There is something very strange about us Indians that I have never been able to fathom. We whine about everything – from traffic to garbage on the roads, from lack of cleanliness to lack of etiquettes, from political lethargy to bureaucratic inefficiency. In short we have a grouse against everything… except our own behaviour! Why is an Indian so averse to following rules and the laws of our land, while within the country? I have worked with Indians all over the globe, and believe me, the moment Indians step out of their country, they become an epitome of civility. All rules of their adopted country are strictly adhered to, and all laws are meekly accepted. They are just like a Keralite who, once out of their home state is one of the most hard-working species of Indian; but within their home state expend half their energy in adjusting their mundu, and the other half in organizing strikes!
Take the helmet rule – it is one of the most important and necessary rule for riders of two-wheelers. But more than half the population just blatantly ignore this life-saving law. I recently witnessed a mother on a scooter, who had her child standing in the front. She stopped at a traffic signal ahead of our car and suddenly got off the vehicle. She pushed her scooter to one side of the road, and hurriedly pulled a helmet out of the storage compartment and wore it. She had seen a traffic cop on the other side of the signal and hence this frenzied exercise! I am sure if not for the sight of the policeman, she would never have bothered to adorn the helmet – something that is meant for her own safety. And this I have seen being done by most owners of two-wheelers – wear the helmet only when a traffic policeman is around to fine you. Even regular news reports of horrific traffic accidents that are splashed in our newspapers, do not seem to deter them! Another irritant is the brazen lane-cutting indulged in by drivers of two and three wheelers. Some of the cuts that they make are so dangerous that it is sheer luck that they avoid a gruesome accident. Then we have the two-wheelers buzzing ahead of cars at a traffic signal (inevitably leaving indelible scratch marks on cars), blissfully ignoring the zebra crossing lines, while waiting to zoom off as soon as the signal turns green. I fail to understand what these maniacs hope to achieve by cutting across cars and zooming ahead at signals.
And, in sharp contrast to these speed-devils are some of the four-wheel drivers who cruise in the fast lane at the speed of a tortoise on sedatives, and steadfastly refuse to give way to quicker vehicles. Though the prescribed speed limit would be sixty and the road ahead would be bereft of traffic, this bon vivant of laid-back vehicular crawling skills will drive at less than forty, and refuse to budge from the lane despite incessant honking or flashing of headlights from the vehicles behind. I have never seen such juxtaposing observance of laws by Indians when they are abroad – helmets are worn with a relish, lane-discipline is observed with alacrity, speed limits are strictly adhered to and zebra crossings are respected, as if their lives depended on it. Another observation is the spitting on the roads – not just by pedestrians, but also by the well-heeled who travel in their BMWs and Audis. I have seen many such worthies open their windows at traffic signals and let out a stream of betel-juice or throwing garbage on the roads with no compunction – and these are the very same people who blame the government for not making efforts to keep our cities clean! Most educated men have no qualms in peeing in the open, but sign online petitions urging the government to construct toilets for the poor. But should this urge to keep our surroundings clean not come from within? How can you badmouth the government for not doing its job and in the same breath play ignoramus about you not doing yours? Why does an Indian who is extremely careful of not getting on the wrong side of law abroad, blatantly flout rules while in India?
A common excuse I hear is that we can bribe our law-makers and literally get away with murder, which to a large extent is true. A classic example of this is one of India’s leading movie stars, who got away with killing not just a human being but also a protected animal. The entire social media and India’s arm-chair activists were aghast at the acquittals, and harangued him mercilessly for his acts. In a more civilized country he would have been behind bars and his movie career would have been in tatters. And how did India punish him? By making his recent movie one of the biggest hits of the year (I told you, we Indians are strange)! But excuses do not make a nation – come to think of it, if our freedom fighters had used such lame pretexts, we would still be a British colony. I believe, the will to change this country has to start from within. The fact that India is growing economically at a brisk rate can be evidenced from the fact that twenty years ago a super-hit movie made close to ten crores and now it makes close to three hundred! But this fiscal convalescence would be totally nullified without some serious recalibration of our moral and ethical compasses. Time to clear the cobwebs of our mind…