Chandigarh apparently has one of the best traffic in the country. What exactly that means, however, I have no idea. Driving in the city is no doubt a breeze, specially after Gurgaon (though the sad quality of FM does leave one wishing the drive were shorter). This “best traffic” tag however has me a bit confused. Does it mean that the drivers are law abiding? Or does it refer to the orderly traffic movement? Or maybe the vigilant traffic police? Or the fact that due to less population density, the number of vehicles on the road is bound to be less? Whatever be the reasons thereof, with a practically nonexistent public transport system and the Punjabi flair for flashy cars, the ease of traffic movement, is no doubt a welcome surprise and relief.
Chandigarh traffic does have some peculiarities all right. Staying in Gurgaon for almost 4 years, I had started wondering if we had any police force in the name of traffic police at all. Chandigarh drastically altered my perceptions. There is no dearth of traffic police in Chandigarh and the best part is that you don’t get to see any until, like an over smart Alec, you jump a light or do something similar. It took me a while to understand their modus operandi. If you can spot a cop from a distance, the chances of you continuing zipping at a speed of 90km an hour or breaking a few other half a dozen traffic rules are bleak. The whole fun of it is in the siege. No sooner have you jumped a red light or taken a wrong turn at the most innocuous of crossings, a hurly burly Sardar ji cop wll apparate in front of your car as if from thin air. To give them their due, for all the unpleasantness of the situation, the cops are, by and large, a pleasant lot. Of the various stories about greasing their palms or them targeting outside vehicles more, I can say nothing, not having experienced the same. All that I do know is that tears and playing the damsel in distress card does the trick as well. You apologise profusely, promise on the powers that be never to break a law again and look at them with tear filled eyes. Chances are they’ll let you go with a warning. A child with you who as promptly bursts into tears? Well they might even apologise for upsetting the child but they were just doing their job and saving you from harm. Of course you understand , you nod, and that’s it!!
The lady officers on duty however are a bit of a different story and deserve your sympathy instead. To begin with, most of them seem emaciated so much so that had it not been for the little posts they stand on, you are most likely to miss them even while they wave you down. And such is our deference to law, that it is not uncommon to find many people just ignoring them and whizzing past. At one time, I actually saw some male officers giving back up by way of waving down all those who had ignored these ladies at the earlier light or crossing. Sector 9 inner market and the main road between sector 9 and sector 10 is often a sight for such bizarre happenings. I often find myself slowing down in a smoothly moving traffic out of sheer sympathy and deference to them, much to the chagrin and honking of those behind me.
And this brings me to the most annoying habit of drivers in Chandigarh- honking at a red light. Before the ticker at the signal can hit a “0” and the light turns to an orange, forget a green, all hell breaks loose as it were. Incessant honking from all sides! I mean really people give me a break !! No one has any intention whatsoever of spending their life at the signal and will move at the first available opportunity. Unless a car is expected to grow wings and start flying, we all just have to wait. So very often I have resisted the temptation of stepping out and showering these pearls of wisdom on people behind me. But seriously..Let us learn something from the awful NCR traffic. Given the congestion in NCR, specially at peak time, very often you are just left waiting at a signal for quite some time before you can cross it. But nobody honks- not maniacally anyways. A few odd ones will do the irritant needful anyways but, by and large, the “Even a dog does not bark without a reason. Please don’t blow horn at red light” campaign seems to have driven home the point.
Times are changing fast and a look at the profile of the vehicles in the city gives us a clue as to where we are headed. A haven for two wheelers and even cyclists at one time, Chandigarh is rapidly becoming a city not safe for two wheeled drives that leave your limbs dangling all over the place. There are exclusive cycling tracks but very rarely does one see any enthusiast on it. Even the University does not leave much scope for cycle usage given the vehicular rush there. My only regret is that I did not give cycling a chance while I could in my days at the University. Perhaps I should enjoy the drives in the city before they too become a thing of the past.