I don't know about you but when I read about traffic law enforcers stopping VIP cars going on the wrong side of the road and giving them tickets, for some reason I feel like jumping with joy. Forgive me for being gleeful at another individual's inconvenience. But every time I am in the middle of one of those mind numbing gridlocks that can carry on from one to two to three hours and have to witness the flag carrying car of a VIP or their offspring, mother-in-law or just the chauffeur—all of whom are semi-VIPs by association—breeze away on the wrong side of the road, I am ready to implode. This sentiment of outrage mixed with heavy doses of helpless frustration is shared by thousands of other desperate co-travellers, sweating buckets as they waste away precious hours of their life in traffic congestions.
Even more infuriating is the fact that often the choking jams are caused by these very deviations that only the powerful and their minions have been able to get away with. For which traffic police would have the temerity to stop a VIP vehicle from violating rule number one of traffic rules: Do not drive towards the opposite flow of the traffic? Remember what happened when one such masochistic fool tried to stop a VIP during Ramadan when the traffic reaches its most insane height? The VIP pulled the typical: Do you know who I am? mantra and explained to journalists later that he was forced to go on the wrong side as he would have been late for an official Ramadan party if he had taken the regular (read legal) route and how would that have been in terms of public relations, to be late for iftar, for goodness sake? You can't argue with such logic right?
This is because they are VIPs or Very Impatient Persons who are also Very Influential Persons. They are our royalty and our nobility and therefore cannot be exposed to ordinary, mundane experiences of the masses. Their time is far more valuable than the public who have elected them. Their skin is far too delicate to be exposed to long hours of vehicular air-conditioning and their eyes cannot take in so many hours of ugliness of the concrete jungle. Traffic jam? Gridlock? What in heaven's name are those things, our aristocracy may wonder when confronted with such phrases. For they and their children, their attendants and their attendants' attendants have never experienced the things that we commoners have—whether it is inhaling the dizzying odour of rotting garbage or the pain of waiting two hours for the luggage at the airport after twenty-one hours of travelling across the globe. This may well be the reason why our traffic problem has reached such ridiculous heights—because our leaders just don't know any better! The poor things have never been in a traffic jam—how can they possibly find ways to remove it?
All that seems to have changed in a matter of days. Miracle of miracles, someone in the police department decided to conduct a three-day drive to educate those clueless souls on why they should not drive on the wrong side. On the very first day of this courageous (some might say suicidal) drive 57 drivers were pulled over and fined for taking the wrong side of Hare Road. Among those fined were none other than a state minister, a lawmaker (let's hope he doesn't work on traffic laws), several high ranking bureaucrats, an army officer and yes, unfortunately a few journalists.
It didn't stop there. Vehicles of a senior and a deputy secretary of the home ministry, an additional secretary of the ministry of communications and an officer of the public administration ministry were also fined.
To make things more dramatic the driver of a secretary of the Rural Development and Co-Operatives Division was fined on two consecutive days for the same violations—that too with Madam Secretary inside the car! Perhaps she thought this was a just a token fine, a publicity stunt, to appease the disgruntled subjects.
Obviously these guys meant business and they have been carrying on their brave operation to try and get the high and mighty to smell the stink of ordinariness. They have gone as far as fining even the car of a top ranking police officer—who would have ever imagined such a thing?
Funnily enough it is not just government officials and their associates who have so far enjoyed this peculiar privilege of being able to go on the wrong side of the road. Motorcyclists, Dhaka University buses and even cars of television channels have happily plied on the wrong side. It seems the ability to bully the traffic police by invoking names of the Influential and Mighty has been a key factor in the right to wrong passage.
So when even after the three day drive we still see police officers stopping cars with flags going on the wrong side and then fining them we cannot help but feel the unfamiliar yet exhilarating joy of vindication. We cannot refrain from cheering them on: “Catch him, catch him, do not let him go.”
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.