A googly of a question

Why do Indian drivers blow their car horns so frequently? This is one of those cosmic mysteries that even Albert Einstein would be hard put to explain. I am asking this nevertheless because a few days ago there was a traffic jam on the highway that connects Delhi to Gurgaon. Actually, it is called a highway (NH48) and is officially one, but it became a city road 15 years ago. The traffic on it is upward of 200,000 vehicles a day.

Anyway, there everyone was stuck in stationary traffic. Most drivers had switched off their engines to save on fuel so it was all very quiet except for the fools who were blowing their horns as if it would help move the traffic. After a while I got very irritated and walked over to the fellow closest to me, a tempo driver. I asked him why he was honking when he could see it wouldn’t help. Ordinarily, he would have abused me and asked me to mind my own business but I think my polished, cultured and educated manners disarmed him. His answer was unbeatable. “Sahib, what are horns for?” Exactly. What are horns for if not blowing when you are frustrated?

This reminded me of something that happened 60 years ago. We were driving somewhere near Jhansi when we stopped to have some tea at a roadside stall. There were a few villagers sitting around doing nothing more stressful than drinking their tea. They would pour the tea out on saucers — yes, those were the days when even roadside stalls had saucers — and slurp noisily from them. I asked one of them, in my polished, educated and cultured tone, why he was doing that. His answer was the same as the tempo driver’s would be 60 years later: what is it for then, if not to drink from?

When I confiscated the crayons my grandson was trying to colour the walls with, he protested shrilly, and asked me: what are walls for? What indeed?

It’s not just the villager or the poorly socialised tempo driver who has this attitude. On one of the Indian Airlines flights from Delhi to Bombay — when it wasn’t called Mumbai — the fellow sitting behind me kept ringing the bell for the stewardess. He must have called her at least 10 times in that two-hour flight. When we were waiting to get off the aircraft, I asked — in my usual way — why he kept on calling her. His answer was the same as that of the tea drinker’s had been and the tempo driver’s would be later: what’s she there for? Good question: what was she there for?

We can see this sort of thing everywhere in India. In my first job I found two of my colleagues happier helping themselves to office stationery and ball pens. When I protested that this was theft, they said the same thing: why keep them there then? In fact, during the days of STD calls it was common for employees to call friends and relatives at office expense. When asked about it, they would ask what’s it there for?

This perennial question has resurfaced in my own home now. My grandson is visiting and my wife gave him a set of colouring crayons and a slate to keep him occupied. He soon started trying to colour the walls. Fortunately, I prevented him from doing too much damage by confiscating the crayons. He protested shrilly and when I told him to be quiet, he asked the same question: what are walls for? What indeed?

The tea stalls got rid of the problem by abolishing saucers. Now I think the time has come to abolish the horns in vehicles and the call bells on planes. I have shown the way by taking away the colour crayons from my grandson. Believe me, it’s very easy.

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