Panathur Road.

I’ve been taking the Panathur road to work almost every day recently. It’s a two-way road, without a divider. Calling it a road would be calling a tattered rag an evening gown. Particularly during rainy season. The muck, the slithery mess, the craters created without any asteroids hitting the earth all make for an extremely agonizing commute. And if it weren’t enough, there is traffic. Traffic that is capable of ripping that cortex from our heads and jabbing it repeatedly. As if our struggle with the devil’s trident painted red, yellow and green wasn’t enough. The disc screeching effect that interrupts a Vivaldi. Ever so often.

As you’re moving towards Panathur village between 8 a.m. – 9.30 a.m., you will encounter and you will invariably stop behind a queue of vehicles, standing obediently in your lane for something to clear. The opposite lane is empty. Regardless of the condition of the road, it looks like a carpet rolled out for someone’s welcome. Normally, under such circumstances in Bangalore, you’d see cabs, tempo travelers, two-wheelers and even private vehicles plug the open space. It’s frenetic, you know? One has to drop their kids to school. One has a morning meeting with their boss. Concalls. Deliver water. Cement. Every man for himself.  I have to go before you because my venture is more exigent. Well, not here. Here, you just stop and join the queue. This temporary occupation of Bangalore real estate is not determined by your economic status but dished out on a first come first serve basis. And you follow the rules. Written and unwritten. No smart-ass encroachment into others’ territory. Unlike how the wretched cabal called real estate operates otherwise.

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The other lane. Completely empty. And look at the orderly queue. Discipline.

The reason for such discipline and obedience is the sharp right turn that one has to navigate. If two vehicles traveling in opposite directions were to attempt to do that simultaneously, it would be a situation resembling a tetris game where two non-matching tiles would touch each other and your game would come to an end. And yes, you’d have to start all over again. I’m assuming this lesson was learnt soon by regular commuters, probably the hard way, for I have seen water truck drivers shoo away ‘rookies’ trying to overtake them to plug the gap. From dilapidated Maruti 800s to BMWs and Audis, everybody got in line.

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The dreaded underpass after the 90 degree turn. Look at those craters. And no, I don’t want to imagine what would happen if two vehicles coming from opposite sides tried to traverse that.

In fact, it is pretty much automatic that cars approaching behind me would simply come and stop right behind me and switch off their engines. Just like I did. And the vehicle in front of me. At the sharp turn, random citizen, presumably one of the conductors in the tempo traveler or buses on that route, would get down and regulate the traffic. It is done with great efficiency indeed. 5 minutes of movement in each direction, to be precise. You could either curse during those five minutes, making it seem like waiting for the next Haley’s comet or you could notice a few things around you. Maybe even appreciate. Get a temporary divorce from your smart phone.

A mother would come and try to open the faucet behind the water truck to fill her pitcher. If the truck were to move, it is an unwritten code to stop filling your water and turn the faucet off. Well, one would run behind to fill their pitchers to the brim, but they had to turn the faucet off no matter what. On one such occasion, a mother found that there was no water in the truck. This prompted her son to take the pitcher and try again. Same faucet. Same truck. As he was greeted with a trickle that lasted for a few seconds upon turning the faucet, he peeked into the tube, as if he could hypnotize it and make it spew some water. No luck. The little fella was even wearing a t-shirt that read “empowerment through education’. At 9 a.m. Ah, the irony. You could also see the “fork and Mutton available daily…call **********” shed where the phone number was put on an image of a pig. Not quite empowered by education in terms of spelling but quite ingenious nonetheless.

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To the left of Dr. Ambedkar’s face is the Fork and mutton stall. The number is not legible but the pig can be seen.

Another mother dropping her kid to school in a two-wheeler. The kid would invariably wear a monkey cap and the mother would be feeding biscuits through the opening. Or the Suguna stand which claimed that if you ate the chicken and eggs purveyed by them, you would develop strong muscles. Like these:

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Arnold ChickenHead Schwarzenegger. Courtesy Suguna.

You know, the kind of stuff we Tweet, FB and Instagram about to have a laugh.

But the discipline shown here is no laughing matter. Interdependence, grudging respect for others’ sensibilities, change begins with YOU, trying to make the best out of a bad situation amid horrid infrastructure etc. all rolled into one neat package. All in 5 minute courses offered at least 10 times a day.

My car’s passenger side mirror was once hit by a person traveling on a bicycle. Fortunately, the hinge just got twisted a bit. He immediately looked back. His expression was filled with horror and some remorse. I just smiled at him sitting in my car. He smiled right back. He stopped his cycle and walked back to me and raised his hand to gesture his apology. I continued to smile and motioned him to twist the hinge back. One click and it looked as if nothing happened to it. He moved on. I just stood waiting for my turn to move. This is probably the most peaceful resolution of a dispute on the road during an hour where tempers flare high otherwise.

I guess education alone doesn’t empower people. One has to learn from life. I have, for sure. To try to control my temper. Appreciate what I have. Observe what’s going on around you. Learn to adapt. Accommodate. Like this stretch of land we call road that accommodates slither, muck, potholes. And people. Some nice people who are trying to get things done the right way in spite of the system. One could learn from it. And see it as the basic niceness that accommodates whatever good or bad we create and holds things together with the hope that sometimes, the good is greater than the bad stuff out there.

I just thought I’d share some of the niceness with you…