Tuesday, December 17, 2013

      It Takes a Two wheeler to ‘Bang’alore

Two wheeler deity or Dwichakreshwara
One fine morning if I find a temple built as such on any pavement (where else would you find Gods nowadays?) in Bangalore, I would be least amused, to say the least! A two wheeler is just like an alter ego, or better, an avatar of every Bangalorean! More often than not any art director worth his paint (or an event anchor) would cite Vidhana Soudha as the most common icon of Bangalore. I for one beg to differ. For me it is the two-wheeler.  A two-wheeler is to the Bangaloreans, what a local train is to the Mumbaikars. The Bangaloreans ride on it, pride on it, live on it and sadly, die on it! Nothing, nothing they read, see or feel about global warming seems to have made any dent on their mind-set. It is a prosthetic limb of their anatomy-detachable when one wants! Or unless and until a TW says no to a Bangalorean, he or she just won’t kick it off. It is their better-half. Even for distances a stroll would do, they love to take their TW out. And they never want to lose a chance to curse others for the mess they are in and they too are responsible for! ‘What a traffic’ is the signature tune of every serial TW rider, no matter what the brand is.

Adding to the paradoxes we are quite comfortable with, in modern times, here are these Bangaloreans descending at the entrance of Lalbagh, the sprawling acres and acres of botanical gardens, in the wee hours every morning. Fueled as they are by a noble mission of maintaining their fitness, they prefer to take a morning walk amidst verdant greenery. But how? At what cost? Reaching Lalbagh by a car or a two-wheeler!  They don’t mind polluting rest of the Bangalore, that too in the twilight hours, when the non-walkers can afford to have some ounces of ozone! It never dawns on them that the lesser they ride their two-wheelers or drive their cars, the more the entire Bangalore would be like Lalbhag! That, they add their share of the mess, to the early morning traffic woes of other duty bound workers and employees is a different matter altogether. So, what matters for them, is their health, and not the health of Bangalore! If they are fit, so would be the world, seems to be their dictum. They give no two hoots to issues like automobile pollution etc etc! They are the morning-park- walkers and walking on the road all the way to Lalbhag is infra-dig for them. How about cycling all the way to Lalbhag and back home, in the morning? Any takers?

In a way I too belong to the fraternity of TW owners. Note that I said ‘owners’ and not riders since I am one of the most passive and dispassionate riders in the metro. I ride it not feeling great but feeling victimized by a public transport system that is hopelessly haphazard, inadequate and poor.  I bought and rode it feeling as reluctant as I felt when I met with some minor accidents later, which some of my acquaintances brushed aside as too common, only next to mosquito bites. The day I rode it I realized what it means to ride a tiger. There is something like peer-pressure transforming as wheeler-pressure! You own it, you ride it. It is as simple as that! In the beginning, whenever I used to opt for a walk, glad as I was, relieved of my newly acquired nuisance, people in the know were eager to know whatever had happened to my gaadi! ‘Did you give it for servicing?’ ‘Not working?’ The apparent tone underlying those remarks was just this- ‘why walk when you own a vehicle!’ Never did I know that I was supposed to flaunt it as a status symbol, admittedly a very negligible one at that, yet a symbol it is, and why walk like the ordinary when it symbolizes one’s transition from the fraternity of mere walkers to that of riders.

 In Bangalore a mere walker is the one for whom the city roads are just the despicable manifestation of our legendary bureaucracy, chronic corruption  and a civic sense that is abysmally low,  whereas a rider is the one who invariably has a brush with the roads to the hell per se! An almost dysfunctional or chaotic public transport system forces a middle class Bangalorean to beg, borrow or steal a two-wheeler to survive in the cut-throat competition and then only he or she realizes that an even more daunting task is ahead. The roads! A day may come when India finds cure for AIDS but not for its roads! It is a curse. It is a karma we stoically endure. On several occasions the auto drivers in Bangalore have stayed off the roads citing a number of reasons for their action. Bad roads have never been one of them. The very auto-drivers plunge into a brawl with the passengers at the drop of a hat-as if the passengers are to blame for all their woes. But the roads are like Gods! May be Shani (Saturn) took the avatar of roads in India in Kaliyuga it seems. So they can’t confront the roads face to face! When an organized lot like autowaallas do not raise the banner of revolt against the system responsible for bad roads where is the question of the poor two-wheeler riders doing it? Hence caught in the vortex are the TW riders in the most happening city. It lives up to its sobriquet The Silicon (Valley) City of India, like a tee! Come monsoon, with the riders, drivers and a few divers negotiating on the puddles of water across the valleys one passes for roads, the city gets a new tag line ‘the adventure sport-lovers’ delight’!        

Still I feel I owe a lot to my two-wheeler for all those defining moments it blessed me with. How elated I felt amidst a traffic snarl, to join the club of an enlightened few, who know what Einstein meant by his ‘space-time continuum’. Amidst traffic that negates its very dictionary meaning, keeping my fingers crossed and just whiling away, realizing that when nothing moves, time too just follows suit! Or watching some two-wheelers slithering towards the side ways, it dawned on me what Edward De Bono means when he explains parallel thinking et al. How amusing! The very two-wheelers that rule the roads simply do not mind getting edged out to the margins as cleverly in a traffic snarl!
Most of the two-wheeler riders in Namma Bengaluru break-traffic rules in gay abandon. They go footloose on footpaths. Like classic cases of colour-blindness, they jump red-signals. They do away with one ways and the stunts they practice on roads may give a run to the stunt masters of Bond flicks! Road, for them, is a level playing field. For every notorious ‘killer BMTC (city bus)’ on the prowl, there are at least a dozen two-wheeler riders on a ‘suicide mission’. So the combination is as deadly! Some even lay down their lives to set an example for other dare-devils. ‘Ride carefully, lest others who follow me would do so to the grave’-seems to be the epitaph they deserve or desire to have.

Even the rule, making helmets compulsory, has miserably failed to act as a deterrent. Some sport their bare-heads in bold display of their defiance. Some sling it from their arms, some place them snuggly in the rear…one finds them everywhere except where they are supposed to be, as if to drive away some evil spirits like practicing some voodoo! Most curse the albatross. But ride, they will! Some subscribe to the theory that helmets lead to hair-loss. So they are ready to place hair over head, literally! Head injury is fine whereas bald-head injury is a strict no-no for them! For a generation that swears by the slogan ‘no mobile, no way’, ignoring a mobile call or SMS alert is out of question-even if it is actually Yama ( God of Death) himself calling. Since it is quite irritating to take a call with helmet on, they simply keep the helmet anywhere in the two-wheeler so as to wear it the moment they spot a traffic police. So a helmet placed somewhere in the two-wheeler saves them from the traffic police at least.
The mess, soberly termed as traffic just hit to a new low with the mobile menace. As if holding an advanced license to do some aerobics, one finds some high performing riders calling on their mobiles, fiercely gesturing, gyrating, fuming…some even skillfully texting…leaving one wondering what they would have done over ten years ago when mobiles were not around!    

On Bangalore roads another strange phenomenon one encounters is the luggage two-wheelers  carry every day. The size of the two-wheeler is inversely proportional to the luggage it is burdened with! For many, it is their life-line indeed! From the mobile tea-vendors to the distributors of cigarettes, chips and other crunchy eatables the two-stroke two-wheelers are simply gifts of God! The low-priced vehicle is a boon many an entrepreneur who toils on the roads.
When not carrying luggage, one finds these two-wheelers carrying an entire family against which the luggage they carry is quite negligible in size. Happy lots! Whoever doubts the saying ‘money can’t buy happiness’ have not seen them at all.  

    And there are others waiting in the wings to add their share to this tragedy of errors. If it is not the never-ending works by the Namma Metro, who have arrogated to themselves the right to finish the ‘work’ done by the BBMP, that is, damaging the roads already in shambles, there are the other big ‘Bs’ like BWWSSB, BESCOM etc etc who get some vicarious pleasure in digging a newly asphalted road overnight to spring an unpleasant surprise to the riders. One fine morning one is greeted with board on the road displaying the message ‘Work in progress- take diversion’.
Grinning and bearing it the rider takes a diversion not knowing where he is heading! Only to find the conspicuously missing traffic police appear at the other end, demanding money from the rider for enlightening one about the fact that the street is actually a one-way!

  The total number of two-wheelers registered in Bangalore has reached a mind-boggling 24.13 lakh.  (as revealed by the RTO, to ‘ Deccan Herald’ reported on the 24th of November 2013) According to ‘The Times of India,’ the Primary Abstract of the Census of India 2011, released on Thursday, puts the city's population at 96,21,551 — a growth of 47.18% during 2001-2011. Supposing some 3,80,000 were added from 2011to 2013 (by births to migration) we are today a formidable 1crore. On a rough estimate, every 5th Bangalorean owns a two-wheeler.“On an average, 353 new cars and 1372 new bikes joined the city’s slow-moving traffic every day in 2016, taking the total number of vehicles to 66.65 lakhs”- Chiranjeevi Kulkarni ( Deccan Herald 23-02-2017)

Let’s see how it is in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. Referring to the Times’ website, we come to know that in the present financial year, the two-wheeler population has crossed 12 lakh and is expected to touch 12.33 lakh by March-end. It is half of that in Bangalore.
Now, what is Mumbai’s population? It is the most populous city in India and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan population of approximately 20.5 million –(as put in Wikipedia) . So in Mumbai there are around 12 lakh two-wheelers for about 2.5 crore people. On a rough estimate, every 21st Mumbaikar owns a two-wheeler. I am no statistician. So my estimates might have gone a tad bit wrong. Point  taken. But just comparing the figures, one can surmise that there’s something puzzling about the concentration of two-wheelers found in Bangalore vis-à-vis that in Mumbai.
The needle of suspicion points to the poor public transport system. ‘They have local trains you know, what do we have? Once metro gets done…’ would be a standard retort of every Bangalorean.
Deep down there’s an even more serious melody pointing to our attitude. Our attitude of finding quick fix, individualistic  solutions for civic issues. Mosquito menace? Try coils or repellents and start worrying about their side-effects. No power? Buy a UPS or a generator! So if the public transport leaves much to be desired, desire for a two-wheeler! As far as I know and to the best of my knowledge, Bangalore had never witnessed any mass agitation demanding a better mass rapid public transportation- make no mistakes about that! Metro was actor and visionary Late Shankar Nag’s dream anyway, not of the masses!

The middle class feel like trishanku in Hindu mythology, that is, a situation like ‘neither here nor there’. One runs short of money, yet keeps chasing pipe-dreams. Balancing act is all that’s there to life and that is how the middle class ride the task-balancing between the fantasies and realities. Advaitha (simply means ‘no-two’) as a philosophy is good, good for books, discourses and sermons. We, the people of Bangalore, go by the ‘dvaitha’ (‘two’-wheeler) philosophy. If that reminds someone about ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ well, more about that, next time. ‘Happy riding’, till we meet again.