Why we jump traffic signals

Racy Cases 86
V Pattabhi Ram

From amber the signal had just turned red. And Wafers, the young CA, had stopped her bike. The road ahead was free. The car from behind honked. A second later it honked again. Wafers felt annoyed; she turned around to stare at the well-heeled man seated behind the steering wheel of one of the costliest cars. He rolled the glass down, honked again and said, “Big time Mahatma.” It got to Wafers’ goat. “Learn to wait, man,” she said, scarcely being able to hold her rage down. Just then an auto-rickshaw whizzed past her on the left side and jumped the signal. A motorist coming from the perpendicular road had to screech to a halt.

An apparently well-heeled man swears at you for following the traffic rules. A lowly auto-driver nonchalantly jumps the traffic signal. “What the hell is wrong with my country”, she thought. And remembered how in distant Dubai vehicles never strayed past the yellow line even well after midnight. How a cab had waited for 60 seconds at 2 am for the signal to turn green although no other vehicle was in sight. “Why my countrymen can’t follow these rules”, she asked no one in particular.

And then she remembered her first and second flights in India. The airhostess had announced, “Please do not open the overhead lockers until the aircraft has come to a complete halt and the seat belt signs are switched off”. Yet even before the aircraft had halted, the passengers had jumped up from their seats, pushed past the ones ahead of them to open the locker and remove their baggage. “What was the tearing hurry?” She had then asked herself. And to imagine that these were well-educated men and women, suited and booted.

As she poured her sense of anguish to her encyclopedic friend China, the latter smiled. He told her what his professor had once famously remarked, “We are the only country in the world where we have cops man traffic signals. That’s an insult to us, the people of India, but the insult is well deserved”. Even as the class was digesting it he added, “It’s a joke country, and a joke populace”. China and his friends stood up objecting to the strong words. And the professor had rebuked, “Come on, hold it. Do we not jump queues at theatres, hospitals, railway counters and at airports. Don’t we meaninglessly honk on the roads?”

Wafers could not but agree. In fact she was happy that someone had taken umbrage to that kind of behavior

“In everything that we do we have double standards. One rule for me; one rule for others,” she said with anger. China hadn’t seen her so angry before. “Can you explain?” he asked. “Take the case of an overcrowded unreserved coach that is locked from inside. When I am boarding, I want the passengers to accommodate me. Once inside, I want to sit. There are five people already seated in a row where only four can sit comfortably. I still go up and say, “Can you move a tad”; just a bit so that I could be accommodated. If they refuse I curse”.

China cottoned on to it in a jiffy. It was what his professor had once called “second-class mentality”. But Wafers was in full flow and he allowed her to continue. She was saying, “Now change the situation. I am inside the coach and there is a passenger outside who wants to get in. I refuse to open the door saying it’s already overcrowded. Somehow he manages to get in. He moves near me asking me to move a tad so that he could also sit. I curse saying, “We are already five here where only four can sit comfortably.” The conclusion: My rules are different for me and different for you”.

China decided to soothe her down. He said, “I will offer you a rationale as to why Indians jump traffic signals.” Wafers remarked, “Shoot.”

“Suppose cars are waiting in the traffic signal, yours and mine included. Let’s say that if I jump the signal and you don’t, I get 4 points and you get minus 1. After all, the temptation is too great. If you jump the signal and I don’t, you get 4 points and I get minus 1; I have been nuts in allowing you to go scot-free. If both of us jump the signal we get no points; because we didn’t co-operate. And if both of us obey the signal we get 2 points apiece; that’s for following the rules. Of-course neither of us know in advance whether each of us is going to jump the signal or obey it. Now tell me what would you do if your objective was to maximize your points?”

Wafers was quick on her arithmetic. After all, she worked in a KPO. “China, you jump and I don’t, you get 4 and I log minus 1. So I would jump; because in that case both of us will get zero. It’s better for me to get zero rather than minus 1. And if you don’t jump, it is good for me to jump because I pick up 4 points. So irrespective of what you do I would jump. China patted her, “Very true”. And added, “What would you expect me to do”?

Wafers smiled. “Hey, you are Mr. Brains. Like me, you, irrespective of what I do, would jump the signal.” China nodded in appreciation.

“But wouldn’t it be better if we co-operated and obeyed traffic signal?” asked Wafers all of a sudden. “For sure, it would. It would give us two points apiece,” replied China. “But you see we live in this world of eternal one-upmanship. That’s our problem. The result we are an indisciplined lot.” Wafers smiled. “I think all Indians should resolve in 2015 that they would not jump the traffic signal.” China closed out, “That’s one resolution that we should resolve not to break.”


About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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One Response to Why we jump traffic signals

  1. Ranjan says:

    Let’s we be the change agent.
    Let’s be the leader by stopping our vehicle at red signal, there by compelling others to obey the rule. Let’s cross the zebra crossing only when the red turns to green and others will do the same as you move.
    In an average 100 vehicle stops in a traffic signal, and only two vehicles are enough to compel the 98 vehicles to stop and obey the rule.
    Let’s no more (enough is enough) support a joke about the traffic jump happening in India and laugh like a “don’t care citizen”.
    I hope if we don’t wake up now, this will become a sport like high jump and long jump.

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