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Some Traffic for Thought

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In the last two weeks, I encountered 5 hours and 45 minutes of traffic jams. In hindsight, it doesn't seem a lot but as is the case with boredom, time appears to be speed running on a treadmill . Traffic jams, unlike its nature, appears in daily discussions only in passing. "Oh the traffic is bad today", "I got late because of traffic". This villain rarely gets enough attention except when one is with it and like sand on clothes it is brushed off as people move to talk about something important. Since change starts from the 'I', here is 800 words of spotlight, illuminating on personal and social facets of city traffic.

Traffic jams matter. Cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai are world famous for their rush hour queues. Excited tourists dejectedly reverse after a traffic rush towards their destination, ruining their travel plans. My entire day in the past two weeks was planned around not getting stuck in traffic. If I did not book the cab by very precise 7:43, traffic was in store for me. I could immediately empathize with my mom's woes as she frenzied to leave for work at sharp 7:55 A.M- even a minute delay meant an hour of traffic. Despite this knowledge, I still got late because apparently getting properly ready is more important than reaching your destination on time (sighs). The traffic built up slowly, perhaps prepping one for the final blow- 5 minutes of light traffic, 10 mins of medium traffic, 20 minutes of heavy traffic. No doubt the latter is the worst especially when highways too are lined with cars. Highways are supposed to be a respite - a soar the vehicle takes after miles of toil on that too simplistic, occasionally broken road. It's like sliding down world's longest slide only to encounter iron barriers every few millimeters.

Traffic jams are great equalizers- no matter how fast your automobile might be, it's gonna turn into a snail. Traffic is God! The monotony and day's tiredness made me drowsy and when I slept, there was traffic; while I was sleeping, there was traffic and when I got up, yes there was still traffic. Given this omnipresent nature, traffic seems to function as God. Radio stations do the noble task of giving traffic forecasts but imagine the annoyance felt by the masses stuck in the same traffic being warned against. Who are you trying to save Radio? Among all this, the green light is my knight in shinning armour and sudden drastic movement of cars a speed drug. One time I remarked "I just wanna go home". "Everyone else also wants to go home" replied that meek wise voice inside my head.

I can now intellectualize with office-goers bearing traffic on a daily basis, which is a symptom, consequence and symbol of fast-paced industrial life. In modern times, it's completely normal for your workplace and residence to be miles apart. Rise of a complex urban milieu increased distance between places and people. For the 18th century natives living around Calcutta, urban jobs and transportation created a new experience of travelling from home to workplace. Cut to a typical 21st century metropolitan city, we all know that one person who hates driving for such long hours yet forces their own self to trudge along the same routine on repeat.

Wikipedia writes "rush hour traffic congestion is an inevitable outcome of standard work day." Inevitable outcome? Illusion of capitalism normalizes absurdities. A significant question - despite daily commuters being aware about the rush hour they're going to encounter, we still see a rush hour build up. Surely not all of them are clueless innocent first timers.

From cardiovascular to muscular ill effects, that traffic is injurious to health is not unknown. Yet, systemic frills numbs our pain. In all sense, I am merely back seat commenting on traffic, for the cab driver was in a relatively more troubled state than I was in. Yet the mental traffic, not always a by-product of traffic jams, was at peak for me. Deciding to focus on the other side of the window brought forth two very common but concretely inexplicable emotions. Sonder means getting awed by a basic truth. Each passer by has a past, present and future-a story so uniquely theirs. For this brief moment of traffic, our lives insignificantly intersect. There's an unexpressed solidarity by virtue of us being stuck together and experiencing the same struggle, wanting to be out of this place. Each one feels like an amigo, comrade, a mate.

Then there exists a neutral trance-like observance of everything, from conventional aesthetics to the deranged. Sunset, clouds, pigeon sitting on electricity lights, roads lined with tree canopy, white markers on roads, beautiful buildings, small car stuffed like a chicken with people, clothes spread on street covers, scratch on cars, catchy revealing bumper stickers, a girl studying inside an auto, polythene covering street lamp, pan marks on footpath- what a beautiful world!

We're tuned to seek meaning at some far off place-whether it's job, college or school. Similarly, the noisy stagnation of traffic oozes restlessness of wanting to be somewhere else. In that sense, challenging traffic means finding unscripted joy in it. And people do that in their own way but I can't wait for the day when entire traffic steps into a musical flash mob. That's what we need- some spontaneous collective action.

Ananya Rai

Delhi South '23

Ananya is a 2nd year, history honours student from Jesus and Mary College who laughs at the most random things and get's inspired by everything.
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