A race against grace

The traffic in Mumbai is a nightmare. Even watching it from a distance is so disconcerting, imagine being in it. Everyday. For hours. The story of most of our lives. Traffic lights mean nothing to anyone, and traffic police have a disappointing sense of control. The honking is harassing, the lane-cutting ludicrous. The only sight that provides some relief is when your side of the road is moving, albeit at a snail’s pace, while the opposite side is stuck frozen in time. People working at ISRO will reach the moon before some of us manage to make it from Cusrow Baug to Malcom Baug swiftly and conveniently.

The other really comical sight I see quite often is two nondescript people in their similar-looking vehicles fighting over a small dent that one of them has apparently made on the other’s vehicle. This typically takes place in the middle of the road, the two of them causing preposterous pandemonium all around, even though their cars are so rundown that even scrap collectors wouldn’t consider them enticing.


Owing to my evolved pseudo-consciousness, despite everything I’ve said above, the traffic doesn’t bother me. Or, at least, this is what I thought. On one such August (there was nothing august about it except the name of the month) evening, while I was driving home after three back-to-back surgeries (pun intended, as they were all spine cases), I was ambushed at Saat Rasta by a taxiwalla who cut me off. I swirled and almost hit a pedestrian, who uttered some choice four-letter Hindi words at me that really pinched.


The cab guy was probably trying to avoid a cow, but I wasn’t going to let him go for treating a doctor with such indignity. So, I screeched past him in my plush Maruti 800 and dabaoed him all along Arthur Road. I saw the wrath build up on his face in my rear-view mirror. I gave him some space, to give him the feeling that he had room to pass, and just as he came closer, I cornered him once again. He was big and swarthy, with paan-stained teeth and the top three buttons of his shirt open – the epitome of the Mumbaikar taxiwalla image that we all know.


He was tailgating me and I was cornering him. The tar was on fire and the fumes were ablaze. It was a scene right out of The Fast and the Furious, or, closer to home, Dhoom 3. After about 12–14 gruelling minutes of mindless behaviour, I was forced to stop at a red light, and he occupied the empty space on my left 2 feet away. This had already gone down to the wire and I knew it wasn’t going to end well. We both rolled down our windows in typical street-fighting fashion, ready to exchange profanity and, if required, punch him straight in the face, a scene I had rehearsed in my head the last few minutes of the chase.


But what he did next was something unthinkable and unimaginable. He adjusted my side-view mirror, and with a sideways nod of his head and a salutation of his palm, checked if I could “now” see properly. He drove past gently when the light turned green, as if nothing ever happened, and I was pulverised without being touched. The thoughtless honking from another taxiwalla brought me out of my reverie, and I realized that it was time to move on instead of contemplating answers to life’s big questions in the middle of Mumbai traffic.


An apparently so-called uneducated man had taught a disillusioned doctor a lesson or two in civility. He had transformed his rage into restraint. His animosity into affability. We are living in an unrestrained world, I thought, as I reached the next traffic light. It’s getting louder, angrier, and more chaotic and pretentious, I confirmed, as I heard people starting to honk a few seconds before the lights even turned green. We are in a blustering bustle to speak before we listen, judge before we understand, and act before we accept. But once in a while, we will come across someone who will teach us grace, teach us how to live, when we least expect it. This cabby did just that, effortlessly reducing me to an infinitesimal piece of existence.


We have been too busy chasing the material pleasures of life, and in the bargain, we’ve lost what really matters: peace. The only way to restore it is to cultivate it ourselves. Today, the recurring theme prevalent in society is to slow down. Fortunately for us, the Mumbai traffic helps you do that. If you look at it in the right perspective, it teaches you patience and perseverance, tolerance and endurance, and if you’re lucky (like me), it’ll teach you grit and grace; you just have to be willing to learn.


I read somewhere that “success, happiness, or whatever word you use to articulate what you want, often involves what you don’t do.” So, I’ve decided I’m not going to get angry, I’m not going to argue, crib, or even complain. I’m also not going to do housework, or, as a matter of fact, I’m just not going to work. Also, I’m not going to drive. Let’s see how the rest of the month goes.


Dr. Mazda K. Turel is a minimally invasive brain and spine surgeon. He is a consultant at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, and also an Honorary at Sir JJ Hospital. He can be reached on mazdaturel@gmail.com or +91 993.017.4567. To know more about him, visit www.mazdaturel.com.

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