Hailing from a land of chaotic traffic, where the unruly vehicles of all kinds ranging from four-wheelers, three-wheelers to two-wheelers, heavy and light, man-animal pulled and motorized whiz around in every plausible trajectory, I was awe-struck by the orderly flow of traffic on the wide and smooth Sydney roads. The contrast was too glaring to be missed and dismissed. In fact, my trip to Australia, my first overseas visit had a lot to astound me.
I was amazed at the discipline and the strict adherence to the traffic rules in Australia. Truly amazing was the regard and consideration for the pedestrians there. While the drivers stopped the vehicles and waited patiently at the zebra crossing, pedestrians comfortably crossed the road. What a sharp contrast it is to India where the jungle rule of ‘might is right’ prevails on our roads. In our country, the drivers of the heavier vehicles literally lord over the road, intimidating the pedestrians and the people on lighter vehicles.
Honking is a compulsive habit of the drivers in India. We have a strong urge to blow the horn, whether required or not. During my entire stay of about a fortnight in Australia, imagine, not even once did I hear the sound of a horn! Back home in India we are always in a hurry, have no patience on roads and keep honking. In fact, we are persistent honkers even at the traffic lights. No wonder Indian roads are so noisy and chaotic!
Not just our roads but our localities are equally noisy. Never mind the inconvenience to the people in the neighbourhood, we love playing loud music. The blaring loudspeakers at high pitch are testimony to our immunity to high decibel noise. Be it a marriage, religious congregation or any ceremony in the neighbourhood, it is free for all in the entire locality. Loud play of bhajan, kirtan is a norm. The organizers feel they are doing service to the humanity by sending holy vibes into the atmosphere. But this kind of service is clearly not acceptable in Australia. Nobody dares disturb the neighbourhood there, not even the stray dogs. Unlike in India where no habitation is complete without the presence of half a dozen street dogs, the stray animals were conspicuous by their absence in Sydney.
Though it was only a fortnight in Australia, hang-over of the overseas visit persists. I can’t help noticing the unkempt, dusty pavements in my city which earlier appeared perfectly normal to me. I have begun to count the number of, guess what, the street dogs in my locality. Chaotic traffic on the roads has begun to irk me. Garbage dumps on roadside look uglier and filthier to me. Pot-holes on the road appear bigger.
This heightened consciousness could be a temporary phenomenon, just a passing phase that I should get over. Soon I hope to find the chaotic traffic, the noise and din perfectly normal, as normal as before.
(This was the article published in Hindustan times on October 8 2013.)