A diet of outrage and anger
We are losing our ability to stay calm, which affects everything from our interactions with strangers to relationships with friends
I took a few moments this week to try and think about road rage. It is now a term that crops up often, in the form of newspaper reports or casual conversations with family members. No one bats an eyelid anymore, when told about seemingly normal men and women assaulting fellow travellers on the street. What was once something we only heard about (check with your parents for proof) has now become commonplace, because we have accepted it.
Here is a sample of headlines revealed by a Google search: 'Road rage turns to robbery and assault at a city red light', 'Man beaten to death in front of his kids following a minor bike collision', 'Delhi people keep steel rods in cars', 'Traffic constable mowed down for doing his duty', 'Actress beaten on the streets in peak traffic', 'Armed with steel rods and guns, six drunk men beat up family after rear-ending their car', and 'Parking space fight punctuated by gunshots'.
I thought about the possibility of any of these headlines making an appearance during my childhood or youth. No similar incidents came to mind. It wasn't the events alone that shocked me though, or the sheer number of examples that filled page after page online. It was the nonchalance with which they had been accepted as part of everyday life in India. It was the realisation that we now travelled with knots of anger in our systems, ready to burst out at the slightest provocation, unperturbed by the possibility of this being aberrant in any way. What ought to have been anomalies had finally become conventional.
These 'knots of anger' don't just make their presence felt to drivers on our streets. They exist in varying degrees among the rest of us too. They manifest themselves in vicious shoves at railway stations, unwarranted acts of aggression at local markets, and pointless threats at building society meetings.
Nostalgia has an annoying habit of masking unsavoury aspects of our past, and I recognise the risk of assuming we were once placid people untroubled by these acts of public anger. And yet, I can't ignore the fact that commuting to college a couple of decades ago simply wasn't as stressful as any trip I make to any part of Bombay today. I travelled second class, from the suburbs to Marine Lines, managed to find a seat, read a book to and fro, and didn't dread the experience the night before. Today, I can take a bus, train, drive a private vehicle or use an app to have someone drive me, and still be miserable before setting out because I know the commute will exhaust me.
We are no longer calm people because our successive governments have denied us access to silence and personal space. We have no public parks to unwind in, unplanned construction has shrunk arterial roads to half their size and swallowed up minor lanes completely, our public transport systems have failed, and all promises of development disappear within months of an election result. Left to our own devices, denied transparency and accountability, we have been given no choice but to turn on each other.
Things don't seem much different in private either, in case you haven't noticed. Our frustration towards incompetent governance has been diverted towards rabid jingoism. Those of us who manage to stay calm in public now explode in private, attacking family, friends or anyone who dares to voice an opinion different from our own. Even as our ability to ask questions of people we elect to power is being systematically taken away from us, we are being encouraged to ask everyone else for answers. Paying the price for this belligerence are journalists, activists, actors, women, minorities, or anyone who appears to have a set of beliefs that doesn't match our own in any way.
It would be nice to stay calm. Imagine being polite to strangers, for instance, and what a difference that would make to our day. The commute would still be harrowing, of course, but at least we would know that an incompetent and corrupt municipal corporation was to blame, rather than an innocent fellow passenger. I worry about how we are angrier than ever, in ways that horrify those who have lived in more peaceful times. We once had communal riots interspersed with years of peace. Now, every day comes with a dose of unwarranted aggression. Our quality of life continues to deteriorate, but we are too angry to notice.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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