[The latest in my untiring efforts to solve Delhi’s traffic problems – from my Metro Now column]
The first line of a recent news report announced that the Delhi airport was making arrangements to deal with the fog situation. This sounded promising: surely superior lighting systems, landing technology and dispensers would be rushed into use? But no. What the authorities meant was that refreshments would be made available to passengers stranded for 10 hours or more.
Because, you see, that’s what we go to airports for. Not to avail of the most efficient means of travel but for the gastronomic thrill of being handed a Coke can and a soggy samosa at 3 AM by a scowling airline attendant.
A quick glance at the daily papers reveals that our runways have become the perfect setting for a burlesque show. Planes, buses and sundry other vehicles regularly threaten to collide into each other, coach drivers chat on cellphones and suddenly apply brakes, prompting ministers to topple over and sprain their backs. The smog makes it impossible to see anything, even the potholes that lie right at your feet. Hamlet’s father’s ghost could comfortably bed down here, since he wouldn’t even have to worry about being run over. If some of this material were to be woven into a stage comedy, critics would call it exaggerated.
Anyway, the upshot is that there are a lot of planes sitting about in hangars with nowhere to go. Meanwhile, on the city roads outside, Blueline buses continue to slay citizens with impunity. All this brings to my mind a proposal that would serve a double purpose: putting the stranded planes to good use while also giving Blueline drivers a taste of their own medicine.
The idea is inspired by an incident that occurred late one night when a friend and I were in a taxi, and a bus in the perpendicular lane jumped its red light and began to cut across us. It was our right of way, so the cab-driver honked furiously and moved his own car forward, whereupon my friend spoke the profoundest words I have ever heard spoken on a Delhi road:
“Bhai saab,” he told the driver, “Unhein pehle jaane deejiye. Woh hum se bade hain.”
The literal translation “Let him go first. He’s bigger than us” doesn’t adequately convey the tehzeeb of the original sentence, which alludes to respecting one’s elders. This then is the key to driving successfully on Delhi’s roads: don’t bother about the traffic rules, simply defer to all vehicles that are bigger than yours. This is why Blueline buses, being bigger than almost anything else on the roads, are free to break every rule in the book, even to the extent of climbing on to footpaths and dividers that were occupied by living pedestrians just a few seconds earlier.
What’s bigger than a Blueline bus, I ask myself, and the answer comes to mind immediately: an aircraft! So here’s the proposal: take all of Delhi’s Blueline drivers through a special nighttime training course inside the airport premises. The course, a free-for-all, would entail the buses being randomly pursued up and down the runways by all the planes available, much like the dinosaurs chasing the humans in Jurassic Park. Travellers stranded at the airport can watch the show for entertainment and place bets on the chances of this or that bus.
At the end of the programme, the surviving bus drivers can be reinstalled on the city roads. Suffering breeds empathy, so it's likely there will be a decline in incidents of Bluelines nudging small cars off the road. And the airlines can charge their losses to a public service account. Nearly everyone wins.