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Caught in a jam

We have a lot of festivals in India, all of which celebrate our myriad gods and goddesses. Except Halloween, which celebrates the fact that you went to an IB school and then went abroad to study, only to return more annoying than ever before. We have Navratri (or as they call it in Bengal, ‘Kahaani’) which celebrates the goddess Durga. We have Dussera, which celebrates the end of Raavana, and we have Diwali, which marks the time that Lord Rama ended his exile and returned to Vijay Sales for BEST EVER OFFER ON LCD TV (PLUS FREE DVD PLAYER THAT WILL EXPLODE WHEN YOU TURN IT ON FREE).

But in the end, all these festivals celebrate deities that lead back to one true god. Which got me wondering, who is this one true god? Surely, it would have to be an entity that represents something that all these festivals have in common. This has, in logical fashion, led me to believe that India’s one true god is the traffic jam.

It’s pretty charitable to call what we have “traffic”. Because the term traffic implies that you have an orderly, but slightly large collection of cars that make travel slower than it should be. Ours is a bit more… apocalyptic. What we have is an unending sea of metal, gasoline fumes and lifestyle diseases. I can’t even describe our traffic as Brownian motion, because that would imply movement. The reason we don’t have an Indian version of 24 is because season one would just be hours of footage of Jack Bauer honking at people at Milan Subway.


Traffic therapy: We spend so much time in traffic that it’s facilitated an entire retail industry of people who walk past selling you things, because they know you have the time

When I was a kid, nothing gave me greater joy than the evenings on which my parents said the five magic words “let’s go for a drive”. Drives meant ice-cream, cold-drinks, and cruising down Marine Drive with the windows down at the death-defying top-speed of 50 kmph that our Premier Padmini (and my mother’s blood-pressure) could handle. But that was then. Today, by the time traffic clears out enough to make driving a pleasure, (in South Mumbai, that’s 11 pm, in Marol, it’s 3987 A.D, when the sun goes nova and destroys Earth) it’s way past most children’s bed-time. If a child asked me to take him for a drive in 2012, I’d just knock him out and sell him on eBay. The only difference between peak and non-peak hours is that one has the word “non” in it.

Mumbai has an even odder problem. Do we have too many cars? Yes. Do people drive badly? Yes. But our roads make things worse. Mumbai’s roads look like somebody had an epileptic fit while playing with LEGO. Everybody in this city has at least once in their life crawled through traffic for hours, only to find that it’s been caused by nothing but a giant scar in the road that everyone had to slow down to cross. We spend so much time in traffic that it’s facilitated an entire retail industry of people who walk past selling you things, because they know you have the time to buy them. There’s a reason they sell you books, peanuts and cellphone chargers at signals; the three things form a survival kit. You know why Hindus invented re-incarnation? It’s because they know you’ll need two of your nine lives just to make it past Saki Naka.

If we had better roads, we’d spend less time in traffic. Not more roads, not new roads, just better-laid existing roads. Except we won’t get better roads, because these things are decided by politicians, people who don’t actually ever spend any time in traffic. This is why corruption annoys me; as a politician, you already get to travel in zero-traffic. You’re not allowed any more perks. You should have to worship at the altar of traffic, for it is our one true god. It exhibits all the properties of a good god; it is unmerciful, ever-lasting, and the number one cause of pointless violence. I want to move to the mountains and be an atheist now. I’m going to stop now. Because I think we may finally be moving. If I play my cards right, I may even get home today.

Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi

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