Scene at a Traffic Signal
Visit any busy traffic signal of your city at around 9 o’clock at night on a weekday. Take a look at all the cars, buses, bikes and cycles, waiting for the red signal to turn green. While you are at it, also take a look at the people, the real people, in/on these vehicles. Perform a rough count and tell me how many of them are males. Remember that the time now is 9 PM. Now, again, count and tell me how many of them are males.
Aren’t most of these human beings male? Oh, hurry up! Before the light turns green, just try to measure the happiness on their faces. Do you see any happiness? Do you think that they have had their dinner yet?
What are these many men doing in the busy traffic signal at this hour? Yes, you are right. They are going back from work to their home.
Excellent! The green signal has started glowing. Do you still not see any happiness on their faces?
What are they doing now? Oh, racing against each other? But, why would they want to race when there is a clear road ahead of them? Yes, you are right. They want to reach home as soon as possible. They want to reach home before their wife and children sleep.
But, don’t they do the same racing in the morning too, while going to work? Are they eager to go to their workplace? I think I don’t have to remind you that most of the morning honking is nothing but a desperate cry of “Oh my God! I am getting late to work!”.
Now, bring your thoughts back to the traffic signal. Why do you think these men cross this traffic signal at this hour? What were they doing until now? Yes, they were working late. Why would they work so late? They work late so that they could make enough money for their family.
Let’s stalk a guy
In the traffic signal crowd, do you see a tall guy wearing a blue shirt? Yes, the one with a tiny belly. Yes, the one with the rimless spectacles. That’s him! His name is Rahul.
Let us drop our ‘no-stalking’ policy for a while, try to follow Rahul and observe him.
Rahul’s house is five kilometres away from here. He needs to cross three signals before he reaches his house. He drives his bike involuntarily. His senses are alert and seem to respond to the road traffic with appropriate application of brakes and change of speed. But, his mind is not on the road. Yes, he is not concentrating on driving but that’s all right. His reflexes have been tuned well not to require utmost concentration on the road. He has been doing this absent-minded reflex based driving for years.
Within two minutes of starting from the signal, Rahul happens to see a petrol filling station on the side of the road. He filled petrol for three hundred rupees only yesterday. If he had not filled petrol then, he would have had to wait in a long queue to fill petrol now. So, he must be filled with relief while seeing the petrol station now, right?
No, Rahul’s mind is not filled with relief. Instead, Rahul senses an anxiety growing in his mind. In his absent-minded driving, he noticed the price list that was prominently displayed in the petrol station. The price list announced that the price of petrol today was a rupee more per litre than what he got yesterday. He is anxious and shocked because his expenses are growing slowly while the income remains nearly stagnant.
Within minutes, Rahul hears giggles from a gang of college girls, who are trying to cross the road. One of the girls looks beautiful. In less than a second, Rahul looks at the girl and admires her beauty. Within the same second, the girl vanishes from his sight as his bike drives forward amidst the traffic. Now that the girl has disappeared from his sight, he feels a pang of guilt. He feels ashamed to see what he has been doing when he has a beautiful wife at home.
The guilt is short-lived only because, Rahul has now reached the next signal. But, that is not the reason for the disappearance of the guilt. The reason is that he just now happened to notice a huge hoarding with an advertisement of a bank. Incidentally, Rahul holds a home loan from the same bank.
I would call it only torture to remind a man of his house loan. Rahul has been paying a big percentage of his earnings towards house loan repayment as monthly installments. Yet, the installments do not seem to complete anytime soon.
Rahul feels an urge to smoke. After all, Rahul generally feels de-stressed after a smoke. He stops his bike near a tea shop and buys a single cigarette and a mint chocolate. Yes, his wife yells at him when she knows that he smoked. So, Rahul, like many men, tries to cover up the smoke’s odour by eating a mint chocolate after smoking.
Rahul’s mood is now a little better. Thanks to the single cigarette. He gets back on his bike and tries to get on the main road, where a BMW noiselessly whizzes past him so close that he would be hurt if there had been a tiny delay. Needless to say, a few expletives erupted from Rahul’s mouth and the mint chocolate was thrown on the road in the process. Thanks to the acoustic design of BMW, the people in the car did not even hear Rahul’s expletives.
Rahul has completed a full minute since the BMW incident when his phone started ringing. Noticing that there is a traffic policeman standing ahead, Rahul slowly parks his bike in front of a shop at the roadside and attends the call. The caller is Shilpa, his wife.
‘Where are you? Have you started from office yet?’
‘Shilpa, I am in traffic. I will be home in another fifteen minutes.’
‘Did you remind the plumber to attend our complaint at least tomorrow?’
‘Oops! I totally forgot. I crossed his shop five minutes ago.’
‘Oh my god! You did not remind him!’
‘No, I did not remind him. I forgot.’
‘He is not attending my call anytime. He listens only to you and you forgot. This washbasin’s tap is not working for the past three days. You know that I have to take water from the bathroom to wash dishes. Let’s see if you remember at least tomorrow.’
‘Is Nina awake?’
‘Rahul, it is almost half past nine. She is just a small kid. She had too much homework to do today. I put her to sleep just now.’
‘All right. I will be at home in sometime. Bye’
After disconnecting the call, Rahul realizes that the money spent on the cigarette has gone waste. His stress is back in a jiffy. Thanks to the BMW and his wife’s phone call.
Feeling too weak, Rahul continues his journey. As everyday, he passses past Nina’s school. The play ground of Nina’s school is conspicuously visible from the road. He notices that the stage on the playground, which was there yesterday, is gone now. Pain is back when he recalls how he was stuck at office, while Nina was reciting Bhagavad Gita and won the first prize yesterday. He feels bad that he could not see his child performing.
Rahul recollects looking at the photo of his daughter with the prize and feeling bewildered. Yes, the prize was a long size notebook and a pen. So much as fruits of two lakhs which he paid as donation (yes, forced donation, of course) to the school last month for Nina’s admission to kindergarten. What kind of school gives long size note and a pen as prize to a kindergarten kid?
As the journey comes to an end, Rahul enters the gate of his apartment, where a security guard acknowledges him with a smile. He wonders if the same smile would be displayed if he had not made the generous offer of five hundred rupees as ‘gift’ (read – forced gift) for the previous Diwali.
A creaky lift takes him to his flat. He rings the doorbell and waits. As there is no answer, he rings it again. His wife opens the door with the words, “Can’t you wait for a minute? I was in the toilet. Thank God! The doorbell did not wake Nina up.”
As usual, he eats his dinner alone while his wife watches TV serials. After dinner, he heads into the bedroom to look at his daughter.
Rahul finds Nina sleeping like an angel. He kisses her forehead and a sentence escapes very silently from his lips – “Thank God! I do not have a son. Mine is a daughter.” When he realizes the depth of his sentence, it is already late and his hands reach very quickly to wipe off the single solitary tear from his eyes.
Let us leave Rahul at peace here and get to our own world. How many Rahuls have you seen in your life? Are you or your husband a Rahul? Think!
Finally, when someone talks in front of you about how rosy the life is for men, ask them to read this article and comprehend it.
Picture Credit: Dharmit Shah/Flickr