BY VIBHA MITRA
I was inching forward at the crossing of Lansdowne Road and Lansdowne Terrace, opposite Ramakrishna Mission Hospital, when boom a bus coming down at breakneck speed crashed into my left side and zoomed ahead regardless. The police on duty and bystanders rushed ahead and stopped the bus to reprimand him. Concerned that it could have been worse and I looked rattled. No cause for panic as I am a woman who is made of sterner stuff, I reassured them.
An argument ensued. I am not a very good driver and can collect zillions of negative testimonials but this was simply not my fault. Funnily, all the passengers on the bus insisted that it was my fault. They hoped to scare me. The reason was obviously that they wanted to be on their way as soon as possible. I stood firm as did the bystanders. A sergeant drew up and asked me to make an MCR (Motor Collision Report) at the local thana. He gave me details and procedures and I am resolute. I will!
Irony! While we were all arguing, standing near the recalcitrant bus, another speeding monster almost ran over all of us amidst dada hochhe ta ki…!!
The errant driver started the bus, went forward and promptly stopped in the middle of the road on the Lansdowne Hazra crossing. The sergeant on duty shrugged indifferently when I asked why he didn’t protest. The bus was holding up traffic and the authorised bus stop was a metre away. He said that they were resigned to rule-breaking as no action was ever taken and that these Government employees as party workers were above reproach. Sounded familiar, though I am sure there was a nexus of mutual protection too.
This problem was marginally alleviated many years ago due to vigilant reporting by newspapers. These drivers and their khalaasis are not paid a salary. They are paid a commission on earnings. They wish to pick up as many passengers from all possible unscheduled stops. The same reason why public vehicles never take flyovers. A simple fixed salary will solve the problem and bring some order to the chaos. But the Government has obviously some convoluted reason for saving funds.
While driving in Kolkata, we become fearless – negotiating bottlenecks, dealing with abusive males and nonchalant policemen. I have always picked up cudgels and fought relentlessly even with lawmakers who are lawbreakers. An instance among many comes to mind when a sergeant abused me calling me an irresponsible meyechhele. That got my goat and gut. This was opposite the South City Mall. I was right and his comment was absolutely uncalled for. I just put off the ignition and demanded an apology. He wouldn’t budge, nor would I. The people around cajoled and coaxed and we both stood firm. About fifteen minutes of mayhem later he half apologised and we moved.
Some years down the line, my family pleads with me to not pick up pungas with policemen as times are bad. Our Kolkata is where the dadas always came to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Many decades ago, with no cell phones, my parents never worried when I drove on my own. Nowadays even with cell phones, one worries continuously about their loved ones- road rage, drunken driving, unhelpful policemen.
Meanwhile, I am going to register my protest. Everyone thinks it’s a futile exercise. My dad rightly said, as a citizen, it’s our duty. I guess but the lingering feeling of dread that it will be a number in a musty file with no action pending remains!
So!! Is anyone listening… Media, Government, the powers that be?
Vibha Mitra is a Heritage Enthusiast – actively involved with Calcutta Heritage Collective. With a passion to do things well, she expresses herself from an original point of view. Films, plays, crosswords, Scrabble, Sudoku, Netflix are all jostling for space in her world. Vibha has also authored the book “Odds and Bends”, a journal and her reflections on the world.