If integrity doesn’t inspire us, how will a bicycle?

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Occasionally we read of some interesting but highly impracticable bits of news and views. Over the past few days I have come across two such pieces which, to me, seem as if they were accidentally misplaced from a column that should have been titled ‘This Day, Fifty Years Ago’.

The only difference is that they are both from current headlines.

The first piece was the suggestion from a very responsible and concerned fellow citizen, a few days before August 15, that we should all fast en masse on our Independence Day to wipe out terrorism from our country.

The second was the recent announcement from our inspired deputy commissioner that Namma Mysuru would in about two months time from now, have separate tracks on most of its main roads for the exclusive use of bicycle riders.

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I personally think that in the present era and age, beyond fulfilling our religious, spiritual or medical needs, fasting is not going to make any great difference to the way groups of people with serious differences of opinion and ideology look at each other.

And, terrorism certainly is the unfortunate fallout of just such a state of gross disagreement that needs a much more practical and permanent solution that appeals to the mindset of all the groups at conflict, rather than just a stop-gap, emotional Band-Aid.

Although fasting may have moved mountains in the past, in today’s scenario it unfortunately falls only into the latter category. The very fact that no one took a serious note of the recent suggestion to resort to fasting as remedy for our problems, shows that it is not of much practical use.

The truth is that although non-violence and fasting have been hailed as the two main weapons that got us our freedom, today the actual utilitarian value of even the Mahatma’s frequent fasting itself is under hot debate with me sharing the benches with the doubting Thomases.

When the present-day terrorist is not bothered about the pain and anguish that he inflicts on the helpless men, women and children with his acts of cruelty, I do not think he is going to be one bit bothered about whether we celebrate our independence day eating or starving.

Terrorism is just like most of the cancers that medical science is trying to tackle today; often diagnosed too late, well beyond the easily treatable stage; highly virulent, with the treatment often turning out to be more painful than the problem and always one step ahead of a complete cure.

We all know very well how an economic giant like America is right now going both berserk and bankrupt in a desperate attempt to tackle terrorism at an unreasonable and astronomical cost and how the uneasy peace that it seems to be maintaining on its streets is certainly being painfully lost far beyond its borders.

Nevertheless, just like in the case of cancer, which afflicts our bodies and yet torments our very existence, we must spare no effort to find a lasting cure for this malady, however frustrating the exercise may seem. But most importantly, let us all remember that Band-aids certainly do not banish cancers.

Here, sustained, sincere and non-partisan dialogue that addresses all issues seems to the only treatment that seems to hold some hope.

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Coming to the second bit of news about the separate bicycle tracks on our roads, which seems to be coming to us as a special and unasked-for Rajyotsava gift, it is thankfully something that is less grim and something that we can all laugh about, although we may end up losing some precious public money in a futile bid to try out the novel experiment.

Although I agree that it is something that has been working very successfully abroad I am personally willing to take on any bet that here the proposed bicycle tracks will only be as transient as tyre marks on loose soil.

Impressed with what is successful in some much saner parts of the world like China, Japan and Europe it would be foolhardy on our part to try to transplant the same into our midst without first training ourselves to acquire a tiny bit of the self-discipline that we see outside our country.

Firstly, we do not have any roads that are wide enough to carry different forms of traffic in different lanes without any overlap. Secondly, how are we going to handle these separate lanes at our innumerable road intersections without traffic separators and looped flyovers? Thirdly, from where are we going to bring the almost extinct bicyclists to adorn our roads and accompany our deputy commissioner when he brings out his school-days bicycle?

Ever since I read the news about this new venture I have been scanning our roads very keenly to assess the percentage of citizens who are using bicycles vis-à-vis other forms of personal transport and find them almost non-existent. Expecting people to take up cycling after having tasted motorised transport seems rather far-fetched.

If P. Manivannan thinks that people will be inspired to ride bicycles if he just sets an example by riding one, I would like to know how many of us have emulated him by becoming honest and law abiding citizens knowing fully well that he is one of the few very honest and upright government officials we are fortunate enough to have?

Will our high and mighty KSRTC bus drivers respect the rights of our humble bicyclists when they do not care two hoots for our red lights, zebra stripes, and yellow lines? Especially, when every one of our traffic cops without any exception of rank or resolve, from the highest to the lowest, is programmed only to sheepishly look the other way whenever a KSRTC bus appears on the horizon.

I have so far not seen a single traffic police officer reprimanding a bus driver even for any of his most dangerous transgressions let alone successfully stopping and booking him for the offence. And ironically it is the same cops who are so duty conscious and unforgiving when it comes to stopping helmet-less two-wheeler riders, who, while imperilling their own lives, pose no danger whatsoever to other road users.

Can any of our administrative heads explain the reason for this inefficiency and discrepancy, and what they wish to do about it in the near future?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a version of this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Flickr, digitally enhanced

Also read: All terror can be traced to injustice, inequality

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