A series of boards in the Anantapur District, of Andhra Pradesh, scream out the words along the highway – Roads Indicate the Culture of the Nation.
Driving along the NH7, the traveler is forced to think about those words and what they mean. I began by listing out the characteristics of the road and then matching it to the culture of the country.
Narrow – This fact strikes you hard as trucks, buses and other passenger vehicles weave past each other with just inches separating them. The behavior is quite akin to how we stick to our “principles”, irrespective of what others think of them. We are quite okay with hurting or maiming others in our path. Work towards broadening ourselves so that everybody can have a say is given least priority.
Patchwork – Another striking feature of the people that has spilled over on to their roads. Nothing else gives the boards validity as this one does. A nation of close to a billion people, and the most common phrase is “chalta hai”. We make do with what we have. If we don’t have enough to lay new roads, the solution is to simply patch up the old one and make do with it. This attitude has led to the widespread corruption, inept leaders, business propositions that pass as schools and colleges, a medical system whose touch with the people is finer than a spider’s web-string. For the optimist, it could also signify the oft-repeated, oft-misused phase “unity in diversity”.
Full of curves – Falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle on the NH7 is a sure shot method of learning what “going off in a tangent” is all about. Like the country, the NH7 achieves in a roundabout manner what could have been achieved by a straighter path.
Accidents – The NH7 is littered with the remains of what once were vehicles. Now they serve as gruesome reminders of what could happen to the careless. The history of this country is replete with people that fell by the wayside. The inhabitants of the Narmada valley are just one simple example of the countless people we have left behind in our quest for “modernization”.
Speed breakers – Whoever heard of speed breakers on a national highway? Well for the ones interested in the subject, the NH7 has enough of them. Shobha De in one of her articles compared speed breakers on the roads to the bureaucracy that ran the country. Although more than a decade old, her view of the speed breakers holds good today and this “culture” of the country is certainly indicated on our roads.
Badly spelt boards – A drive on the NH7 is a nightmare for any English teacher. “Are you in trable?” asks one. That is followed a kilometer later by, “Are you in troble?”, then by “Are you in truble?”. Until at last they got it right at the next board. Surprisingly, for a country that puts so much by education, it is strange how unqualified people seem to be doing the job every where and, in many cases, doing it badly.
Roads certainly do indicate the culture of the nation, and if our roads are anything to go by, we are in deep shit!