Fidel Castro once said, “I would not vote for the mayor. It's not just because he didn't invite me to dinner, but because on my way into town from the airport there were such enormous potholes.” I don’t know which country’s roads he was referring to but potholes seem to be now making headlines as if they are something new. The last couple of weeks have seen a kind of campaign against potholes by the media. And it’s not just the media, even political parties are also taking law into their hands and enthusiastic party workers are beating up contractors who have done a ‘shoddy’ work. Why is such a hue and cry being made about the potholes? Since the time I was a small child, I have always gotten used to potholes. There is no city where potholes do not exist. Even Lalu Prasad Yadav has a famous statement on the condition of roads attributed to him, when he had just come to power and which he now denies. He had reportedly then said he would make Bihar’s roads as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks. So at least the issue of roads and potholes are two decades old.
Pathetic roads are part of the Indian experience. My cousin had been to Congo as part of the UN peace keeping force. And guess what, the first comment he had about Congo were the roads -they are better than the roads in Chennai. Imagine, the place is close to the equator where the rainfall is heavy, it is a poor country and there is a civil war happening, and still they have better roads than India.
I think instead of complaining of potholes and debating ad nauseum the causes, let me make a list of all the positives on account of the potholes. My advice to fellow Indians – adjust kar lo.
First benefit is human safety. Indian motorists often confuse between the accelerator and the brake. Once behind the wheels, most people imagine themselves to be Schumacher or even better. One or two pegs later, they become even more dangerous. Traffic signals are routinely ignored and driver suffers from temporary color blindness when see a red signal. Even the traffic cops don’t impede the progress. This is where potholes come to the rescue. People drive cautiously expecting a pothole sooner than later. Maybe that’s why you find many potholes near the signals, which make people automatically abide by the traffic rules.
Second, it is a natural way of putting old vehicles out of the way. In India, vehicles continue to ply beyond their normal age and thanks to potholes, many of them die a natural death with their axles breaking and their inability to cope with the pot-holed roads. In a way, it’s a forced retirement for these vehicles.
Third, potholes will solve our traffic problems in the long run. There will not be any reason to implement congestion tax. Some countries are taking measure to stop clogging of roads by putting something called as congestion tax. Such concepts are difficult to put in place and even more cumbersome to implement in India due to lack of electronic infrastructure in the country. What happens when the road is filled with potholes? It takes a long time to reach your destination and that surely makes you angry. In the long term, some of you may decide not to use the car and perhaps opt for public transport. The public transport is another story but in Mumbai we have the local trains and the not so best option, BEST buses. A person travelling by bus would be comfortable with the fact that the suspension of the bus is much better than the suspension of his or her two wheeler, or auto rickshaw or for that matter even the car. So, I expect over time, people will stop using roads and shift to trains or buses. Once people stop using their own cars, then we will have less of carbon and sulphur emissions and global warming will reduce. If potholes increase, then consumption of petrol and diesel may reduce after some years as people will get fed up of driving and choose other options like walking or cycling on BMX bikes at least for smaller trips. If such a thing happens, it will lead to a green movement unknowingly and perhaps some individuals may hope for getting carbon credits too.
Four, potholes follow the Indian Constitution in spirit, especially right to equality. Potholes also bridge the great divide between motorists and pedestrians. Why should a person sitting in the car always reach faster than the person walking on the street?
Five, they help in scientific progress. According to classified ISRO records, the Apollo rockets that landed on the moon, used Indian technology to maneuver around lunar craters. The vehicles did test runs on Indian potholes and later patented the technology, so India could not benefit.
Six, they can be used in different situations. For example, if you are late to work, you can blame pot holes. In a meeting where you have to kill time, you can share your favorite pothole story. It could well be a journalist’s delight as there are ‘n’ number of angles you can give to a story on the pot-holed road; it could be a statistical description of the length of the potholes or photographs of potholes or some off beat stories like how far is a pothole from the minister’s house etc. And so on.
Some pot-holed roads may be visited by tourists the same way people visit the ruins of Hampi or Mohenjo Daro. And they will exclaim, “Oh people used to drive on this.” To summarize, individuals, corporates and the government could join the movement to make India an ecologically friendly country by promoting potholes. If walking more becomes a way of life, it will be good for health and medical costs may come down. A fitter and healthier nation could be the aim of the government and perhaps that’s why they encourage the increase in potholes. And as you walk, mind your step.