Wednesday, 12 February 2014

I am the Nation

It was one of those busy mornings. Even ‘rat race’ seems to be a mere understatement, a futile attempt to describe the daily commute to work that morning. To avoid a spoilt temperament amidst the cacophony of the rush hour traffic, the last resort would be to somehow keep cool. It was easy to forget a trivial conversation with a friend in such a commotion; however, some superlatively honest things when spoken with a streak of humour seem inconsequential until retrospection.

This mundane setting was ironically not the most perfect backdrop for one such insightful conversation with a friend. Both of us having lived away from home, have had the opportunity to experience different cultures and lifestyles. Hence, we often involved ourselves in casual dialogue about our varied sojourns. One of the most recurrent topics for discussion was an absolute lack of traffic sense. Unruly traffic had become a nuisance since the dawn of rigorous development in the town, and thus our pet peeve. As our discussion gradually progressed, stimulated by a sense that we might not make it to work on time, comparisons and criticisms surfaced from the abyss of pretense. We hated the driver honking incessantly right behind us. We detested the one, who without warning overtook us. We harshly judged the one who was desperately trying to get ahead and given a chance would not mind breaking a few rules. And we reproachfully scowled at the one who gave us a don’t-you-dare-cross-my-path look coupled with a few profanities. Call it a bad hair day should you confront this once in a while, but what if you come across this every time you are travelling? It is national character; we flippantly remarked and laughed it off.  We reached workplace inevitably late and caught up with our lives.

No, it’s not a thought ideologists would be able to shrug off their minds so soon. I’ve been on it ever since. I love my motherland but not a fanatic either. This thought, however, made a lasting impact on me. A reflection on this simple incident brought me face-off with some of the darkest facets of my nature as a human being as well as a responsible citizen. I discovered, I was neither. I have been unequivocally selfish on the road. I have been brutally rash. I have been impatient. I have broken rules. I have glowered with ill concealed rage at others. I have been spiteful. I have blatantly been myself on the street. And since every citizen is a representative of his/her nation, I am what my compatriots are. That was the grim reality.

We seldom give thought to this daily activity. Blame it on the lifestyle; scientifically, we spend more time driving than we do eating. Many people have devoted time into studying traffic science with behavioural psychology. One major observation is that behavior on the road is almost exactly how a person would behave in real life transactions. Traffic casualties have been the reason and sometimes consequence of the feelings of resentment a nation may harbour. It also ropes in fatalities due to alcoholism, statistics of which might differ from region to economic status. Secondly, these observations open a whole myriad of possibilities for probing into gender equality studies, the status of women in any country just by observing how they are being dealt with on the road. And thirdly, it’s a great insight on the behavioural aspect of society as a whole. The religious beliefs and superstitions of a region also play a major role in deciding what may or may not be acceptable on the road. For example, a path crossed by a black cat is not to be trodden. In India, this is a bad omen. Or, the holy cow is not to be hustled away even if it’s a major obstacle in transit. Culture also impacts adherence to traffic rules. In collective cultures, like India or China, the rules are relatively lax than those in individualistic cultures, mostly western nations.

The solutions to this chaos theory are also very character-driven. It calls for people to be more altruistic, patient, composed and accommodating. Foresight and maturity are of utmost importance here. People should be able to anticipate what’s coming and accordingly change course or pace to avoid unnecessary hold ups. Now, wouldn’t that be a great influence on our personal lives too? Wouldn’t it alter our behavior for the better?

I have been on a revival ever since this though found its bases in my mind. It has not been an easy journey. It’s an everyday battle; a constant effort at being more altruistic without first thinking of optimum self advantage. And I would give myself the credit of improving on it day by day. It has helped me to act and react rationally and empathically in all personal transactions and real life situations. It has taught me that while traffic science, a concoction of scientific principles and human element, may not be that simple to understand; it would just be an intelligent choice to go with the flow. 

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