Chaotic empty roads and a German lesson
Published : Friday, 12 June, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 493
I have recently begun bicycling to office. First to make it a part of my regular workout routine and the second for saving the throwaway cash spent on Rickshaw and ride sharing fairs. The main road leading to Motijheel from Elephant Road's Bata shoe shop roundabout becomes relatively free after 4 PM. As the traffic becomes relaxed so I usually start after 4 and the perils of pedalling also begins.
However, as much as there is pleasure riding on thin-traffic Dhaka streets, the risks are twice as dangerous. And it is more on the pains than pleasure of bicycling in Dhaka.
These days, the capital city of Bangladesh has become devoid of any right and wrong side driving during the relaxed hours. It was the same during the puzzling protracted 'General Holidays'. Rickshaws, motor bikes, private cars to police vehicles all had become markedly obsessed to wrong side driving risking head-on collision.
In particular, the empty streets became manifestly riskier for bicycling, since it is tricky to anticipate whether any one is heading on your direction from the opposite side and at what speed. Moreover, there was none to rule the roads.
Just to give you an idea how chaotic we had become, even when the roads were largely empty, up until 3 May a total of 211 people were killed and 227 others injured in 201 road accidents across the country. More has added up.
Whatever, this writer had close shave with at least three such accidents while pedalling to office in the past week.
On one occasion I had stopped a motorcyclist coming from the opposite direction near the Dhaka Club and asked him why he was driving so fast from the wrong side when the right road was empty. In response, he pulled his face mask displayed a brazen smile, exposed his dirty yellow teeth and replied "arre bhai raasta to khali keu to nai" (Hey bro the road is empty so who cares?)
On a another occasion a luxurious black jeep , honking frog horn with a ministry tag near the foreign office was nearly about to crush me , thank god my 8 , 000 Taka bicycle was easy to manoeuvre faster than his two crore plus shiny opulent four-wheel . The driver went even further abusing me loudly as a "Raastar telapoka" (a cockroach in the street). Who would believe that a 'cockroach' is in - charge of the editorial section of an English Daily today?
The message in short - many of us have become habitual violators of traffic rules. According to an old Bengali proverb - man is a slave to his habits. The curious observation here - what's the need to give birth to a needless habit? Meaning, what's the need for violating traffic rules when the road ahead of you is clear?
At times it appears, there is a serious flaw in our national character as a people, and I am not including all in the list. We love to break the law with or without reasons. And it stands the same when it comes to violating social distancing rules. These days I don't get dazed any longer when I hear or read about crowding in public or private places.
The fact, a Bangladeshi will break the law anywhere, anytime and with or without a reason had become normal to me many years ago. The law abiding Bangladeshi nowadays falls under the category of 'rare species' or almost extinct.
You may be asking the same question as this writer, what will make the Bangladeshi follow the law, whether it is the traffic or some other law?
Well our lawmakers can place and pass a bill in the parliament by following the official procedures, ordering all citizens to follow a new law. It won't however work with hundreds of unimplemented laws existing merely on paper gathering dust.
On the contrary, you can ask the people the trillion dollar question - what will make you follow the law?
Separating the long list of penalties and fines, it is time to ask this question to all our drivers, rickshaw pullers and motorcyclists. On purpose, I am restricting the legal margin among our traffic rule violators.
To finish with, it was a cold October night in Germany. The year was 2016. I was travelling in a microbus from Heidelberg to Karlsruhe. It must have been quarter past midnight. The streets were empty where you could easily speed up the vehicle anywhere above a hundred miles per hour, but the driver refrained from doing so and diligently stopped wherever the signal turned red.
This writer coming out of a habitual law-breaking country became irritated, unable to hide his impatience he asked the middle-aged gray haired driver what was the reason behind stopping at every red signal when there was none around.
The driver stopped a little further ahead, turned around and smiled gently. Offered me a candy and took a short pause to arrange his words.
In broken English he said, "Rules are rules Mr. Feroze. That's how we have built today's Germany. Whatever we are today is because we follow and believe in those rules."
I remained silent during the rest of the journey.
The writer is Assistant Editor, News & Editorial, The Daily Observer