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A Life in Transit
Dissent: Volume 6 of the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing

A Life in Transit

They already have a term for it: ‘traffic-lagged’. Since most of us cannot afford air travel, the aspirational-sounding ‘traffic-lagged’ is all we can get. We have all heard of, experienced, condemned, and practised road rage. Now meet its dysfunctional spouse, traffic lag.

Fatigue, frustration, rage, and car-phobia are its symptoms. Seemingly an inescapable part of city life, commuting is eating into more and more of our time and limiting what we can do with our life. Since this time in transit seems unavoidable, we try to make the most of it. But there is little one can do. Reading is not advised as the shaky ride would make it hard on your eyes. You can’t munch on something unless you’ve got a stomach strong enough to resist regurgitation from the bumpiness. If you are behind the wheel, you’ve got your hands full trying to avoid a pile-up.

Helter Skelter: Traffic
In the free world, the most cruel and unusual punishments people experience are the self-imposed ones. Photograph by Scott McLeod.

Having moved back to Mumbai from a city with a 20-minute commute, I am still trying to justify my decision. While I refrain from whining about the traffic, it is hard to miss. No matter what route you take and in what configuration, it will find you. It will find you and it will mess you up.

As you stare at the never-ending cascade of stationary red lights up the road and then look at your watch, grief is bound to set in. All five stages can be experienced:

Denial of how late it is already.

Anger at the helplessness of the situation.

Depression due to the approaching E.M.I. of your gas guzzler.

Bargaining with yourself as to what leisure activity you will forsake now that you are late.

Acceptance that your life sucks.

When grief finally sets in, you realise that your vehicle has advanced barely five yards in the time it took you to fall through the five stages.

That is a lot of stress over an activity that does not add to your work, family, or personal life. On a given weekday, I hope to write an article, go to the gym, and catch up with a couple of friends (over the phone) after I reach home. This is turning out to be a highly optimistic view of life. When I am finally thrown on the shores of my apartment from the sea of commuting madness, there is nothing left of the day to salvage. All one can do is get some sleep so he/she can wake up the next day only to repeat the same drill all over again. I still try, though, to go extra-curricular. It would be safe to say I am still in denial.

In the free world, the most cruel and unusual punishments people experience are the self-imposed ones. What I am talking about is a mindset.

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We all have our stories—myths, rather—of a friend/acquaintance, who lives a mere five-minute walk away from his office. You put it down to luck, shrug, and get back to your clutch-and-brake routine. Many of us fantasise about a ‘peaceful small town life’. But even if such jobs and such lives were offered to you, you wouldn’t take them.

‘Will it pay enough?’ you would ask.
‘What if there is stagnation?’
‘Small towns tend to be too slow, you know…’

There are too many variables. Unfortunately, we consider commuting to be just one of them. So we try to live around it. Chopping vegetables and playing cards on the train are passé. I have heard of tuitions being given to students on the train, everyday! I myself have been known to carry everything except basic clothing to make it in time, including a shaving kit. All this craziness is for the poor folk who use public transport. If you are sitting in your E.M.I.-enabled sedan right now on the wasteland of the highway, all I can say is: ha-ha!

I commuted as a student and continuing it into the slavery of a salaried existence seemed natural. The woes of college admission have pushed people into suggesting that right to admission be subject to proximity of residence. What this means is if you live two districts away and still apply to every college downtown, a rule book will tell you to slow down. Maybe, a similar rule can work for employers too.

Since we are hardwired to choose ‘progress’ over human comfort, it would be good to have some decisions made for us. But it will never come to pass—too fascist, isn’t it? So we are down to free will, the biggest wild card in your life. Best of luck.

Even as I try to put a cork on this feature, I am sitting in a near-stagnant sea of traffic. Between potholes and a worn-out suspension, the bus vibrates so much it can give you a headache and an erection at the same time! All you can think is: Where is an out of body experience when you need one?

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