Posts Tagged ‘Kolkata’

A momentary lapse of reason

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Random Rants
Tags: , , , , ,

Reason has its dimensions and shades. When it lapses, we try to find reasons for those lapses as well. I can claim that I am a reasonable person – to an extent; but, I cannot claim that I am not vulnerable to occasional lapses. Almost all instances of such lapses occur when I am experiencing an overbearing feeling of losing control over my life. The most recent and probably the most intense in many years of such lapses occurred this past August.

I have gone back and forth on whether to pen it – and then finally decided to take the leap. I have talked to some of friends about it – and they have agreed with my assessment. Although the reasons and the situation for the said stupidity were understandable, the actions were certainly not prudent, at least on hindsight.

The two trips to India this year were certainly not under the best of circumstances. My mother has been undergoing medical care since May end and she has been on my mind at all times; so has been my dad, who has been handling everything with so much poise that it is indeed inspirational. That inspiration has done little to help my frustration of not being able to be by their side (physically) when they need me the most.  I try to find consolation in the fact that my dad, and my mom, when she is in her senses, truly believe I should be where I am.

These thoughts have been rampant during my second trip to India. I was happy to see mom released from the hospital and back in the comfort and familiar environment of her home – although she was under constant care and supervision of a medical attendant. She was not mobile by any means – although the urge and the willingness to try to improve was there.

My daughter, my parents’ only grandchild, did help my mom cheer up – until the day of departure was imminent.  On the day I was about to leave for my mother-in-law’s place (close to the airport and hence the logical first and last stops for all our trips to India), it happened.

I was returning from the nearby Big Bazaar, the Indian version of Walmart, so to speak. My dad, soon to be an octogenarian, was behind the wheels. My mother always vouched that his love for his work, which has always centered around automobiles and heavy equipment, surpassed his responsibilities towards his family. His love for his automobile related work transcended to his driving abilities as well – he has unquestionably been an expert behind the wheels. Although his reflex and eyesight has been deteriorating, he is still 10 time sharper on the road (in Indian conditions) than anyone I know. We took the newly-constructed bypass, a two-lane road lined with occasional piles of stone aggregates and sand evident of the spike in real estate it has engendered. The setting sun shone on the windshield through the trees, flickering a blinding glare every now and then. The road is yet to become the quagmire that is its inevitable future – with few cars, trucks, rickshaws, and pedestrians at any given time.

As we were approaching the final stretch, I spotted a a group of four pedestrians strolling well ahead of us, with the swagger and negligence common across humans and animals on Indian roads. I cautioned dad of their presence, in case he hadn’t noticed. Just as we were about the pass them, one of them decided to stretch his on-road-callousness to new limits, moving towards the center of the road and narrowing (albeit unconsciously) the the available space for us to pass. It so happened that a motorcycle with a rider and pillion, decided to pass us at that very instant, with a hurry unbeknownst to everyone, save them. My dad, in his wisdom and quick calculation, decided to spare the life of the distracted pedestrians at the cost of preventing the motorcycle riders from passing us at that very instant. I saw the riders screeching to a halt behind us, and utter an expletive clearly directed to my dad.

Now, Indian Metro dwellers have developed an uncanny ability to be resilient to expletives – almost as much as sputtering them out at every opportunity without any discretion whatsoever. During every annual trip I would re-acquire the resilience in the first few days – starting with rage within the confines of the car for the first couple of days, reducing to whimpers in a weeks time and frustrated laughs or sighs thereon. But this turned out be an exception. Possibly my inability to control the events of my life – my mom’s sickness, my inability to be by their sides at the time when it matters most, my dad’s single handed fight to not let fate dominate, and the fact I am leaving things unresolved and returning to the States, was a recipe for disaster. The expletives directed to my dad, a person who I have always admired and aspired to become, was the final spark that was needed.

My rage was uncontrollable. Yet, with a calmness that was unusual to me as well, I alighted the car ignoring the soft requests from my dad (who appeared to be at ease and satisfied with saving two lives and apparently agreeable to dismissing the intransigence of the motorcyclists), to let it go. I walked to the riders who have then taken to pronouncing the incapability of my dad’s driving unabashedly and asked who spurted the expletives. The two riders, barely into their twenties, probably did not quite expect someone almost twice their age to confront them in such a manner. In their wisdom they decided to skirt the question and kept pointing out the error in my dad’s judgment that led to their harsh braking.  I ignored their contention and without raising my voice I reiterated my inquiry.  The pillion rider flinched, dropped his voice, still skirting the question and continuing his line of argument.  It was clear who the perpetrator was – so I asked him to get off the bike and apologize to my dad.   As this was happening, I noticed that there was another motorcycle, again with two riders that has also stopped, probably due to the same reason – being denied a safe passage by dad’s quick unanticipated maneuver.

What happened next was not something that I planned, nor anticipated – i.e. my lapse of reason. I dragged the pillion rider by his collars off the bike and threw a punch right to his face. His associate joined him to fight back. I was too angry to even take stock of the situation and gauge the possible consequences.  Thanks to my height and reach, a baseless confidence, and a foolish conviction of doing the right and needful, I somehow managed to tackle both the twenty-somes at the same time landing punches and pulling maneuvers that one can conjure up only under such bizarre circumstances. My last punch had an unintended consequence – it broke the band of my wrist watch, dislodged it, and and threw it to the nearby bushes.

By then, the two other riders had a chance to take stock of the situation. In an effort to prevent any further show down, they rushed to the middle. These new riders, who appeared to be in their late forties (in their infinite wisdom, and my luck) decided to reason with me. They contented that we (meaning my dad and I) were at fault as far as the maneuver was concerned; and it was utterly unfair that I took to manhandling the poor bikers! The expletives (that in my opinion superseded everything else), were conveniently ignored. My dad came out of the car, still trying to persuade me to let go. A few other onlookers were approaching me, while a few more decided to stay on the sidelines waiting for a clear direction on the flow of events.  These new riders strongly derided my action on the poor victims and demanded an explanation.

I had a split second to decide on a damage control strategy – after all I was well aware that the unwritten rule of the Indian road is that the larger vehicle is always at fault and,  destined for sacrifice (read deliberate vandalism). I decided to to take a chance at persuading these new riders who seemed to have assumed the role of arbiters. My argument was that they (these older riders) were also forced to brake harshly; yet they did not scream expletives at my 70 year old father like the other perpetrators. Wouldn’t they be mad if it was their dads on the receiving end and not mine? Wouldn’t they have reacted strongly? To my pleasant surprise, this line of argument resonated with the folks.  Although, they were not fully convinced that my manhandling commensurate the obnoxious behavior of the two young riders, they bought my reasoning. Dropping their initial aggression they asked others to help me find my watch, which was soon retrieved.

The sudden turn of events surprised the young riders.   They got up and declared (it was not directed to anyone else in particular) that the car (meaning our car) should be stopped. Fortunately for us, there were no takers and the gathered public simply ignored their presence. I walked slowly to the car, with a soreness on my right knuckles, which I haven’t felt until that instant.  I stole one last glance towards the young riders, who were still gathering themselves up. My dad did not waste another minute and hit the road before any further turn in events could occur .

It took a while for me to fully take stock of what happened – may be an hour, may be two; and, to this day, I keep thinking and reassessing my actions. Was my outrage justified? In a place where expletives are used by the old and young often directed to no one in particular, was it really necessary to act like I did? Taking a string stance like that – is it worth it? From a practical viewpoint, my action was purely stupidity.  In the current state of the Nation, and perhaps more so in West Bengal, where population is strongly partisan, any incident quickly escalate beyond control. Many youngsters are either goons themselves or are connected to some. Many carry concealed weapons. If these guys hit my dad, he could have been badly hurt.  But what could I have done different? Scream back at them and simply drive away, as is the norm?

I grew up in much nicer surroundings – where respect for the elderly was a given. Not any more. But old habits die hard – due to my self imposed 14 year exile to the US, I missed the boat of the “cope and change” phenomenon. Would I do it again? I think not – not because I don’t think it should be done, but because the repercussions might be more than I can handle. I will take pragmatism even if it is dished out with a healthy helping of cowardice – because it is not just about me and my morals and my convictions and such…  and, because, I realize that it is the new normal of “reason”.