A speeding Honda Accord took the life of a biker and a rickshaw driver today morning. I knew the biker. He was an acquaintance from 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 in the other team with whom you play cricket on the road when you were a kid. Someone who you nod at, or smile to when you walk by on the road. 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. Things are a system in Bombay. A system that people follow. Follow 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 following these rules. Today? You break a no-entry 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, drive on the wrong side of the road and break a signal while talking on the cell phone while driving.
We all do it because we know we can get away with it. Maybe what’s changed is that the traffic police has been woefully inadequate – or even apathetic – to keep the discipline up in a city where more cars seem to be added every year 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, rich 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 actually 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 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. 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.