Of aggression and bizarre behaviour

TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
TCA Srinivasa Raghavan

In 1992 I was giving a lift in Delhi to a colleague who was visiting from Calcutta. We came to a traffic signal which had just turned red and halted. Within a few seconds there were around 20 cars waiting, silently, for the signal to turn green. This greatly intrigued my colleague who couldn’t understand why no one was blowing his or her horn. “In Calcutta it is like a multi-instrument orchestra at a red light,” he said.

I must say this came as a total surprise to me. I had never thought of ­Delhiwallahs as either disciplined or law-abiding. I told him about how drivers in Delhi, and indeed all over north India, thought nothing of driving on the wrong side or going the wrong way on a one-way street. This happened to me once on a city bridge. I stopped my car in front of the offending driver. He couldn’t move and was incensed. I asked him to reverse and come back the right way. His reply was “I have been driving for 26 years and no one has ever questioned my right.” I stood my ground and eventually the man had to reverse.

This aggression has spread all over India now. Other parts of the country used to be better but now they have fully absorbed this particular aspect of national integration and unity in diversity. You can see the insouciance with the law or rules everywhere. The attitude is law and rules are for others, not for us. Even simple courtesy has taken a backseat. A few months ago, my wife had to intervene to help an old couple at a hospital counter where a couple of much younger persons were trying to jump the queue. When my wife asked them to get into the line, they said they were in a hurry to get to the nearby film theatre!

A few months ago, my wife had to intervene to help an old couple at a hospital counter where a couple of youngsters were trying to jump the queue. When she asked them to get into the line, they said they were in a hurry to get to the nearby film theatre!

In Delhi where I have been living since 1958, this sort of thing is absolutely common. Get ahead, whatever the inconvenience to others. Queues are for the weak. If you are strong, break them. If someone protests, start fighting. This aggression can extend to all kinds of things. Once, while travelling in the chair car on a train, a couple put their suitcases on the luggage racks above our seats. They tangled with the wrong guy because despite my grand Tambrahm name, I am totally a dilliwala. I took down their suitcases and put them on their seats. The man tried to fight but my vocabulary surprised him into silence.

My first experience of this kind of bizarre behaviour was in school in Delhi in the early 1960s. I was 10 years old. Our class had been sent on the annual picnic to see sugarcane fields. The destination was around 50km away in western UP. On route we had to cross the old iron bridge over the Yamuna river. As we were crossing it, three of the bigger boys started snatching the lunch boxes of the smaller students and flinging them out of the windows. The two teachers in charge of the trip eventually managed to stop them but not before about a dozen lunch boxes had been thrown out.

At lunch time the teachers took away the truant boys’ lunch and distributed it to those whose boxes they had thrown out. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well with the three bullies. Our parents were waiting to take us home when we returned to the school that evening. Those three boys started weeping that the teachers had taken away their food. So the parents started yelling. After some time, when what had happened was explained to them, they said it was ok, boys would be boys. No reprimand, no scolding. Just that it was ok. I was told a few weeks ago that one of them has been sent to jail for some minor crime. I don’t know what happened to the other two. They probably became politicians.

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