“Hey, Mister, can I offer you a lift? I know…..you’re Geoff.
I met you at the reception last night. Of course you won’t remember me, I’m part of the large family you were introduced to………….but I know you are staying with my sister in law. You do? I’m surprised, yes, I looked very different, but this is how I look when I go to work.
You’re going to Esplanade to check out the old buildings? That’s nice, but it’s a long walk……Yes, hop in, I’m on my way to Court and you can always walk back if you feel you have the constitution for it. Make yourself comfortable, put on the seat belt…….would you like to adjust the ac settings? Please feel free to do so.
This is not a very big road, but its quite busy. Ah. You wonder why all the cars are slowing down, there’s a temple here, and a lot of people say ‘good morning’ before going on their way….there, see? That’s Kali, do you know anything about her? Uh, what, opposite? Oh that’s a new religious place they’ve made, it’s a little intimidating isn’t it, with all those saffron flags. No, no, Hinduism is a very tolerant religion; it’s only that like in every religion, we too have a bunch of fanatics running about creating the wrong impressions. Don’t worry about it, at least not here in Calcutta.
Traffic, well traffic is a bit crazy here, as you will see. It’s just that the number of cars have quadrupled over the years, every family today has two or three cars, and the variety, makes and models available today just encourage further vehicular traffic on the road. The roads themselves seem to have shrunk with the load of steadily increasing traffic and constructions for ‘tomorrows gain’. You’re lucky the route I take will not pass any construction sites, its just that now, ahead of the elections, everyone is suddenly very concerned with ambitious construction projects which seem to promise that to get from anywhere to anywhere there will be so many flyovers, that we shall never have to touch terra firma! But until then we have the pleasure of endless traffic jams, potholes and road diversions. Ah, those big yellow cars, they are taxis. Oh, you know? They are a nuisance, either way …. When they have passengers, they drive rashly only veering left or right (without a signal of course) at the mere whim of the passenger…or worse, stop suddenly without any warning. There, see what I mean? That’s only because the passenger told him to stop and the passenger obviously, is God! And see that other cab? It’s empty ……..when they have no passenger, they cruise, speeding up now and then without any warning. If they spot what they think is a prospective passenger they again slow down just as abruptly….you can mutter and curse all you want, they are unperturbed. Oh, how I love it when there is a taxi strike…it means the traffic is one third of what it is on any other day. I realize a lot of people are inconvenienced but I happily choose to ignore them!!!!! No, no, I don’t feel sorry for the common people, I’ll never make a politician! And just because we live in West Bengal does not mean we are all leftists!
Then see there, a lot of people have chauffeurs, only here we call them drivers, often they have a cell phone attached to the ear as they try to weave in from the left to take a right turn. You see? Of course in that car ahead of us has decided to disgorge some passengers in the middle of the road while this motorcycle is going to squeeze past hopefully only scratching my rear view mirror and not making a dent…..would you stick your hand out and fold it in, shit, too late ……HEY, what the hell. Well, damn you too! It’s quite a mess, isn’t it?
What is what? Ah those, yes, I see, I guess they do look a bit like cages on a cart…those are ferrying school children to and from school. Yes. I agree it’s pathetic and dangerous, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that not everyone can afford better and at least the children do go to school. Well, accidents do happen, everyone raises a hue and cry but then they forget and life goes on. Don’t tell me you are shocked, in a poor country like ours there are worse things that happen…at least these kids are getting an education and off the streets!!! And don’t forget, these are not street children, they come from homes where possibly both parents are struggling to make ends meet and keep up with the payments……..
Yes, yes, you’re right, this is a hospital zone, yes, well it’s supposed to be a silent area, no honking. But then here people seem to think honking is their birthright. They’d be lost without a horn, stop laughing, it’s not funny. They honk all the time… the din is unbearable. They honk to get ahead, they honk when they are angry, they honk while picking their noses, they honk when they have nothing to do, they honk because its something to do! But let it not un nerve you…..you’ll get used to the noise. Now we also have the buses that think they own the road and the lone cyclist who thinks he has the right to go the other way in one-way traffic! Yes, that’s the Victoria memorial, pretty, isn’t it? Yes, it’s open. Damn! Did you see that? That bloody matador (pardon my French!) stopped for the horse carriage….yes, we have those here too, it’s very touristy. See that guy trying to cross the road with a mere wave of the hand? Ridiculous, I tell you; it’s crazy and see that cop? Desperately trying to control the traffic with hand movements that look vaguely similar to a classical Indian dance form! Can’t blame him, in rush hour this place goes berserk!
And that’s the Race Course. It’s better you see that and not gape at that guy who slowed down, opened his door and spit a wad of paan juice on the street! If you ask me, spitting is a national pastime…….. do you feel sick? There’s water in the back somewhere. No? And of course everyone wants to go first. No one is willing to wait even a second! And they weave in an out of lanes sometimes straddling two and turn at random, one would think the lane markers on the road are only to break the monotony of the dull gray road surface!!!!
And in case this is not enough, weaving in and out we have, yes, look, the pedestrians. Pedestrians in Calcutta are a unique breed. They cross, they walk, they stop when they want, they move, they command and then they turn to show their temper. Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t expect them to walk all the way to the corner of the street when the place they want to go is just across! It is a crime to expect a pedestrian at the zebra crossing; it’s unheard of that they shall wait for the walk sign or use the pedestrian over bridge to cross over and of course its ridiculous to expect them to confine themselves to the pavement! Yes, yes, you have to swerve, curse and stop suddenly for them for often they are talking on their phones and cannot hear you or worse, listening to the radio on their headphones. Bloody nuisance I say!!!
Ah, this is Red Road……and that’s Shahid Minar on the right. Those are the football clubs on the left and that’s Eden Gardens out there. Look at all the people, there must be a rally in the afternoon, you better be back soon then, or you’ll get caught in the crowd. You like crowds….yuk, wait till you’ve lived here long enough…you’re crazier than I thought!
I turn left here, GPO is straight on……damn, did you see that stupid woman trying to run across? She’ll get herself killed! That’s the Assembly on the right…..
There, that’s the High Court, lovely old building isn’t it?
If you go to the end of that road that way you’ll be at the Governor’s house, lovely old building. And take a left, just keep going straight and you’ll be at the GPO in about 5 minutes!
What, you’re not listening, stop looking like that. This is how I park. In fact this sea of cars are all parked here like this and this is how it will stay till evening. Of course there’s a lane for cars that want to pass….. where else do you expect us to keep our cars? Go on, laugh……..Don’t look so shocked and no please don’t take pictures here, it’s embarrassing! Anyway, I’m off then, yes, yes, it was a pleasure…anytime. Catch you later!!”