Thursday, October 4, 2007

Madness and Madras Mainroads

Of course it's not called Madras anymore, at least not officially. It's called Chennai. This change in nomenclature came about some ten years back when the rulers, supposed public representatives supposedly elected to the role by democratic vote, deemed the name 'Madras' to be a hangover of India's colonial past and sought to redress the situation by calling the city 'Chennai', supposedly in chaste Tamil (or 'Tamizh', to be phonetically correct!). Of course, the political mileage that the then rulers got out of this move is in the realms of the regular 'R&I' (i.e., 'Rumor and Innuendo' for those who are not familiar with the short form) and we can just speculate all we want without anyone ever saying that we are wrong or right.

Madras, as I persist to defiantly refer to this city of my birth, is a name I like and as my rant above shows, the change in name hasn't gone down well with me. However, now that I have that out of my system, I think I better get this post back on track before it gets more lost than it already is.

**Looks around to see any familiar landmarks leading to the correct path. Scratches head, scratches two-day-old stubble, turns the map a full 180 degrees in all 3 dimensions, looks around once again...aha! Found it. Trudges back and is finally facing the correct direction**

The only other country I have set foot on, apart from the land of my birth, is the US of A (Oh no, I didn't mean 'country' as in 'country-side' but 'country' as in 'nation'. Sorry about the confusion!). I was in Big Apple and its neighboring New Jersey (Small Apple???) for a little over 2 months with a trip to Washington DC and Dallas, Texas thrown into the mix. And the first thing I thought as I was making my way out of the airport was, 'Wow! Look at the wide roads!’ The last thought, as I was making my way to the airport was also more or less on the same lines. And in between these two, I must have thought that thought a few hundred times. Minimum. When you look at the world map, look at the US of A and then take a look over at India. Compare the size of the two. Now compare the 60+ million head count in the US with the 1+ billion head count in India and the contrast between the two is just compounded further. That will probably give you an idea of why I was wowed by the vast stretches of empty space and wide roads.

This combination of a humongous population and a small land mass can only result in one thing. Cramps. Causing further cramps is the on going economic boom in India and its most visible manifestation - the increased car/SUV/truck population on the roads (a majority of which are poorly maintained). As someone who stays a fair distance away from my office, my daily commute is done using my bike. When I started work some six years back, it used to take me around 20 to 25 minutes of maniacal riding to reach office in one piece. If I didn't mind reaching there in more than one piece I could have made it in 15. Six years hence, it takes me upwards of 45 minutes irrespective of how many of my pieces reach office. And this is when I leave home before the peak hours to escape getting caught in traffic!

As if that was not bad enough, the whole time I am on the road, I need to maintain a 360 degree surveillance of my immediate surroundings to avoid coming into intimate contact with other road users. This includes two legged creatures that choose the moment, when the light turns green for the vehicles, to test their faith in God. And God forbid, a non-serious accident happens, the traffic freezes! The warring parties pitch tent right there at the place where one fender brushed against the other and the rest of the traffic gives them company and moral support by stopping and gawking. For most of the on-lookers, that might be the most interesting part of their day but me, I'd rather be home, acting comatose and staring at the TV.

Before I forget, honorable mention to the umpteen traffic light GPs that take place (yours truly is an active participant in these even though he realizes the futility of racing for a mere 100 meters before stopping at the next signal for a minute and half!). If I want to catch that elusive thing called an 'Empty Stretch of Road', the only option for me is to take part in these mini, spontaneous GPs. Further encouragement to take part in these comes in the form of the long, wide lines of traffic jammed around each signal. Get caught in the middle or the back of these and you can be sure to be looking at the same set of lights for a couple of signal cycles before you get to move ahead.

Me thinks this long rant should end here. Two reasons. I don't think I have anything else to rant about this particular subject. Second, I am feeling sort of light in the head, now that I have un-loaded all this. Finally, if you are reading this particular line, I have just one more thing to say to you - "Dude(tte), you are either very patient or very jobless!!" :)

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