118 years of Trust Time Off THE TRIBUNE
sunday reading
Sunday, September 27, 1998
modern classics
Bollywood Bhelpuri


Living Space
Garden Life


The rage of human beings

By Manohar Malgonkar

MIKE Tyson has made headlines again, but this time not for chewing off someone’s ear, or committing rape, but only for doing something that he is known for all over the world: boxing. Not boxing in the ring, however, in a bid to regain a lost world-title or even a practice round: He is alleged to have knocked out another man in a fit of road rage.

Road rage. A malady special to city dwellers. Motorists in a rush, their teeth gnashing with impatience; taking children to classes, jet-setters to airports, patients to hospitals, lawyers to courts, bureaucrats to piles of files, executives to meetings.

Some madman tries to beat the light, or maybe jams on the brakes to avoid pulping a cat, and crrruuunch! Metal against metal.

Doors fly open. Both drivers hurl curses and foul abuse at one another as they get out and examine damage. Traffic grinds to a halt and horns toot. Never mind even if it is just a paint-scratch or a dented mudgard. It is always the other man’s fault — the bastard! The son of a bitch!

This is instant-hatred. Two men who had never known one another become enemies. They square off and swear and threaten. But most times, that is where it ends. They can’t hold up the traffic just to bash on another. Everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere. As they themselves are.

But alas, not always. Occasionally there is violence. Blows exchanged. A broken nose or a black eye such as Tyson is said to have given the man whose car collided with his. Even death, as happened in Manchester unless it was in Birmingham. Two motorists got into a road rage argument. It ended when one of them took out his gun and killed the other.

And then got a fit of cold panic, knowing he would be charged with murder. So he ran away, abandoning his wife, home, job, to live out his days in a foreign land. A fit of road rage had made him a fugitive for life. For life? At least until the thing blew over.

Well it didn’t. Now, two years later, the police have found out his hiding place — a sleepy village in Spain — and have begun extradition proceedings.

Tyson, if he is found guilty, faces a fail term, or a hefty fine. The self-exiled Englishman when he is brought home is to be charged with manslaughter.

O.K. Both cases represent worst-case scenarios. Still, that is the sort of risk that city motorists are exposed to day after day.

City motorists but not, mercifully, those of us who live in villages. We drive on open roads — that know no traffic-jams — only occasional blockages caused by broken-down vehicles.

We have no cause to get mad at fellow-road-users... well, other than fits of swearing at aggressive drivers — those who force you off to the edge with blaring horns or cut into lines. True, we, too, often experience a jab of road rage, but it is not directed at anyone in particular, but against faceless entities called government departments.

For instance my nearest airport is in Goa; that is where I have to go to catch a plane or, more often, to meet arriving friends. It is a distance of 120 km. Of this, a full two-thirds, 80 km, is in Goa, the rest in Karnataka.

The drive over the Goa bit is a breeze. Sure, there are a few patches of rough going. But for the rest the road is glass-smooth. In Karnataka it is the other way round: patches of motorable road connecting long stretches of cart-track. The 80 km in Goa take at the most an hour and a half; the 40 km in Karnataka need all of two hours.

As you enter Karnataka from Goa, an enormous signboard greets you: Welcome to Karnataka. Someone once added another message to the board: No motor vehicles beyond this point. Exemplifying our sort of road rage.

We dehatis — upcountry residents — have a different set of grievances from those of the town dwellers. Off-hand, I can think of three, aside from neglected roads: phone rage, no-lights rage and a recent arrival, dirty-money rage.

Rural telephones came to life in a burst of fanfare, in the early 90s. For full five years they functioned just as efficiently as city phones. From my house I regularly spoke to people living in the rest of India and even in Europe and America.

Then one day our ISD facilities were whisked off or became dysfunctional. Without so much as a printout to subscribers telling them why. But it was only a portent. Soon other facilities too stopped working one by one and even local calls could not be made. For four months this summer, I had to drive 12 km to a pay phone to make calls. There are two telephones in my house.

The villagers threatened a dharna and rasta rokko. So a couple of mechanics came and settled whatever had gone wrong. It did not last long though. Now the phones work, but the dial tone is drowned by a continuous din of static which makes conversation impossible.

As it happens, the fault is a minor one. A loose connection on a junction bar on the electric mains which, at this point, cross the phone lines. A single man with a pair of pliers can set it right within a matter of minutes.

But easier said than done. Here two departments, one central, one state, are involved: The Telecom Department and the Karnataka Electricity Board. Both are prickly about turf violations, experts at buckpassing, and veterans of negativism.

There is no way of cutting a path through a double-fence of bureaucratic thickets. So the problem remains, to be lived with, even if it entails yelling and screaming to be able to be heard.

And why do I so much as mention a no-lights rage at all? It is nothing special to upcountry living? Why, even the people of Delhi are nowadays familiar with it.

It is just that in villages we do a lot of farming. Even those who don’t grow foodgrains have extensive gardens, and somehow we have to keep out trees alive. Which means installing generators for pumping water from private wells.

And a head-on collision with departmental obstructionism. I myself have had to invest in a powerful generator. After I had constructed a shed to house it, it took me only a few weeks to put it into place. And two years to get clearance for it to be put into use.

And so to our last rage: dirty money. No, it has nothing to do with bribery and corruption. It is what it means, filthy currency notes.

I think it is well known that all banks send their torn and dirty notes to their rural branches, which must be their last resting places before they’re pulped.

Three years ago, my daughter gave me a sealskin wallet which she had bought in Milan. It remains unused because I cannot bear the thought of putting our currency notes in it.

Arundhati Roy wrote of money that carried deposits of pus, blood, grease. She was speaking of urban currency. For the villages, add cowshit sweat, spit, and also layers of glue or rice-paste smeared to patch up torn bits.

At the end of every month, I take home from the bank a couple of stakes of stapled notes to pay my garden workers. Some of them are back the next day. "The shops don’t accept them," I’m told. So I take these rejects to the bank which, gamely enough, makes no difficulty about accepting them. But they prefer to credit the money to my account to exchanging these notes for clean ones.

They just don’t have that many notes cleaner than the one I have returned.


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