Rush hour traffic in Kolkata.
Ear deafening horns. Office-goers racing against the time.
You get the picture, right?
Auto and bus drivers with frayed tempers. Threatening each other with carefully picked up words. You must not try to stop them. You must not get in their way.
Take your eyes off the road and you’ll be rushed to any of the nearest hospitals.
Two wheelers desperately squeezing through the traffic like the Redbull stunt drivers. When the signal turns from red to green, the streets turn into Formula One tracks. You meet them at the next signal again. They can’t go very far! But the élan with which these drivers race against each other is admiring if you are not a passenger of any of those vehicles trying to keep your calm with a thumping heart and shaky legs.
Autowallahs switching lanes faster than you can type OMG to your friend. Let’s not talk about the pedestrians who walk everywhere except that on the pavements.
Waiting at the traffic signals for 120 seconds seems like decades. You get to read ‘hurry up, bastards’ written boldly on every single face. And may God be with you, if your car fails to start as soon as the signal turns green, you’ll get to experience the diverse world of abusive words along with incessant honking.
One such rush hour. One such traffic signal. Hundreds of impatient faces.
All eyes are set on the digital countdown board hanging from the top of the signal post. 45… 44… 43… some of the bikes and autos have started their engines. Some of the drivers are spitting frequently from the windows. Impatient eyes, heavy breaths with curses hanging from their tongues. Any second now…
The digital display shows 16… 15… 14…
All the vehicles are ready to take off.
4… 3… 2… and here we…
No there’s no rush! What’s wrong? I looked over the shoulder of the auto driver.
The signal has turned green but no one’s moving.
What’s wrong, dada? Impatiently asked by my fellow passenger.
That *#*%#!# Suzuki… the auto driver pointed out a red car.
It was a red Suzuki indeed. But we just heard a screeching halt. Nothing more than that.
Perhaps the engine failed to start. The driver came out of the car with his eyes on the road. People from other cars are coming out in haste. Others are getting impatient. There’s only 50 seconds left before the signal turns red once again. The deafening honking has begun. Someone even suggested that the driver of the red Suzuki should be beaten up. Not something new in the city. Here people love to set buses on fire.
Someone made a loud noise on the wind-shield of the red Suzuki. Nope, the driver is not coming back in the car. There’s a small gap right beside the Suzuki, a bike tried to squeeze in through the gap and stopped. Now even passengers are screaming with their heads out of the bus windows. The decibel increases and words turn into abuses.
While everyone tries to figure out what’s happening the digital countdown comes down to 3… 2… 1… and it turns red! The ignitions go off, incessant honking stops and suddenly fellow passengers became best friends, cursing and abusing the driver of the red Suzuki.
And then almost everyone spot her at the same time. A heavily pregnant mother with tears rolling down her eyes. She is being helped into the red Suzuki by some drivers. Abrupt exclamatory utterances started pouring in from all the vehicles.
So that’s why…
Did the Suzuki hit her? Is she injured? My fellow passenger suggested again that the driver of the red Suzuki should be beaten up. Someone points out the road, no sign of blood, only the trail of trauma she has left behind.
Apparently, she’s suffering with labour pain and severe stress. A few women from other vehicles get down to help. She’s has been taken inside the red Suzuki safely. Everyone can hear her screams. A woman is trying to console her that everything will be okay. The driver closes the door of the red Suzuki; people are getting back to their vehicles. It’s time to move.
Our auto driver, who has seen it all, told us the story once he started the engine. The lady was crossing the road when her labour pain started. She just couldn't move and stood midway, shocked, numbed in pain, having no idea what to do. The red Suzuki could have hit her if the driver didn't apply his brakes on time. He even took her to the hospital, which is just the next road.
Now I noticed guilt on the face of my fellow passenger and others who were cursing the driver minutes ago. Some passengers closed their eyes and prayed for the safety of the mother and her child. Some doff their imaginary hats to the driver. While some mumbled inaudible apologies. Some even said that the driver was sent by God right in time.
The paradigm shift took just 120 seconds.
At the next crossing, the signal turned red again. But everyone was silent. No one honked. The traffic sergeant looked puzzled. The extra 120 seconds doesn't seem to be wasted at all.
An unborn child made us believe, there’s something wrong in the world we live in.