Monday, August 07, 2006

Member of Traffic Assembly?

An architect that I originally am, it was a part of my daily routine to yell unnecessarily at a mason, hard at work. It would be highly possible that the poor man may be more enriched than myself in terms of experience, or at least, may not be wrong at all – I did whatever I did just to keep him on his toes and also to assert my authority to some extent. Similar was my experience when I went on a round of supervising the traffic surveys during a project in Orissa in the hot sun, although it was early January.

It was a long and uncertain process of identification of survey locations, planning and scheduling just for the sake of it because in the back of your mind you are more than convinced that your schedule is bound to go haywire for some reason or the other, and then on top of it, the disbursement of funds which happens through a number of channels in restricted installments in spite of your most justified requirements.

I was lucky to discover a very enterprising tea stall owner who turned out to be a well connected person who just arranged for enumerators out of the blue, that too with a minimum education level of 9th Standard, in as many numbers as I could demand. I wanted batches of people in shifts in locations separated by distances ranging from 10 –70 km, and bingo, there they were. He turned out to be a Genie out of Alladin’s magic lamp for me. On the day we actually started the traffic surveys, I reached the site early with survey formats, clip boards, etc…and one should have seen the reception I was given! The moment I stepped out of the car, a group of people separated and made way for me as if I was the local councillor on a pre-election visit. I also played up to my suddenly imposed new role quite well, beginning with refusing to sit when all of them were standing, in an attempt to pull the emotional string. However, I made good use of the chair by dumping whatever material I was carrying. A list of names of the assembled people were handed to me, and I, quite unsure of what exactly to do with it, took a sort of attendance in an effort to familiarize myself with the faces. It was just impossible, I knew, but still. Then I handed out few survey formats in the crowd and held up one to explain it in detail. I could obviously not speak the local language, but I could understand it and it was enough to impress the crowd. After my delivery in the national language, somebody from the crowd along with the very smart tea stall shopkeeper stepped out of the crowd and translated my speech in Oriya.

Imagine the vote-requesting politician who tries to sell his future plans, which in reality, he would forget after winning the elections. His plans are borrowed from some unknown source and do not meet the needs of the municipality or any locality, because the politician is actually unaware of them. Moreover, he himself does not speak the local dialect since he is not one of the crowd, but a foreigner attempting to hoodwink the people. He gets away with his false promises because the language does not appeal to his audience and then it is left to the translator to goof up something and cover up the fallacies as far as possible. Now imagine my situation. I was trying to explain something completely off beat to my group of enumerators, that too in a language which neither I nor the people speak too well. I did invite questions from the audience, knowing very well that none was likely to come.

Quite unsure of the achievement of my self employed enumerator cum translators, I pulled two people out of the crowd randomly, identified locations for them to be seated, allotted directions of traffic movement to each one, and gave a beaming smile at the rest of the lot. It was then a muffled unrest started among them, including the separated two. Lots of questions started pouring in, this time in Hindi, mostly regarding duty hours and breaks for refreshments, and of course, payment. So back I went to my politician role. I answered all questions satisfactorily, putting special effort to include few phrases from my mother tongue which are reasonably similar to their Oriya version. That was something I should have avoided, because it resulted in a “rebombardment” of the same questions in the local language. Luckily my translators came to my rescue. Then I again did the process of deploying the selected two and explaining their task to them.

As I was about to move, suddenly a man came and joined the crowd. He was introduced to me by one of the group as a fellow-enumerator. Although dismayed for having to repeat the entire process, I granted him a special one to one explanation of the format and without waiting for his questions, hurriedly packed the remaining lot in the car to transport them to another location. I was careful to leave behind a man on so-called supervising duty, which in technical terms, simply means reserve duty.

Having gone through the deployment process, I embarked on a super human task of supervision over all the locations. I got myself driven back slightly ahead of the initial location and having comfortably parked the car in the shade of a tree, performed the act of volume count for half an hour. I went back to my enumerators, compared my count with theirs, and although they were quite similar, I gave them a big and completely unnecessary verbal thrashing, glorifying the ignorable difference that an anomaly of two cycles can make. It reminded me of my other professional version, from where our story took off.


My Unfinished Life said...

I can fully identify ur dillema…..wen suddenly ur thorwn into a situation where u are the decision maker……it's a imaginative written post…and I can easily imagine myself in place of you …keep it up and wrtie some more stuff...........

Anonymous said...

i can see into the deepest recess of your heart since you love the monsoon. I have always romanced the rains myself even if i have been moving everywhich way but loose all these years. You have the ability to touch a chord. But then, when we are talking about rains, we are also talking about the BRT. Give it some more time before it can make commuting better in Delhi. There has to be a certain degree of sacrifice for every revolution to frutify, and the BRT is perhaps as much a revolution as India's coalition politics. Being another migrant delhiite, I can only say that India's Capital city can never be like your backwaters (because somewhere deep within we are so strongly tethered to 'home'), but i just cannot run-down the truth that Delhi is offering me my bread at the end of the day. However much we may not like it for its demographic fissures, I would not slander the city. I am sure that when your chips are down, you can construct of de-construct the Delhi psyche since you are an architect of considerable note. So, don't worry. Let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

you are lucky to have those red AC buses and the new-fangled green ones. when i had come to delhi, we just had DTC and rickety private buses that were few and far between, literally. Those days, travelling in a bus was as bad as serving white wine with corned beef. of course, commuting in delhi has come a long way. but i still depend on that old warhorse -- the auto -- when my wife is not doing me a favour by driving me around in her car.