The reform stemmed from a minor altercation, the type that is ‘ ghar ghar ki kahani. I had rebuked my nephew and he had talked back. He was driving and I was in the critic’s seat. He went around a roundabout, the wrong way and I admonished him. When I persisted, dismissing the usual excuses ‘it is a deserted road’ and ‘ no one’s watching’ he raised a soul searching question. He asked me which way I turned when I got on to the main road after leaving the house. I knew I was on rapidly melting thin ice and sheepishly said, “Right” knowing that it was wrong. He smiled victoriously and said, “ Bas” which in the present context means “ That’s it, end of conversation!”
My house is so located that when I emerge on the main road if I take the wrong side I just need to cross two houses to reach the roundabout and continue on the lawfully right side. The right way to do it would be to turn left, pass ten houses and take the intersection further up the road. So to be a truly law abiding citizen I need to drive an extra six hundred meters, something which till then I found unnecessary.
It’s not that I habitually evade the law. Everyday when I leave my clinic I have the choice of taking the wrong side across six shops or the right side across fifteen. This somehow has never posed a dilemma. I always do the right thing and turn left, although most of our visitors take the shortcut and turn right. So to my ‘righteous’ mind it is okay to cross two houses on the wrong side but not okay to cross six shops.
After the squabble I began to notice that everyone has his own definition of ‘thodha sa wrong’. I once asked a passerby for directions to a hotel and he told me to take ‘ thodha sa wrong side’ after going under the flyover. It turned out to be half a kilometre of driving like an imbecile facing honking cars and derisive looks. But perhaps in my pathfinder’s mind it was acceptable practice.
Thodha sa wrong comes in all shapes and sizes on our roads. So we see people backing up on busy highways, caution lights flashing, because they missed an exit by a few hundred meters. Vehicles speeding through a red light because they missed the green by a few seconds. Rickshaws, trucks and trolleys with iron rods and beams precariously jutting out, a cautionary red cloth hanging at the end, because the vehicle is just a ‘wee bit’ small.
After much thought I decided to do the right thing and turn left when I left home. For the first few days every cell of my argumentative Indian body resisted the idea. I kept on calculating the extra fuel and extra time I was wasting on the extra meters. Gradually I realised that it wasn’t much. With time the urge to skimp decreased and after a couple of weeks the route became a habit. I could do it automatically, without thinking.
I still feel that if something like ‘ thodha sa wrong’ exists, my fifty meter dash across two houses is a very strong contender. But the truth is there is nothing like ‘ a little wrong’. What is wrong is wrong is wrong, irrespective of the magnitude. It took me a few weeks to realise this. It might take you a couple of days or months or you might already be doing it right. In any case like all other skills this too can be learnt and the more we practice the better we become.
The benefit of this exacting behaviour …safer roads!
( carried in the Hindustan Times on 15/9/2019)