Such are the many transgressions of vehicle-drivers on Delhi roads that we sometimes lose sight of the rule-flouting done by pedestrians. These are the people who are most at risk and you’d think they would know this - but no, they walk out into heavy traffic, arms extended, confident that passing drivers will do whatever needs to be done to extend their lives, and forgetting that when you're driving in Delhi, the killer instinct is much more potent than the saviour instinct. So it was good to see recent newspaper coverage about jaywalkers being randomly hauled up and fined for not heeding traffic signals. (Never mind that it was a one-day initiative, like most other public-safety measures, and that we will never hear about it again.)
This strikes a chord because one evening a few weeks ago I was driving from South Extension towards the Ashram flyover at a speed not exceeding 55 km/hr when a young boy sprang out from behind a bush on the divider, two metres in front of my car. That this boy still has all his limbs intact (and is no doubt using them to jaywalk about the city even as you read this) can be attributed to the following:
a) I slammed the brake as hard as I could (in the process jeopardizing my own safety since it was a busy road and there might have been another car racing along just behind me; thankfully there wasn’t),
b) The panic-stricken youngster slipped and skidded about in such a way (the movements are too convoluted to describe, just think of a drunken tap dancer on fast-forward) that most of his lower body (still attached to the upper half) ended up on the right side of the car rather than the front – thus saving his kneecaps from being mashed into fine powder,
c) Since most of his upper body was flailing about atop the bonnet, he might easily have fractured an arm at least, but he had some textbooks in his hand, which he reflexively thrust at the windshield in a much-too-literal rendition of the “Knowledge is Power” theme. The impact left the laminated glass on my side of the windshield bent inwards in a stylish concave design (it looked so cool, like someone had fired a bullet at the car from a distance, that I briefly considered not getting it replaced; with winter smog around the corner, visibility wasn’t going to be a factor anyway).
The whole thing makes for a good dinner-table story now (especially when I exaggerate it to include the passing UFO that sucks the boy up after the incident and carries him away for a research project on Single Brain-Celled Humans), but that doesn’t detract from how badly it could have turned out. With just a little less luck, or one extra misstep, this kid would be dead (his family no doubt wailing to the newspapers the next day that he was an upstanding citizen who could never think of doing anything remotely irresponsible) and I would be asking the prison authorities for Wi-fi so I could write this post from my cell. It’s a scary thought, because who ever heard of Wi-fi in an Indian prison?