At the crossroads

Tinat Atifa Masood stresses on instilling traffic sense from an early childhood

Love can be very liberating! A feeling of exhilaration that is indescribable. It’s something everyone craves for. Yet when they finally get it, it takes them a lot of time to realise that they have been gifted with it already.

I really loved John. Loved him because he was always well dressed in his black coat and trousers, wore black glasses and used a walking stick to move around. Stylish to the core! Except I didn’t like his smoking habit. He smoked like a chimney and always wanted me to pay for it. I had to since I loved John so much. He and I met only for a short while but meet we did, despite the odds. Come rain, hail or thunder, we invariably met and walked all the way through the footpath, lining the colourful shops and a few tastefully decorated houses.

I would put my hand around his arm and proudly walk, even while we talked non-stop and laughed heartily. So, John and I would meet every day after school without fail and I had to walk with him up to the Police Point area before I walked off further towards my home in Laitumkhrah. John was slow while walking and it would put me in a tizzy as I knew exactly how Mom would react to my few minutes of delay while reaching home. But like I told you; I loved John very much and he loved me too and as is my nature, I just couldn’t even come as close to thinking of leaving him alone. My heart went out to John ‘cause John had difficulty while crossing the main road on his way home. So invariably, it was me who had to do it for him ‘cause John was 60 years old, blind and lived in a home for the deprived!

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So you thought that it was only the people in Assam who were absolutely unaware or feigned ignorance on the importance and the meaning of a ‘jebrra’ crossing? Well, read that as zebra crossing, the actual pronunciation being ‘zeebra’. But people just prefer to call it ‘jebrra’ and are rather happy to say it with élan. The zebras would probably be at the crossroads when they hear about the atrocious ‘pro-noun-ciation’! Even Mumbaiyas are known to have pathetic road sense in some areas, at least that’s what I saw when I visited it this autumn! Being a metro, one would expect Mumbai to behave like one. But annoyingly so, almost everyone save a few commuters are wont to stop at a red signal. And if perchance, the traffic police are not around, everyone has a field day! My scathing remarks fell on deaf ears and the only remark that stood stoic is, “Aarre Madam, sab log karte hein!”

Jorhat may be a small town but people have a lot of civic sense. Everyone, irrespective of whoever they may be, stop at the red light and patiently wait for other cars to pass and even let pedestrians cross over safely! It is sad but true that people in Guwahati have absolutely no respect and emotion for people walking on the streets. They rush at break-neck speed and stop exactly over the zebra crossing, making it a gargantuan task for people to get across. They wouldn’t mind running over old people and school and college going children as well!

On a GSE trip to Canada, as is the habit with us in Guwahati, Neelakshi and I were hesitant while crossing a street, when we saw a car approaching us in the distance. But we couldn’t believe our eyes when the car stopped almost twenty metres away from us. We were still hesitant but then the gentleman assisting us on our journey in Canada told us we could cross the street without fear of the car running us over. A car driver could be fined by the police for not complying with traffic rules and one of them happens to be an attempt to run over people at the zebra crossing, he said. Well, we have to learn a thing or two from them! So, I am really hoping the next stop for training of our traffic police should be Canada!

I have been really fortunate to have studied in Loreto Convent in Shillong, a school which honed us on traffic sense, besides other things ofcourse. Our teachers actually took us onto the roads and made sure we looked first to the right, then the left and then the right again before we crossed the road. And we did exactly that! I have been crossing the road in this manner ever since and Tirus, my little sonny boy now knows only too well how to do this! If wishes were horses and I could fly, then I wish children today would be taught about this most important concept in school and also by their parents.

But, in Guwahati, I have tried endless number of times to cross the roads at the zebra crossing and have failed miserably because of the dispassionate attitude of the people driving their SUVs, MUVs, XUVs and what not. Not to forget the overtly stylised bikes with humungous attitudes of their own to match their owners but all the while forgetting that there are other mortals around them who might be hurt by their attitude and their speeding bikes. Nonetheless, it hurts me immensely that the people of my city are so lax about traffic sense, even as they maintain palatial houses and ‘shiny’ cars!

Guwahati would have been so much saner if everyone didn’t behave in a nonsensical manner! But they do and that is one of the reasons for the utter chaos in the city.

As a kid, riding around in my father’s bike was easy as spelling ‘easy’. There were just scant cars on the road and parking was not such a big deal. Today, with more than 300 LMVs sold every day in Guwahati and the hapless and uncivilized driving of the greenhorns, we can only hope and pray that we safely return home to watch the News at 9.

Behaving on the roads has been part taught and part acquired by me. Not that I didn’t have road rage. Ofcourse, I did! But road rage was always for a reason. The reason being rash driving by someone who thinks the road belongs to him alone and someone honking for reasons beyond my perception, even after they see the lights turn red.

So there, you have all sorts of people on the road trying to prove something or the other to God only knows whom. Not that anyone is impressed but they seem to get the so called adrenaline rush all the time they do one of their ‘dirty acts’ and the glee on their faces is unbearable for people like me. And hence the road rage!

But all said and done, the onus lies with the parents to actually teach their children how to behave on the streets and everywhere else. When I speak of parents making their children globalised, it’s not just the ‘global’ education we are talking about. It should mean an all round moulding of his character, by which he will be identified no matter where he goes or what he does. The duties of parents don’t end with just sending their children to a ‘good’ school. It goes beyond that! If we are to turn out good people for the future, then we will have to put our heart and soul, our unstinted dedication and passion into being with our children and creating awareness about the importance of a world, which will be ruled by only the ‘best people’.

Can we think of doing certain things, so that we can set an example for the others?

Teach our children and all others who need to be taught the systematic way to cross the road. “Look right, then left, then right again and then cross the road.”
Stop the car when we see a person trying to cross the road, (doesn’t really matter if they are old or young) so that they can safely cross over.
Stop before the white line of the zebra crossing, so that pedestrians can make proper use of the zebra crossing. It’s not about having a sophisticated car. It’s about how sophisticated one behaves while driving his ‘shiny’ machine.
Try to drive slow and safe. This way we can avert accidents and have a smooth running of the city traffic.
Stop the car when the lights turn red. At least for the sake of calling ourselves globalised citizens, let’s behave like one.
Can we not go against the traffic when we are desperately trying to take a short-cut. If we take the longer way, it will actually save the fuel and save others from going wild about cars coming against the traffic.
As pedestrians too, we have the responsibility to behave in a manner congruent to the road rules. Can we think of crossing the road at a zebra crossing, instead of trying to zig- zag through the traffic and in the process putting our lives in danger, leave alone the scathing remarks of the drivers?
Children are precious and so needs to be protected at any cost. Can we as parents or guardians hold the child going to and fro from school or otherwise towards the left of the road so that we can save them from the onslaught of recklessly speeding cars?
All said and done, the onus lies with each and every one of us to behave in a manner congruent to society. It’s the time when we should stop blaming the system and take it on ourselves to change the system ourselves. Cynicism is passé and boring. People with ideas to bring a change are more interesting. So come on people, stop blaming others and passing the buck! Put on your thinking caps and think of bringing a change, here and now!

Tinat Atif Masood

Tinat Atif Masood

Tinat Atifa Masood is an Actor, Director, Producer, Script-writer, National-level emcee, Voice-over artist, Writer, Poet, Counsellor, Philanthropist, blogger, Dreamer and a lover of people. She is based in Guwahati.