A speeding Honda Accord took the life of a biker and a rickshaw driver today morning. I knew the biker. He was an acquaintance in the area I grew up in and shifted out of in 2009. He wasn’t a close friend but someone I knew in the neighborhood.
Someone you played cricket on the street with when you were a kid. Someone you nod at, or smile to when you walk past. Someone who died today morning and left behind two kids, a paralyzed mother, a father and a wife.
This Bombay is different from the Bombay of the past. The past when the streets weren’t as dangerous and as risky. We used to follow no-entry signs, we used to drive on the right side of the road, we used to follow signals. We did this together. That’s how things would work in Bombay. There was a system in Bombay. A system that people followed. Followed out of habit, out of discipline, out of respect, out of fear.
No more. Slowly and steadily, over the past decade, there has been a systematic decline in discipline. You break a no-entry sign when you can, when it suits you. You drive on the wrong side of the lane because it’s easier. You break a signal because you can’t wait. In some cases, you do it all together. So, you enter a no-entry zone, drive on the wrong side of the road and break a signal while talking on the cell phone as you drive.
We all do it because we know we can get away with it. Maybe what has changed is that the traffic police has been woefully inadequate—or even apathetic—in keeping discipline up in a city where more cars seem to appear on the road annually than traffic police.
I’ve seen parents furiously breaking these rules to ensure their kids reach school on time. I’ve seen educated, well-to-do, middle class, and the upper class break these rules as often as I’ve seen cabbies, auto-rickshaw drivers, truck drivers, even traffic police breaking these rules. It’s now a habit. It is something that is taken for granted. It is something that everyone does because everyone else does it. It is something that kills people. It is something that killed this guy I knew today morning.
When did this city break down? When did we stop caring? When did we start honking at someone who waits for a red signal to turn green? When did we start laughing at someone who drives all the way down a lane and takes a U-turn instead of simply riding over a divider to get to the other side of the road?
Moments like these leave me with despair and anger and frustration. At the city, its residents, its people—people that can take such tragic loss of life so lightly and move on with life, as I know even I will eventually. We are trained to. Life goes on. And yet, for some, life is over.
First published in Bombay Diaries (Anupam Gupta, 13 February, 2013)