The wrong way

by Gautam Raja

The motorcyclist cut dangerously across traffic and appeared suddenly in my path. Luckily I wasn’t cycling fast, so our wheels just tangled. I had a few words to say, but when he started shouting at me as if I’d done something wrong, I took away his keys and rode off, throwing them overhand into the gutter as I went.

It wasn’t worth it—I spent the rest of the ride looking over my shoulder to make sure he didn’t ride up in a rage and try to ram me. On the return journey I wondered if he’d have rounded up some friends and be lying in wait for me.

Most people assume that if you ride a bicycle on Indian roads, the most dangerous vehicles are the trucks and buses. The truth is that truck drivers are by far the most courteous, and while bus drivers can be rough, there’s a general level of predictability there. Motorcyclists however, are so numerous and feel so free to break the law that there are a constant danger as they ride too close, cut in front and brake inexplicably, push wheels out into intersections, and worst of all, ride the wrong way up roads.

Our roads are infested with motorcycles whose riders are too lazy to go an extra 200 metres to make a U-turn, and so come riding right at you, forcing you to suddenly move into the road, or causing other vehicles to behave unpredictably. It’s worse when it’s done by people who really should know better.

Every morning, members of our much vaunted “highly educated workforce” go to work at technology parks around the city. We have a relatively small one just down the road, and I’ve often seen a stream of computer engineers on scooters, motorcycles and even, occasionally, cars driving up the wrong way because the U-turn is a gruelling 200m further up the correct lane. Recently, as we walked back from breakfast, I’d had enough. I stood on the side of the road with my cell phone camera, and took pictures.

The Bangalore traffic police is active on Facebook, and has a Public Eye programme that lets people upload pictures of traffic offences onto a website and as they say, “lodge a complaint”. You can follow up later to ensure the person has been issued a fine. I spent a happy morning uploading, and also made a YouTube video of the photos and licence plate numbers that I shared widely. It felt good.

Too often I’ve come home upset from a ride when it normally brings me deep peace and contentment. It’s not because someone behaved dangerously on the road, but because I’d behaved badly—shouting or throwing keys; things that seem justified at the time (after all, this person was endangering my very life), but are just not… dignified. As any of you who run, ride, do yoga or swim regularly will know, physical exercise becomes a spiritual activity, and to sully it with anger and other negativity just cancels out all the benefits.

But after my uploads, it was interesting to see how a civic system that works contributes to one person’s inner peace. The difficulty of the journey back to one’s developing home country after years spent in a developed one is too often simplified—with people saying, for example, that you become “soft”. The truth is more subtle—you actually become hard, harder on your cities and harder on your civic bodies because you are aware you must give yourself more choices than either short-sighted vigilante justice or ‘shrug, this is how it is, live with it’. Take pictures and upload, my friends.

First published in Gulf News, June 11, 2013