“Any serious meeting in the office today – looking very tense?” asked my wife while handing over the daily nourishment to me in a lunch box. “No”, I replied diffidently, slipping into the driver’s seat of my newly acquired hatchback. “It is the 90-minute drive to the office that is bugging me!”
My mind went back to the days when one could enjoy a peaceful cruise on the roads. Old world chivalry, basic decency and courtesy towards co-travelers were still alive those days. However, despite radical improvements in infrastructure of the metro I live in, driving has now become quite a nightmare. These days, it requires a unique combination of myriad skills and attitudes to navigate one’s way through the crowded roads. One’s ego has to be kept in suspended animation. Dexterity, flexibility, empathy, receptivity and humility have to be counter-balanced with aggressiveness and selective apathy. While on the road, one has to expect the unexpected. A penchant for predicting the behavior of others on the road has become a pre-requisite. Moreover, it has to be backed by a deep faith in the Divine without whose blessings one could not make it hassle-free to one’s destination!
It was with immense faith in the heart and a silent prayer on my lips that I drove out of the compound of the complex we lived in. Inside, my heart was all a-twitter, not knowing what was in store for me on the roads on this fateful day! I felt more like an Arjuna entering the battlefield of Kurukshetra, sans – of course – a benevolent guide like Krishna! As I summoned my courage and eased my car into the morning rush on the main road, a cacophony of sounds greeted me.
“Zoom…” came a sound and I was startled to find that a motorcycle rider had decided to overtake me in a hurry from the left hand side. At the very same time, I found another spirited rider overtaking me from the right hand side as well! I maneuvered the car in such a way as to not to harm either of them. Both, of course, sped off, with their truck-like horns blaring at full volume.
Finding a red traffic light ahead, I stopped. After two more changes from red to green, the car fellow behind me started tooting his horn impatiently. The horn became even more strident when the LED counter showed 15 seconds yet to go for the signal to turn green. I could empathize with him, but surely he could see that there was no way I could have helped him to speed up his journey? Unless, of course, our cars had wings!
Just as the traffic light turned green, a bunch of school kids decided to cross the road, leaving us waiting for an opportunity to resume our journey. Mean while, a cycle fellow scraped through the right side of my car, giving the car a nice bath of sambhar and rasam carried in a protruding lunch box. His wife would surely be unhappy to hear of this, I thought. While I was pitying him, he passed me by, looking at me with piercing eyes, daggers drawn, blaming me for all his travails!
After persevering with my journey at a snail’s pace for some more time, an auto rickshaw overflowing with students scraped violently through the left side of the car. Faced with the ferocity of the traffic coming from the other side, I had no room to shift the car to the right side. In the process, I denied him the freedom to hurry off in an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence. The result was a big dent on both the left side doors. By the time I rolled down my glass window to lodge an ineffective protest, he yelled, hurled some invectives at me and sped off on his errand.
On one of the arterial roads, the audacity with which the bus driver in front of me kept swerving his vehicle from left to right left me quite befuddled. Surely, he aspired to drive a compact car instead! Unable to avoid an open manhole on the road, I could somehow step on the accelerator, thereby propelling the car across the abyss.
Every time I drive, I find a true manifestation of democracy on our roads. Other than the free-for-all that best espouses the cause of freedom of expression, changing lanes is deemed to be a fundamental right. To find either a cow or a buffalo in the center of a busy road, chewing their dose of nourishment with a soulful expression on their meditative countenance, is quite the norm. Pedestrians shooting across a busy road with an unwavering faith that God will take care of their safety is humbling, to say the least.
One of the most amazing transformations that I have noticed is when we sit behind a steering wheel. We believe we are invincible and a cut above the rest. We treat ourselves to illusions of grandeur by bestowing upon ourselves the right to be the first amongst equals, thereby jostling for space, changing lanes at free will, turning without proper signaling and generally behaving as if we are God’s gift to mankind.
We are obliged to show due respect to the buses and trucks pouncing upon us menacingly. We are also expected to be deferential in our treatment of those who prefer to walk across the road carelessly, as also of those on bicycles who show a sudden inclination to turn either way without any signal whatsoever. To those who drive with full headlights on even during day time, we had better show our goodness and concede space for them to pass us by. Even after following the protocol in a sincere manner, there are no guarantees that one’s vehicle would remain unharmed. Well, this is what Krishna taught us – to do our duty and not to get attached to the fruits of our action!
The Mother of Shri Aurobindo Ashram has listed the following twelve qualities which a spiritual aspirant should possess: Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, Aspiration, Receptivity, Progress, Courage, Goodness, Generosity, Equality and Peace. One can readily see that almost all of these qualities come in handy when driving on our roads. This is what prompts me to conclude that regular driving on Indian roads leads one to faster spiritual growth in life!
Coming back to the day under reference, by the time I drove into the car park at the office, I was sweating and feeling drained of all energy. With a heavy heart, I inspected the damage the car had suffered. I felt grateful that it had helped me to survive another day of the war on the roads. As I got into the elevator looking forward to savoring the morning cup of tea in the office, I was wondering how that mighty warrior Arjuna would have fared in this war!