Sunday, October 5, 1997

Honk, who’s there?

All of a sudden, overnight as it were, there was courtesy in his every move. At the red light, he no longer pressed ahead, straining to get past at the exact fraction-of-a-second when the signal changed. There would be a great blaring and honking, and feelings of aggression and agitation would rise in a swarm all around us, but he would be impervious to it all. When the furore died down, he would proceed along the road with great calmness. The change was so pleasant and wonderful. After all, how did it matter if we missed a few seconds getting to our destination – wasn’t the quality of life in the interim so much more important?
Now we slowed down to let others pass, and never once got angry while trying to overtake. At intersections, we would ‘give side’ ungrudgingly and these occasions in particular would fill me with a sense of the beatific wonder of human existence! How vastly improved civilization could be, with but the infusion of a little civilized behaviour! I was amazed, and pleased, at the transformation in him. This was my soothing influence at work, I convinced myself with great smugness.
I further noticed in him a growing alertness. An awareness of the environment, to the needs of others on the road – an easy willingness to please, graciously allowing other motorists the first move and giving pedestrians right of way: always anticipating, open to changes of mind, generously permitting every individual response. For this I knew I could not take the credit, and I wondered more. Surely this was that evolution of the species, the emergence of the New Man, the spiritual awakening and leaning to cosmic consciousness which everyone seemed to be talking about these days!
But when I saw him slow down politely to avoid a gaggle of giggling girls walking unconcernedly abreast on the road, with not the least trace of irritation at their uncivic behaviour, I began to worry a little. We would be driving along and suddenly find that the car was surrounded by placid, ponderous, plodding buffaloes, swaying and treading their imperturbable way to pasture. He would merely slow down and await an opening. He remained similarly unmoved by the villainous Pune Municipal Transport buses, swerving dangerously, dashing desperately the wrong way down one-way streets. He would not so much as mumble in complaint when the blanket-coddled racehorses crossed the thoroughfare skittishly, causing traffic to be halted at a safe distance. Not even when the fragile hose pipes were laid across the road to water the mess lawn, and the subedars waved vehicles to an imperious standstill before grudgingly allowing them to proceed over the lumpy barrier.
The uncharacteristic forbearance began to upset me. Was this, then, the onset of Age? Absentmindedness? How would this deep personality change affect his work, our lives? I needn’t have worried.
All of a sudden, overnight as it were, things were back to the way they had always been. We got the horn fixed.
first appeared in Times of India as a Middle on 4 Oct 1997