I was stuck. Nothing unusual. It was two days after Diwali, a time when all Indian men are on the streets trying to reach out to their sisters. In any case getting stuck is not uncommon in our country where we share our roads with wayward tractor trolleys, unhinged bullock carts, and holy cows. This time though it was different. The toll was taking its toll or more accurately not taking toll! There was a ‘system failure’ in the toll booth ahead, leading to a long queue of angrily blaring vehicles.
When my driver had taught me the finer nuances of road usage, he told me to choose my lane wisely. As we came down a flyover and the toll plaza came in view, like a seasoned mathematician, he reasoned “If the queue length is equal, opt for the one with longer vehicles ( trucks/ buses/ lorries) as they will be fewer in number. Scrutinise and always prefer a lane in which the boom barrier is raised. It means that the system is working.” Although I didn’t understand it then, I have now realised that the last instruction is invaluable. It is common for booths to be rendered defunct because of some technical fault. This necessitates you to back out of that line and get into the next, a time consuming and frustrating exercise.
Like most people I have also realised that no matter how smartly you choose, your line will be the slowest or at least appear to be. Time never feels so precious, as it does when you are waiting for something over which you have no control. So you can spend an extra fifteen minutes in bed, while away time on social networking sites, watch some inane serial or gossip away on the phone, but those few minutes in a queue affect your productivity as nothing else can.
I usually pass this time grumbling. I could use it constructively, check emails, read messages or just relax but that is not possible. If I don’t move my car the moment the vehicle ahead moves a millimetre there are angry honks from behind. I once got so irritated by the persistent honking that I took out my keys from the ignition, dangled them above my head so that the impatient honker could see them and then pretended to take a nap. It seemed to have made an impression on him because he abstained from blaring the horn after my little mime.
Coming back to my narrative, that day instead of looking at my watch I looked outside my window. Since I was in a state of ‘rest’ the other vehicles passed me like the frames of a slow motion film. Observing the occupants I tried to surmise their stories. The first car had a man and woman, sitting together, worlds apart. Must be a much married couple, having exhausted all forms of conversation, they now communicated through noisy silences, uncomfortable, intrusive silences. The next had a group of youngsters, all busy on their phones. Disconnected from their surroundings, trying to connect with people who were elsewhere. There was a family in the next car, a harried mother, a preoccupied father and two boisterous children. Noticing that I was watching the boy stuck out his tongue, as did I. This shocked him. He should have known. I have been there and done that half a century ago! The car following it had a multitasking woman painting her nails. Trust a woman to make the best of any situation, a slow moving car included. I would have noticed some more action around me and reported back. But sadly, the car ahead started moving indicating that the system had been rectified and it was time to move on.
Why am I writing about something so inconsequential and wasting your precious time ? What’s the point of my story, you want to know. Actually nothing, except to emphasise that in this life full of care, we can still find time to stand and stare!
( carried in the Tribune on 9/11/2019 as a part of my column)