the chaos out of traffic
often rightly complain about chaotic traffic on our streets
and lawlessness in our society. Hyderabad City is a prime
example of both these scourges. All visitors tell us that
if you can navigate the Hyderabad traffic successfully, you
can drive anywhere in the world without fear! And yet we fail
to realize that the problem is not with the police, but with
us. We neither seem to care for traffic rules, nor do we take
responsibility for our actions.
the years, we have developed two instincts of survival in
a chaotic society. First, do whatever it takes to forge ahead.
After all, there is no penalty for wrongdoing, nor is there
any reward for good behaviour. Therefore, cut corners, overtake
recklessly, violate safety rules, ignore traffic signals,
and at times run over people and run away from the scene,
as a few spoilt brats have so notoriously demonstrated in
Delhi and Mumbai in recent times.
if caught in wrong-doing, never admit. Do everything to escape
- bribe the policemen, browbeat or buy the witnesses, doctor
evidence, prolong litigation, and frustrate due process. But
never, never take responsibility for your actions, and be
a part of the problem even as you keep complaining of everyone
else's wrong doing!
doing and violation of laws and rules are common in all cultures.
No society is an exception. But the way a mistake is handled
is different in societies that have perfected rule of law.
Speeding is the commonest offence in the US, and very few
drivers adhere to speed limits when the traffic is light.
The roads are wonderful and the cars are smooth and powerful.
Life is hectic, and there are always punishing schedules to
be met. It takes superhuman will to resist speeding under
those conditions. And yet, when caught, the behaviour of policemen
and drivers is impeccable. That is what makes a society flourish
and a civilization thrive.
years ago, a Harvard professor was caught speeding. When the
policemen stopped him and asked for his driving license and
other documents, unthinkingly he gave his business card. The
policeman, who never met a University Professor, was warm
and effusive. But at the end, he doubled the penalty for speeding
and for attempting to unduly influence the official by flashing
his business card! The professor promptly paid the penalty
and left, this time driving carefully!
this with an Indian politician who was on a visit, and was
being driven by an Indian friend to a state capital to call
on the governor of a small state. The policeman caught them
speeding. While the Indian friend was promptly paying the
penalty for speeding, the politician was nudging him to reveal
his (the politician's) identity and browbeat the policeman
by showing how important he was, and how they were on their
way to meet the state governor. The Indian friend had to admonish
the politician that even if the governor was caught speeding,
he would not be spared!
culture of rule of law became evident to me during a recent
trip overseas. A distinguished Indian American friend, a nationally
known financial analyst in the US, and I were driving from
Chicago area to Detroit area. It was a Sunday morning. Traffic
was light and the weather was good. We had an early luncheon
appointment, and we were deeply engaged in conversation. My
Indian friend unthinkingly stepped on the accelerator, and
soon we were travelling at 80 miles in a 70 mile zone. By
the time we realized our mistake, a policeman signaled us
to a stop on the freeway, and politely pointed out our speed
violation. He said, "Sir, I can understand. This is a
Sunday morning, there is no traffic, weather is good, and
you are engaged in conversation. No wonder you are speeding."
My friend admitted his mistake and we hoped that we would
be let off with a verbal warning to be careful. But the good-natured
policeman inspected the documents, found everything was alright,
and calmly gave a citation for speeding and collected a $100
policeman was gentle, but sure of his action, and my friend
was contrite, but never tried to avoid the penalty though
this meant his plans to change his insurance provider would
have to be kept on hold. The question of browbeating or bribing
the policeman does not arise. Needless to say, we never crossed
the speed limit during the rest of our travels!
we need a police force that acts fairly and honourably. Even
more important is our willingness to comply with the laws
and take responsibility for our mistakes. If both sides keep
their bargain, even Hyderabad traffic can be safe, orderly
and ultimately faster for everybody. Is it too much to ask?