Friday, September 23, 2011

Have you read the Electronic board at the crossing?

I was passing the Lotus crossing (the Nehru planetarium crossing, after crossing Worli- towards Haji Ali) the other day while coming to college. I had never before paid attention to the electronic message boards on the crossings (it is technically called the variable messaging system). I knew they were present but never bothered to read them in particular.

These boards reminded me of Calcutta. These days in Calcutta on most of the major crossings (especially in central Calcutta) you will hear an announcement system blaring in Hindi, Bengali and English, “paidal yaatriyon se nivedan hai ki traffic signal hone par hi rasta paar karen, yaad rakhein ki ghar par koi aapka intzaar kar raha hai.” It was just a bizarre recollection.

So, this electronic board read:

Drive slow and avoid sudden breaking

Check wipers and car batteries

Keep a torch handy and glass breaking device (I am just assuming that the word was device as is wasn’t displayed properly)

Roads get slippery due to accumulated dust and lubricants

Better safe than sorry. Use zebra crossing

Check tyres. Worn out tyres are prone to skid

In case of water logging, help others in distress

For monsoon precautions visit

The first question that crossed my head was- what is the point of this board being here. Do people even bother to read it? I have paid attention to it for the first time in three years (I don’t even know if it has been there all these years or not).

Just a random thought!

Two weeks later I was going to my guardian's place (in Chembur) and was waiting at the Haji Ali bus stand. 30 minutes of waiting and not even a single bus. I decided to do some fun stuff. I took a bus to the same lotus crossing. I wanted to ask drivers if they ever paid attention to those instructions on the message board. But the problem was I hadn't done things like this before. What if they thought I was a beggar asking for some ‘donation’. Ummm...not a very good idea. But I hate waiting for buses.

So, I go ahead. I was standing on the path between the two lanes so that I could keep an eye on my bus too. I started with the taxi as I didn't really know how I'd feel to knock at someone’s car window. I didn't even know what I wanted to ask. So, I just started by, “bhaiya, aapne kabhi vo udhar jo board hai, padha hai?”(pointing to the electronic board). The driver was chewing a tooth pick and had one leg on the seat, least bothered to even listen to what I was saying. I just heard a monosyllabic reply, “nahi”. I said “acha” and took a step back. Didn’t know what to ask further and kept staring at him. Felt really stupid when the taxi rushed past and I was still standing there bewildered.

I waited for the signal to go red once more. This time with a little more confidence, I think. Once more targeted a cab driver with the same question. This time the reply was, “humko ye englis me hai, samajh nahi aata. Jaanne ka mangta, par abhi main kisse puche. Naya naya shuru kiya taxi na chalana.”

Another taxi driver first asked me, “usme kya likha hai?” I told him all that was written. He said, “pachees saal se taxi chala raha hun, sab pata hai, aur ye sab hum logo ke liye nahi hai.” Me- “to kiske liye hai?”. My bad. Green signal. He had to leave.

Next signal, Another taxi, same question- reply- “nahi, par agar English (he pronounced it right) padhna aata, to zaroor padhta, five class tak school to gaya hai, par vo hindi medium tha. Aajkal almost har ek signal par aisa hi board hai. Ek baar passenger se pucha bhi tha, vo bhi meri jaise hi nikla.”

Green signal. By the way, I was doing all this while waiting for my bus. I had completely forgotten about it.

(thought: Now cars)

Next red light, a car driver this time. I did something that I feared the most, knocked on the window. Same question, (I stopped for a minute, thinking if I should ask the question in hindi or English- I went ahead with hindi). Answer- “I haven’t really bothered to, anyways English samajh me aati hai na (in the peculiar English accent, I felt like calling him a word that starts with the “f”), why are you asking me this?”he asked

“It is for a college project, anyways thank you”

This conversation lasted for only a few seconds but I didn’t like something about it. I took a break. Looking to the other side if my bus was coming. I must have definitely missed one by now. Waiting for another red signal, another car.

Thankfully I didn’t have to knock on the window this time. It was a woman. Something made me ask her the question in English. Reply- “no dear, but now I think I will, thanks” (smiles and starts reading the board). I felt a bit awkward (don’t know why).

I now understand why reporters often fail to balance their stories. I somewhat gave up midway. I didn’t want to ask anyone anymore. But this exercise did help me in some way.

Now, coming back, the replies given by the taxi drivers made a lot of sense. The instructions on the electronic board were in a language which a lot of people do not understand. Taken that the website has a tab which gives you all the information in Marathi, but people need to know about it to reach there.

I realised I was quite comfortable talking to the taxi drivers than I was to the car drivers. May be if I tried a car which was not self driven, I would have got a completely different response. Technically, as we have studied that include all sides of a story (be objective) is an important factor while reporting, I should have asked a few other people like the bus drivers (shows I'm a really bad reporter). Although a little one, this activity was quite some fun, and in the end I have something to write for my blog J

And I got my but just 2 minutes after I reached my bus stop.

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