Roads are not just stretches of cement that you travel on to go to a place.
You spend considerable amount of your time on them. They make you choose your time of travel, the vehicle you will mount, and how long you will take to reach your destination.
Riding on a road is not a task, it is an experience.
Advertisements give us many reasons to enjoy the experience. Some are talking about the sublime feeling of cruising on a marble carpet, whereas the others are talking about everyday realities like a frugal engine and fuel saving. While Priyanka Chopra asks us why only boys should have fun, there are others asking you to Feel Like God.
But this is where reality strikes.
If you are Salman Khan, you can run over a few people and still continue being human. For the others, however, you could be the Monthly Policeman Gift Provider if you don’t watch the road.
In terms of absolute numbers, India has the most number of accidents in the world. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that of the total 3,90,884 accidents that took place last year, the majority were Road Accidents – a whopping 35% of all accidents. The report throws no light on the large number of people who slit their wrists after watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan, but one assumes they fall under the ‘Other Unnatural Causes’ category.
Tamil Nadu and Goa have the largest number of road accidents. Goa, one can assume is because of all the booze flowing around. And Tamil Nadu, because as Rohit Shetty will tell you in his next film, is full of dhoti clad men who wear moustaches and drive Tata Sumos that are flying in the air.
Not surprisingly, Bhubaneswar doesn’t rank in the list of places with the most accidents. And I am sure I know why.
Bhubaneswar has bureaucratic roots. It did not happen because the Portuguese wanted to set up a city with a port. Neither did it happen because a Mughal ruler wanted a holiday home in the summers.
Bhubaneswar was commissioned as the capital city when it was clear (even 60 years ago) that Cuttack will not be able to handle the pressure of the bulls, and the politicians of the state at the same time. Bhubaneswar was planned as the new capital and an architect was assigned to design the town.
The roads of Bhubaneswar are not clammy or narrow. They are wide and well planned. A National Highway (NH-5) runs through the town, and the other roads are reasonably wide and airy. Unlike their bigger brethren, traffic jams here don’t really last for more than ten minutes, as research has shown that it takes about six minutes to shoo away an animal from the road.
That is during the day. In the nights, the roads adopt a different character. They are not just symbolic of the journey of life. They are teachers of ancient wisdom. Wisdom that Ashwatthama learnt aeons ago, in the Mahabharata.
The wisdom that if you can’t save your ass, you are going to be dead meat.
Flyovers are pretty much the in-thing on the roads of Bhubaneswar.
Every popular traffic spot has now been converted into a circular formation of vehicles, above which there is a flyover to reduce the congestion.
The flyover that connects Jaydev Vihar to Acharya Vihar on the NH-5 has been placed right in the middle of the town. In the night, one gets a view of the entire city, snaking its way towards development, with all the white and red lights from vehicles forming a gigantic, shiny snake.
This place is a favourite for photographers, who often line up to get a good shot of the town. It’s also a favourite for people who like to answer nature’s call, while they’re feeling on top of the world.
But the flyover also has another striking feature. None of the lights on it work.
The lights stand in the middle of the flyover, like gigantic shoots of bamboo that have curved arches on either side. They stand and watch the night pass by, but they will not flutter and come to life. Passive observers.
And this is true of other roads as well.
Of course, I mean other roads where normal mortals live. The roads in front of the Chief Minister and Governor’s residence are well lit. In fact, a trip to their abodes in the night might make someone think it is Diwali, with the sparkling rows of different light that pepper the path.
But for lesser mortals, the roads are teaching you life lessons. Because, I guess once you’ve become a politician, you have already learnt everything there is to learn.
Pick any road in Khandagiri, or Nayapalli, or roads inside colonies, and try to observe what is going on.
It will be difficult, of course, because the lights don’t work. But look closely, and you will find men, women, and children learning to negotiate the challenges that the roads are throwing at them. The vehicles are cutting through darkness, giving the commuter the heady high of a jungle safari, within the confines of an urban space.
And then, just when you have made your peace with the lights, Mother Cow comes into the picture.
I am sure if someone did some research on the number of cowsheds present in different states, Orissa would rank at the bottom of the list.
Because all the cows are out on the streets. On every street, on every road, there will be a corner where the cows come to hang out.
And the cows are not simply sitting by the side of the road. They are sitting in the middle, facing backwards, almost mockingly. Challenging you to do something about it. If you can. Knowing that you can’t.
I have always believed that you can see how comfortable an animal is with human beings by looking at its reaction to humans. Dogs on the streets are generally ready to scamper if someone comes near them, probably because they have been pelted all through their lives.
Cows, I think, have understood after all these years in India, that they’re a privileged lot. That they provide milk and meat and are worshipped at regular intervals and that there are 33 crores of Gods on their bodies.
So comfortable have they gotten with their stardom, that they are out on the roads, strutting it out in front of human beings.
Now, dogs and cows don’t generally get along with each other. But here, you will find two dogs lying on the road with a group of cows. They have both understood and accepted that they are cohabitants of the road, and they lay their head down to rest once the sun sets.
And then, of course there are the regulars. Godmen in the garb of mortals who are helping you along your path to spirituality in their own little way.
Like those two friends who will ride next to each other on the road, consuming half the road, while talking about crucial things like the boobs of a girl who just crossed them. Or the contractor who has lovingly used inferior quality supplies so that you learn from the potholes about the ups and downs of life.
Like the cyclist whose cycle has no light or indicator or a bell – teaching you that sometimes it is necessary to surrender to a higher power. Or the drunk man who is stumbling along to the other side of the road where the grass is greener. Or the little kid who darts across the road – a reminder that one has to pursue the smaller things in life. Even when there is a fucking truck coming from the other side in top gear.
They are all important life lessons. It is like a reality show where you take part. If you succeed, you reach home and live out another day. If you don’t, well, Game Over.
So while you are riding on the roads of Bhubaneswar, you are not going from one place to another. You are constantly challenging yourself, you are becoming a better rider.
It is a journey within a journey.