Sunday, February 20, 2011

An evening of mixed fare

A couple of nights ago, I had a wonderful experience performing at Mahabalipuram with some other dancers. Five of us, dancers from the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts, students of Chitra Visweswaran, had been invited to perform at a conference for cardiologists and thoracic surgeons. None of us minded the inordinate delay in beginning the performance that evening, since we were on the seashore, watching the orange orb of a sun setting on one side even as a full moon rose on the other, over the sea, like a shimmering silver coin bringing news of abundance.

This blogpost is not about the performance, but about the drive back from Mahabalipuram. The driving was unbelievably rash. On both the drives to and from Mahabalipuram, our drivers, on hire from a travel agency for this conference, we,re extremely reckless. Their style basically, was to rush through any available stretch of the road at great speeds while honking continuously, then come to a sudden halt in front of whatever vehicle was in front of us, honk non-stop until he or she gave us way. The driver who took us to Mahabalipuram was sort of polite, so he obliged me after I requested him, for the third time, to drive slowly. The person who drove us back was a notch over the earlier driver when it came to rash driving. It was past 10 pm, and it was alarming the way we were being driven along the East Coast Road from Mahabalipuram to Thiruvanmiyur, a stretch that witnesses more than its share of accidents.

I must have requested him at least a dozen times to slow down. For the first few times, he smiled and made an appearance of slowing down, only to pick up mindless speed minutes later. After that, my requests met with a patronizing advice not to be scared. Then I had to be firm. I have personally known people who have either been fatally injured or killed in accidents on the ECR. Besides, I felt it need not even be about the possibility of an accident. Rash driving puts the passengers on a weird anxiety mode, and if they request the driver to slow down, he should consider it. With the risk of getting into an unpleasant argument, I told him firmly to slow down right away. He refused! He said that he knew what he was doing. I told him we did not care about that, we just wanted him to slow down. He said the people who'd hired his services for the conference constantly called him on the phone to ask him to get here and there; that made him rush. I told him I would speak to those people and explain that they should not be rushing him about like this. Then I did exactly that. I called someone who was part of the conference and requested him to make sure the drivers were not under so much stress.

All of this escalating nervous energy in the van reached its crescendo when we saw the vehicle in front us, another speeding van, hit a cat who chose that inopportune moment to cross the road. We all screamed in unison at the sight of the poor cat run and tossed over by the van. It was all just a flash. Both the vans were going so insanely fast that in just a matter of seconds we were far away from that spot. It took us all several minutes before we could regain composure. By then, our driver had slowed down, too.  Just a little. There was something very disconcerting in the fact that it took him just forty minutes to get us from Mahabalipuram to Thiruvanmiyur.  

Bizarre as it may sound, I have not been able to stop thinking about that cat. I do not know if she had a miraculous escape or was killed. Either way, I feel connected to her.


dancervocalist said...

yeah ani, don't know whether it is the stress that those drivers go through or their insensitivity to the passengers needs. I see the same attitude with the auto drivers too. They just seem to be rushing to the destination without paying any heed to our requests. Literally every time I travel in an auto rikshaw i seem to have my heart in my mouth. Wonder if this state of affairs will ever change!! :)And it is mostly so because of their big fat egos. Especially if a lady tells them to go slow, their egos get all bloated up and so they don't seem to be able to get anything into their heads i guess!! Phew!!!

Paddu said...

Ahhh..yes...the reckless rashness of drivers in India....and I hope the cat got away safely...after using up maybe 1 or 2 of its 9 lives.

Pradeep said...

Our impatience on the roads is something I haven't been able to understand. Why there's so much rush? What's the need to speed so much? Where are we heading so fast? How much time will we save by rushing like this? No answers!