Two Sides of The Same…Country

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Two Sides of The Same…Country

Little over a decade ago, I had just learnt how to drive a car, and, sorry; I must learn to be specific. I had learnt to drive a car in India. Yes, here, it takes more effort, selfless commitment, definitely more skill, and sheer bravery to even just want to learn to drive a vehicle here, let alone actually drive.

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Not even attempting to give you an idea of what it takes, here’s a picture I took on a holiday in Rajasthan a few years ago.

That said, every once in a while, random scenarios would pop up in my head. About what if I was driving and ‘this’ happened, or, how would I react if someone on the street did ‘something like that’. It was probably a natural part of getting accustomed to the newly acquired skill and to getting used to how perspective changes when you are behind the wheel.

I remember one of the ‘possible scenarios’ was about who would be to blame. Say, if a vehicle was driving within the speed limit, and if it were to inadvertently hit someone who decided to dart across the street at the last second. It would give the driver almost no time to react. So could the driver be blamed for the fault of a reckless pedestrian? One who, well knowing the risks, still decided to test their luck? The answer came back a resonating, ‘no‘. The driver could not be blamed. I then reassured myself with the example of trains. Trains travel at specific speeds, and have considerably large stopping distances. So if someone decided to cross the track when a train was close, and got run over, it couldn’t possibly be the engine driver’s fault? Knowing well that crossing tracks is unsafe, and that crossing streets recklessly, equally so.

It all seemed fine. Till yesterday. Yesterday, a speeding train in the state of Bihar in North India, ran over 37 [yes, you read correctly; thirty-seven] pilgrims who were crossing the track at the time. It was tragic. And it was the fault of the pilgrims. But for those who of you who don’t know what followed, angry crowds nearby went on a rampage, setting the train on fire, and attacking and killing one of the engine drivers, leaving the other one in a critical condition. [the news article]

So my theories on ‘who’s to blame’ went out the window. India. A superpower. Among the most promising economies, is still incapable of identifying who’s at fault in something as obvious as this unfortunate incident. It also gives one a glimpse into who we are. Not who we are capable of being, but instead, of who we have stooped to become. Hopefully not for long though. Knowing risks, we’ll still expect the other person to take preventive measures, while we try to kiss a runaway train, while we try to break Border Collies speed records while crossing before speeding cars. Yes, that’s who we have somehow become.

However, and incidentally yesterday itself, there was a story that ended the day on a note of optimism. Bombay’s public bus transport service, the BEST, has been infamous for menacing drivers who break signals, who have run over pedestrians, and damaged vehicles as well. In my family itself, we have two to three horrifying incidents to narrate. Of how BEST’s impatient drivers have damaged our cars just because they were in a blind frenzy to zip through bus stops and go home.

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But last night was different. I was driving mom to the market to pick up some groceries. The road I was on, required me to take a right turn to get into the market lane. However, before I could take the turn, there were vehicles coming from the opposite side, and passing my car on my right side. I had to wait with the indicator on, as 5-6 cars whizzed past. A BEST bus was approaching too. While I could have quickly made the turn, knowing them well, I decided to wait for him and the few cars behind him to pass. However, to my complete surprise, he stopped the bus, and signaled for me to take the turn, while cars patiently waited behind him. Still confused, I made the turn, mom still wondering if that had actually happened. Thank you, Mr. BEST driver, for the pleasant surprise.!

Well, we all have it in us to change. We all have it in us to make a positive difference. It all comes down to us deciding to make that choice.

I’ll leave you to think about this, with a quote immortalized by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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Chain Reaction

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Chain Reaction

A lot of you might have watched this video at least once in the last 2 years that it seems to have been on Youtube. In case you haven’t, hit play.

I’ve been lucky to witness one such incident way back in junior college. I was in a bus heading for class, when this man got on, and suddenly realized he had left his wallet at home. A middle-aged lady seated close-by was overheard him explaining to the conductor, who was suggesting he get off the bus. The lady immediately gave the conductor some money for his ticket. The man was a little embarrassed, considering the little audience that had built up. He asked her how he could return the money, to which she matter-of-factly said that if he came across someone in future who was stuck in a similar situation, he could buy them a ticket. That’s a simple yet powerful lesson I learnt that day. The concept of ‘Paying it forward‘.

Then, somewhere around the same period in time, I actually saw the ‘Pay it forward’ do a full circle too. Again, I was in a bus (yeah, sounds like I spent quite some time on buses then, aye?) and had offered my seat to an elderly lady. She was a little surprised when she saw me standing, since she must have initially assumed that I would be getting off at the next stop. The bus was packed so I ended up moving a few seats away. A few stops later, I saw the lady get up. There was a chap standing close to her seat, impatiently waiting to sit. Soon as she got up, he darted for it. And to my surprise, the lady stopped him instantly, saying that some else will be sitting there, while the person who was seated next to her simultaneously hand-gestured me to come and sit there. She smiled, and moved away. So did the other person who was seated.

Similar incidents might seem commonplace in some countries, but here in India, we still have a real long way to go to get there. And considering that both the above incidents occurred about 15 years ago, I guess that’s partly what makes them so powerful and promising. It doesn’t take much to ‘Pay it forward’. You should try it. At least once, everyday. And like I was fortunate enough to witness first hand, it does come back, sooner or later.

The Seat Next To The Lady

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The Seat Next To The Lady

Recently, the latest player in the online travel business, Travelyaari.com brought in the option of “block your seat next to a lady” on your next bus journey.
Yeah, I know. My eyes lit up too for a moment there.

But no, buddies, your lifelong dream of getting a seat next to a pretty gal, will stay a dream, at least for now. What it does mean, is that ladies will get the option of selecting a seat next to another lady on a bus journey when booking online.

Its surprising redbus.in did not already think of this feature, which has been common since ’98 or ’99 or even before in the brick-and-mortar bus travel industry.

This would be great news for women, who usually book online. Especially since they often run the risk of getting a seat next to a creepy male passenger. Or ending up staying awake all night to avoid a bobbing head from landing on their shoulders.
The funny thing though, I don’t suppose the creepy thing or the bobbing heads thing happens as often in other countries. Out of respect for women, the concept of a ‘ladies seat’ might seem irrelevant there.

So then, just to make sure these guys actually had the option, I went onto Travelyaari.com and tried booking a seat next to a seat booked by a lady. It allowed me to do so (no, I didn’t actually go through with the payment). Then I tried booking a ladies seat (there is no such specific option). Though if you enter your sex as Female (that makes it a ‘lady is gonna sit on that seat’) I didn’t see any option restricting the next seat only to ladies).

So maybe guys can actually pick a seat next to a lady. Which also means Travelyaari.com might actually screw its own business prospects with such a decision. And redbus.in is missing out by not having the traditional ‘ladies seat’ option.

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Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.