By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Guwahati, our dear city, has abundant problems, which are too many to count. Even if we try to list them, the task would be Herculean—and it would need reams and reams of paper to list all of them. Whichever way we turn we encounter various problems—major or minor, which have made our life a hell on earth. It is no use making complaints, since it has been our sad experience that complaints always fall on deaf ears. Possibly Darwin had a fair idea of this B-grade city of ours, when he laid down his rule of the “survival of the fittest” in his doctrine of Biological Evolution. Truly it appears that one needs an iron mind and body to tackle the problems of this city of ours. We have all these problems of intermittent load-shedding, flood, water-logging, dead telephones, dirt and slush all around, corruption in high places—to me only a few.
One of the major problems faced by the Guwahatians is the condition of the city roads, lanes and bylanes which are found in plenty—med after some famed or not so famed person. Possibly those persons, after whom the lanes and bylanes have been med, would have squirmed in agony to sec the pathetic conditions of the subways, which bear their mes. Not that roads are anything to make a song and dance about. Apart from traffic jams in these rrow roads—they pose multiple problems to the pedestrians, motorists and scootrists. These roads offer lots adventure and drama to the citizens—which can never be experienced in any other city.
What is strikingly evident in this city is the number and variety of vehicles—cars, trucks, autorickshaws, trekkers, buses, rickshaws, hand carts, horse-driven carts, all jostle one another and want the right of the way before others. Each wants to beat the other—as if they are participating in a race. There is not a trace of consideration for others. Charity or generosity is utterly unknown to these highly temperamental and impetuous operators of diverse vehicles. Like Prince Duryodha of Mahabharta, none of these vehicle operators is prepared to give even a needle-point of space to others. In other cities too traffic jams are there—but, I have never witnessed such chaotic traffic in any other city. In these traffic jams, which might maintain its status quo for an hour or more, the pedestrians cross the road with heart in their mouths, anywhere, in the absence of Zebra Crossing.
Since our country goes for democracy and the government is supposed to work for the welfare of the “aam admi”, the people turally have special privileges. There is absolute freedom to talk and act as one likes, the traffic controllers are free to demand money for one reason or other from the hapless truck drivers or from others; the residents too are free to use the roads as they like, without any inhibition. They may or may not use the footpaths, meant for walking, which are specially meant for the safety of the pedestrians. Hence you see people sauntering through the middle of the road nonchalantly. And if some poor driver hits somebody—the public will take care of the unfortute soul by beating him black and blue, without pausing to consider whether the driver was at fault or the victim. They forget that their first concern should be the accident victim, who might need medical help. But attacking the driver appears to be the main duty of the righteous people around. That is the reason why there are so many hit and run cases—the drivers dare not face the public fury.
To avoid accidents, the pedestrians should surely use the pavements for walking, but it is also true that they are available only in some areas—and they are too rrow for a comfortable walk. They are not at all safe—as besides having open manholes, they also face other hazards. Some scooterists use the pavements for driving their vehicles at a breakneck speed, right across the middle of the pavement without caring that they might knock down somebody, including children. But who cares? They are free to drive recklessly and derive lots of fun from it. I think that our chaotic traffic might daunt even a Mumbaiwalla or Delhiwalla, though these cities have more vehicles than our city. The drivers of those cities perhaps do not face as many problems as the drivers in this city do. Their traffic is systematic and well-organized.
Let us take a good look at the Guwahati roads themselves. They are profusely dotted with potholes of various shapes and sizes. We have no idea whether the road is being demolished, or newly built or in a state of repair. Indeed our roads are ideal for excitement and adventure. You do not have to go on an African safari or a mountain trek to have thrills and adventure. Guwahati roads provide enough thrills to last a life time. During the rainy season most of the roads get submerged and this continues throughout the rainy season. You have to walk across waist-deep water to reach your destition. Cars get stuck in the inundated roads, and remain immobile. But the young boys are already there waiting for a chance like that—and they happily push the car to a comparatively safer place, for a hefty price of course.
With each repair roads get higher and higher—while the homes and the areas by the road side go to a lower level in comparison to the high road. When the rains come the drains overflow and the dirty water enters the homes, flooding the entire area. Hence Guwahatians have mastered the technique of living, cooking and sleeping in the midst of water. If the roads were kept in the same level and the drains were cleared regularly, such waterlogging would not have occurred. But of course then the residents would have missed the thrill of living with water all around. During the rainy season Guwahati may justifiably be compared to Venice, if you overlook some other factors like dirt or rubbish all around.
When you are driving by any road on long or short journey, you get a true value for your money. If you try to pick up speed, you might unexpectedly encounter one of these numerous speed-breakers, thoughtfully left unmarked. That would bring you back from your reverie or day dream, literally with a bump. You would be lucky, if the car remains undamaged and it still goes. For a spoil sport, who is likely to grumble under such conditions, we have only to say that he does not quite know the joy of living in danger. Those killjoys should know that these thrills of adventure on our roads cannot be given by a smooth pitched road, which gives an even and speedy drive. As in an adventure story, one encounters major or minor hazards at each road.
During the wedding season we have to cross other hurdles. In some wedding venues it can be seen that the entire portion of the road in front of some house is enclosed to make the pandal for the wedding. You go half way across the road, only to turn back at the site of the pandal, thereby wasting time and money. The same thing happens in case of repairing some portion of the lanes, which abound the city. They do not put up any signboards at the main point to warn the motorists that work is going on that way and he must not take that route. But consideration for others is the last thing you may expect in this dear city of ours.
Some of these roads in the city can be called ‘roads’ only by courtesy—they are so muddy, uneven and slippery that you have to hold your courage in both hands to venture that way. The other day I went to Fancy Bazar and from the river side took a lane to go to some business house. I left the car on the road—but after walking a few steps, I had to turn back. In the rrow muddy lane there was total chaos; men, thelas, scooters, cars, rickshaws jostled one another and it was near impossible to sqeeze through them. On top of that, cows were everywhere—some sleeping and some just sauntering-munching thrown away vegetables. One needs a stout heart to walk through that medley, which unfortutely I do not have.
When some wedding is held in some home, you are sure to find all sorts of rubbish on the road the next day, which might remain there for a week or so. There would be paper plates, cups, plastic plates, spoons, soiled paper pkins and stale food—all thrown away on the road side. The obnoxious sight and foul smell may give you usea and you are compelled to make a detour. Stray dogs would browse through the garbage for a little bit of thrown away food. But then it is the habit of some of us to throw away the rubbish at the neighbour’s gate and keep our home and compound clean.
The roadside is also used as a public toilet by some people. They believe that they have the right to use the road as a latrine—and to hell with the feelings of other people. It is of course offensive and objectioble—but then who cares? They are free to do whatever they want and nobody dares to object.
Then the footpaths are not exclusively meant for the pedestrians. The cyclists and the scooterists can be seen whizzing past merrily on footpaths, missing pedestrians (who have the right to walk there) by a hair’s breadth. The footpaths are also used by the hawkers to sell their merchandise. They are there with varieties of products—the children’s dresses, saris, men’s wear, bed lynen, socks, hankies—the list is endless. You me it and it is there. Women sit on the footpaths with maize. You can also buy puchkas, bhelpuris, nuts, fruits and juices right there on the foot paths. Some people live on these footpaths. They sleep, cook and eat there. They build up their makeshift homes with rags, broken tins or other materials and block the entire portion.
It is a known fact that Guwahati footpaths pose a death trap to unsuspecting pedestrians. They are full of open manholes—and due to our all-powerful power department’s intermittent load-shedding, from the evening onwards the roads are often left in pitch darkness. And there is every risk of a person going that way, falling down one of these gaping manholes, and breaking his neck. Even if he escapes death, he may break a limb or two. In the rainy season, the situation gets worse and the city resembles a vast sea and the footpaths become invisible under water—so do the manholes. Road accidents are common in our state—so many people die because of these accidents. But the powers-be appear to be unconcerned.
Some time back while driving towards some institute on the other side of river Brahmaputra I was dismayed to see that the huge old trees by the side of the road near the Saraighat Bridge had been felled. Those trees were breathtaking in beauty and big with history. But these majestic trees have been cut off by pigmies like men. At a time when the whole world is talking about the preservation of trees for the safety of the earth and va mohotsavas are held to make the people aware of the huge benefit we derive from the trees, it is sad that those beautiful trees have been cut down. We have no idea about the reason for this irresponsible and inconsiderate action, but surely the trees could have been preserved, if there was a will to do so. They were not only necessary to enhance the beauty of the road, but they also served as a side wall to protect vehicles from falling down deep below the road. Now without these trees the road appears to be empty and barren.
In mega cities like Delhi and others, we see that trees are preserved beautifully. Yet Assam, which was once famed for greenery, is fast losing its magnificence. In ancient era the people perhaps were wiser than us and they maintained a close relationship with tural flora and fau. They knew how to respect ture. But now people have no regard for ture, whom they treat as their inferior. In this desert like Guwahati city we see only multi-storeyed buildings, glittering shopping malls and luxurious restaurants and cinemas—but not beautiful trees. Once there were plenty of trees, which besides giving an enchanting look to the city, gave shelter to weary travellers, and protected them from the scorching sun or the pouring rains; now they are no longer there which is a great pity, to say least.
To make a clean and comfortable city the roads have to be clean and trees must not be felled. Another problem is that all sorts of rubbish like ba peels, soiled fruits etc are littered all over the roads and for that we cannot really blame the residents. The Municipal Corporation has failed to provide enough dustbins in various areas of the city. But the residents also must share some blame for making the city look dirty, as they have this bad habit of spitting every where—be it road, staircase or lanes. They too should take care to keep the city clean like worthy, responsible citizens of the country. Let us all try to make this city beautiful, which was the intention of ture. But man has disposed what ture proposed.