Die happily ever after

Published Jan 07, 2012 08:44pm

PHILOSOPHERS use deconstruction as an academic tool to understand intention or deceit behind words. In India, deconstruction is a highway epidemic.

We construct a beautiful road with World Bank or Japanese funds, and then deconstruct it, bit by bit, pothole by pothole, entirely with Indian ingenuity.

Indians never need foreign aid to destroy. This is totally within the Indian range of core competence. Our roads are socialist in their ideology. They punish any car that has had the misfortune to be well manufactured. Their primary motive is to reduce its ability to more proletarian levels, so that all vehicles can be equal.

Sudden bumps are laid into the tarmac, with or without arbitrary permission, and are just high enough to scrape and wound the chassis. If the framework of the car is tough enough to survive such shocks, it will soon dip and jump out of stone-scattered holes.

Who creates these death-traps? Are there mysterious saboteurs that dig them into an otherwise smooth road in the middle of the night? Who knows. Who cares. All we know is that they are visible, they exist.

Since India abandons the tottering fragments of law that survive in big metros the moment we step outside the big city circle, there is little question of regulations being any form of impediment to highway anarchy.

There is no force to enforce anything; and if there is a token police presence, then the fundamental principle of the constitution kicks in: the power of graft is far above the momentum of law.

If you keep your eyes shut, and that may be the safest backseat way to negotiate your way through a war zone like Haryana, you will always recognise an urban interruption along the state highway by the conversion of the road into a rutted rock and slime patch. Many states are undeveloped and have inadequate infrastructure. Haryana is developed and has counterproductive infrastructure, calculated to inflict maximum damage on both man and machine.

You can always break a leg in an accident. But there is nothing accidental when you break your teeth on the jolts that kick your spine up into your neck, and forward into the molars.

Why then do Indians pack and jostle into an automobile exposition, as they are currently doing in Delhi, when there are no roads to drive on? If Haryana breaks your back then Delhi destroys what little is left of your patience. If a breakdown bus — yes, the one that was bought a year ago in preparation for the infamous Commonwealth Games — has not clogged its streets, then some procession has.

Indians are the only people who turn a street into private property at the first, and indeed any, opportunity. In no other nation is a marriage sanction to a hostile takeover by groom, horse, relatives, drunken friends and a band that blares its lungs out. A religious festival provides some kind of sanctimonious cover for such wanton civic irresponsibility. Every faith takes its preferred thoroughfare over. Worse, it is getting competitive, and thus bigger with each passing year.

Londoners throng the shops at Christmas and Chinese overwhelm their markets during their new year, but neither would dream of spreading their presence in an Oxford Street and then let traffic dribble by as an act of favour.

British royalty once ruled in the belief that kings had a divine right to do so. In these more democratic times we have the divine right of priests to commandeer public space. Is the reason for expo rush, the optimism? Do we check out the latest models in the same spirit that we book a flat in a skyscraper without water in the room and too much of it in the slush at the entrance? Is this the triumph of hope over experience?

Not quite. Our reasons are aspirational, not useful. The new car is intended not to take you from point A to point B; it is there largely to tell that snide elder brother that you have not just arrived, but reached five steps beyond the other.

It is obvious from any road experience in Haryana or Delhi that no one actually wants to go anywhere. The chap in a car merely wants to drive faster. He wants to overtake, from any direction, even if he has to go right round you to do so.

I hear that they are trying to make a car that can jump like a helicopter. This will sell in thousands in Delhi, leading to mid-air crashes as drivers overtake from above.

The driver is not in any hurry to reach work, since work is not the preferred option of an overtaker. His only joy is in flirting continuously with the undertaker. Why do automobile companies positively gloat over the Indian market? Simple. This is one country where their vehicle will need replacement long before age has worn it down. Deconstruction is good for profits.

The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.


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