Wednesday, January 26, 2011
INCIDENT AT A TRAFFIC SIGNAL
The two vehicles stopped abreast of each other at the traffic signal. Both were spotless white in colour. They were SUVs- big and muscular- that took up most of the road’s width and made the other waiting vehicles look small and humble.
The drivers of the two vehicles glared at each other and spat on the road. Their employers sat behind, not looking at each other. Both men were dressed in the whitest of starched whites and their faces hidden behind the darkest of dark glasses. They were the humble servants of us ordinary folk. Out of respect, we called them our netas. It was just unfortunate that they belonged to opposing political parties.
It is said that when elephants fight, it is the ants that suffer. And so it was proved that day.
The light turned green and both vehicles surged forward. As it was in their politics, so it was on the road. Each wanted to get ahead of the other. The inevitable happened.
There was a scraping sound followed by a screech of the brakes as both vehicles stopped. The drivers jumped out to survey the damage. It was intolerable, they concluded. A’s driver shouted at B’s driver. B’s driver shouted back. First, they argued about each other’s eyesight; then compared each other to the less intelligent of animals. Then they quickly settled down to discussing each other’s ancestry and the legitimacy of their families. Each driver invoked his master’s name and described what he could do to the other. As this also did not end the argument A and B both decided to take matters in their hands.
A abused B’s driver and B abused A’s. Threats were repeated and exchanged. Those who witnessed the argument were overawed by their claims of power and their god-like capacity for retribution.
To the constable on duty it was a situation far more complex than shopping for groceries for his superior’s wife. As he watched the scene in the middle of the traffic junction, he wished he had not opted for duty here. But he had no choice. Traffic had piled up in all directions. He went up to the two men and requested them to continue their discussions somewhere else; and would they please move their cars?
“He tried to kill me”, they shouted, fingers now pointing at each other.
“Looks more like an accident to me,” the constable replied.
“Are you calling me a liar?” they shouted again, finger now pointing at the policeman. Having decided that the situation was beyond his capacity to manage, he called his superior and went back to his seat in the shade.
It was the media’s day out on the following morning. Depending on their political leaning, they reported that B assaulted A or vice versa. The few that did not take sides published both stories- on different pages. Readers complained that they were confused. One TV channel ran a prime time discussion on how unsafe traffic signals had become. An expert suggested that, like ambulances and emergency vehicles, politicians also should be allowed to drive through the red light. Someone pointed out that they were doing it anyway and the discussion ended.
A’s followers organized a public meeting to protest against the attack on him, offer a thanksgiving prayer for his providential escape and to reward his driver for the courage he showed in protecting his master. Not to be outdone, B’s followers organized a similar meeting.
A then accused the police of bias and not doing anything to “bring to book the perpetrators of the dastardly attack” His followers demonstrated their displeasure by calling for a public strike. They then set a few buses on fire. The next day, B’s followers protested against “the conspiracy to tarnish” their leader’s image. They also organized a public strike and burnt a few more buses. The score remained even
The police chief went on air and declared that he would not tolerate acts of lawlessness and that those caught damaging public property would be punished. This had the desired effect in that everyone turned against him. He was transferred out of the city and investigations turned over to the CBI. But peace remained elusive
A and B took their quarrel to the state assembly. It was so serious that the speaker allowed one hour daily for a discussion on the situation. He rested his chin on his hands while the honorable members debated with their lungs and- to emphasize their point- threw shoes and furniture at one another. At the end of the hour, he would adjourn the proceedings and go home.
When it became clear that nothing would work, the party chiefs met. The venue was a five star hotel in a hill station and the discussions lasted most of the night. Naturally, the media was kept out.
In the morning, citizens came out their homes to see hoardings with pictures of A and B in an embrace and smiling down on them. Their parties had decided to merge. Both A and B promised to work for the betterment of society. There were firecrackers and celebrations all around. This time, buses were damaged not out of anger, but out of the revelers' exuberance. Peace had returned at last
But loose ends had to be tied. The police constable who was on duty that day was reprimanded for filing a false report and transferred to a far off place. The CBI closed the case on the grounds of lack of proper evidence and reliable witnesses.