my driving license said on the back cover: Driving is a privilege, not a right. I felt thankful.
A truck driver had got out his kerosene stove and was cooking food. I asked him how long he had been in this jam. He said, “12 hours.” I smiled. I asked him what he would do if the traffic started moving suddenly, with a dart of my eyes to his stove. He shrugged, said nothing. In the moth-eaten blanket of a sky, my life reflected an image, mocked me.
I was sure we would not be able to reach our destination in good time. By the time we would reach Indore, we would really have to wake up hoteliers to give us rooms. It didn’t matter much to me – I was not so sure of my friend and his family in their vehicle, a few trucks behind. (Later, I was to learn, to a happy surprise, that we shared an interesting DNA for adventure — the matter for another post)
We of course, as you may have seen in the map in the earlier post, chose not to return by NH3, and chose to come through NH8 via Vadodra and Surat. The Indore-Bhopal highway, however, was a pleasure – a driver’s dream come true. Somehow, all through the trip though, a line of truck made our hearts sink, bringing memories of that Christmas night that we spent stuck for no reason. Luckily we didn’t encounter any jams as severe as the one on NH3. But it left a lasting impression.
Part frustration – part experiential. And while I am not sure how my other five co-travellers experienced it, I choose to remember the experiential part of it.
What’s an adventure, if you have already decided what to expect out of it.