Archive for February, 2011

The road to Mandawa

Posted: February 22, 2011 in Travelogues
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Driving to Rajasthan’s Mandawa town, where I went to be a part of Mahindra’s Great Escape, was an eye-opener. Driving on the NH 8, I marvelled at what Delhi and DLF have become today – take it or leave it, but ‘progress’ will bring in its wake the kind of rapid construction one sees today.

I lived in Gurgaon in 1998, but what I saw this time as we drove towards Mandawa town left me quite breathless. It was almost as if I was in Batman’s Gotham City with all the menacing glass towers overlooking the National Highway 8 to Jaipur. That was the one side of progress.

As we veered off NH 8 towards Rewari, we entered another world, far removed from any vestiges of progress. Terrible roads, no illumination even as we passed through villages, officials at toll booths pocketing a part of the tax collected and issuing receipts for less, and at other booths flinging money back on the face of the driver because he could not tender exact change.

Large portions of the 230-odd km stretch from Delhi to Mandawa were potholed in most places, dug up in some, and smooth in a few. A distance like that would take a good motorist roughly 4-5 hours to cover, because one was passing through villages where speed humps have become just another obstruction. But it took our driver seven hours to manoeuvre the car through muddy patches and gravel, where at some time in the past was a tar road.

Strangely enough the place is a tourist hub, so what stopped the government from getting a road done up? I did see one lane completely dug up in Mandawa, and in construction mode, but no activity.
As we drove on towards Mandawa, the driver stopped at a decrepit, single storey building and got out, muttering something about paying some road tax. He returned a few minutes swearing loudly, “the m****r f****r was drunk…I had to wake him up…gave him 1100 rupees but got a receipt for only 700.”

I told him he should have demanded a correct receipt, but he replied, “Better not to argue with these guys. You don’t know what they are capable of.” According to our driver, despite all this, Rajasthan was a far safer place than Bihar and UP! The efficient PR team of Mahindra’s was still there waiting, when we reached Saras Vilas at 12.30 am – seven hours after we left IGIA.

On our way back we stopped at a toll booth, where the attendant demanded twenty bucks when the tax was just Rs 10. Handing over a hundred rupee note, the driver reminded him of the correct amount. The attendant flung the note at the driver, claiming he did not have change. Strangely enough, when the driver stepped out of the car to pay, he saw wads of loose change in the table drawer! Instead of returning by the same route we veered off towards Bhiwani and Rohtak.

The roads were a dramatic improvement. We travelled an extra 75 kms but reached IGIA in an hour less. Did the condition of the roads here have anything to do with political muscle?

As we entered Gurgaon town, the stark contrast between the two areas divided by a highway was more than evident. From 1998, when I was there last, Father Time seemed to have stood still in Gurgaon. Old buildings, chaotic traffic and terrible roads were an indication that progress had bypassed this town for its more famous kin across the highway. It almost seemed like we were back on the village roads of Mandawa.


Another young life was snuffed out late last night – this one a cousin of my student – when a 21 year-old youth was thrown off the bike he was riding pillion on, when the bike collided against a bus. Every day, one picks up the newspaper and reads about two-wheeler riders being killed and the last line in the report invariably reads: The deceased was not wearing a crash helmet.

How many lives have been lost on the city’s roads to reckless driving either by the victim or the offender, is now beyond count. What was the fault of the kid sitting pillion on a two-wheeler, who lost his life? Whether it was the bus driver’s fault or the two-wheeler rider’s is really secondary now isn’t it? The young man who lost was just another victim of poor road sense and the fact that he didn’t have on a crash helmet.

A year or so ago, the local tabloid launched a huge campaign for the use of crash helmets, but like all other campaigns in this regard, this one too fell by the wayside and died a silent death. Aren’t crash helmets mandatory in so many other cities in the country? So, who is opposing this move so vehemently and why?

I joined a Facebook page launched by the Pune Traffic Police because I thought that they were finally doing something. Two months later I left the site in disgust, because all I saw on the page was how much money they had collected in fines in a week or a month, or grand moves for a new logo or something equally inconsequential. There seemed to be no effort by them to implement traffic rules or even bring about some semblance of order in the city’s traffic. They seemed to be on a grand PR exercise.

For example they had a drive to stop the use of fancy number plates and a couple of weeks ago I saw a report in the Pune Mirror which showed pictures of fancy number plates still in existence on cars owned by politicians or their friends. So basically the rules were not for the rich and influential. I also read that the traffic police had stated that they could not impose the helmet rule in the city. Why? They have no answers.

Pune has been voted the most accident-prone city in the country, when it comes to two-wheelers. Yet the administration has refused to make crash helmets mandatory. What stops them – a lack of will or pure indifference? Or are they waiting for the child of a VIP to get killed before they take action?

I have myself been involved in two-wheeler crashes and not every time was it my fault. But I survived only because of my helmet. Once it was right in front of Mobos opposite Wadia College. A friend and I were on our way to the airport on a scooter and we were hit from the rear by a speeding jeep trying to overtake a PMT bus which was behind us. We both fell off, and while he managed to get up quickly I couldn’t and rolled towards the oncoming bus. Fortunately for me the bus driver applied his brakes. Both of us had on helmets and I’d like to think it saved our lives as we hit the road.

Not a day goes by without my car being either nudged or bumped into by some two-wheeler rider. It has now come to a stage where I have to drive at below 40 kmph at most times because that a*****e (and I’m sorry there’s no other word to describe the errant rider or driver) is too busy either impressing his girl friend, chatting on his mobile phone or cutting lanes, without bothering about the traffic around him.

Flirting with death can only bring about one result. Why wait for that happen?