The Home Minister has decreed that no more than two persons can be on a motorbike. The Roads and Bridges Minister has made it known that no child can ride or be on a motorbike.
The first move is something you cannot but welcome. The second leaves you rather perplexed. How do you tell a father, a guardian, that he cannot have his child seated behind him as he takes him to school in the morning? Besides, with all these gruesome crimes recently committed through a use of motorbikes, should we now begin to think that a child who takes a motorbike ride, courtesy of his parent, on his way to school or anywhere else for that matter, is henceforth a suspect in crime yet to be committed?
Go back to the Home Minister's directive on that two-person ride on a motorbike. Did the instruction have to come so long after hundreds, probably more, of motorbike users have somehow become used to that three-person factor? And there is that other irritating question which threatens to eat away at our sensitivities: why should it be the Home Minister who will issue such instructions when an entire police department, with all its relevant divisions, is there? Ministers are not there, or should not be there, to micro-manage. Heads of government do not have the job of looking into any and every government programme and its implementation. There are their ministers to do that. But observe: most of these ministers look to the Prime Minister for directives, for a sense of direction as it were. Officers whose duties are spelt out in the rules book look to their ministers for guidance in doing their work.
All of which explains an unpalatable truth --- that democracy in our part of the world is yet miles behind what we think it should be. Indeed, had democracy, in that strictly proper manner of speaking, were there, there would be little need to dwell so hard and so seriously on all those menacing men on motorbikes. The very fact that democracy is yet going through teething problems or has been swatted down every time it has tried rearing its head in the country is to be glimpsed through an observation of all those tens of thousands of motorbikes creating chaos on our streets. Or rephrase the statement: it is not the motorbikes but their riders who are the problem. But do these riders care?
Not very long ago, the judiciary made it known that motorbikes would not get on the pavements or footpaths. That was the law, speaking without ambiguity. But did anyone pay attention? Or, paying attention, care? The pavements have continued to be taken over, with impunity, by motorbike riders. Their reasoning, a flawed one, is simple: the long queues generated by traffic congestion on the roads hits them and therefore it is that they must go for the ingenuity of riding cheerfully down those footpaths. It does not matter that the pedestrian is supposed to possess that pavement. It is of little consequence that a pavement by nature ought to be the preserve of the pedestrian. The more significant part of the entire episode is that the pedestrian does not matter anymore. You glare, about to explode in anger. And then you spot a policeman, he who should enforce the law, cheerfully violate the law. He and his motorbike are on that footpath. You are about to break into copious tears. The law enforcers and the law breakers are on the same page.
These motorbike riders have changed the rules of the road. If you are old-fashioned, if you still naively cling to values, you will recall that motorbikes or smaller vehicles must move on the left side of the road, with bigger vehicles appropriating the right. That rule was flung to the winds long ago by our motorbike riders. They are now everywhere on the road --- on the right, in the centre and on the left. They have become a defiant lot. They swiftly round on the driver of a car trying to take a right turn, carefully papering over their own lapses here. They are to the right of that right-turning vehicle, but that does not embarrass them. And their fury is aroused. In the distance, you spot a bored policeman. Should one complain to him about the motorbike rider's ignorance of the rules? Drop the idea, for chances are the policeman could be unaware of the rules himself.
Motorbike riders have little time for the rules of the road. When all other vehicles stand still at the traffic lights, because vehicles at that other end must be allowed to move on, these motorbike people squirm and twist and turn and squeeze through all those stationary cars and buses and auto-rickshaws to manoeuvre their way out. They are in inexplicable hurry. It is not a pretty sight, for it reminds you of people with great cunning or with attributes of thieving who need to stay a step ahead of time. You shout at these riders. You hurl imprecations at them over their lack of shame. They do not care. The skin has come to acquire increasingly thicker aspects in them. Whatever is thick is beyond touch and is ugly. There is little you can do here.
Perhaps one of the nicest aspects of studying the behaviour of motorbike riders, in this city and in this country, is the wonderful way in which they have their helmets dangling from the front of the motorbikes. The head, where the helmet is supposed to be, is blissfully free of this contraption. So what you have on that motorbike before you is the rider and the helmet, each with its individual personality on display as the motorbike breezes down the road. The best comes through the spectacle of three young men on a single motorbike and not one of them wearing a helmet. They breeze down the street, they pass by one policeman after another without worry. You stand and stare.
And that describes the world of the citizen today. He stands and stares at everything which goes on around him, for he is helpless before the post-modern universe he is part of.
Our lives, to a large extent, are today what motorbike riders have decreed them to be.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. Email: ahsan.sye[email protected]