Imphal roads have become truly dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Each day there are some road mishaps somewhere. Yet, everybody seems to think these are the natural prices to be paid for urbanisation. Nothing can be further from the truth. There are so many cities in this world where with several hundred times more motor vehicles but posing little danger to either pedestrians or cyclists. This would be as a rule true of most cities in the developed world, and in the most disciplined countries of South East Asia. Perhaps it is an inheritance from the Buddhist culture, but only seldom do people try to jump traffic queues or traffic light in SE Asian cities. This is so even in rural area. On a rural road in Thailand once, this writer had an amazing experience of a traffic jam on one side of the road, while the other side meant for traffic in the opposite direction remained free and with very few vehicles plying it. No vehicle from the jammed side of the road crossed into the other side to beat the jam even there was no divider in the middle of the road to physically prevent cross over. The only divider was the normal traffic white broken line drawn on the road. A European travelling in the same vehicle with this writer, waiting together in the jammed side of the road, was equally amazed. To the observation nobody in India would have had the patience or decency to wait like this, he said even in Europe, this would not happen. Compare this with the traffic in an Indian city like Patna.
Why Patna, look at Imphal traffic. It is in a total chaos. The funny thing is, there is so much enthusiastic chatter of a Look East Policy, or Act East Policy, and the tone is never short of eager expectation. Right now, an official level talk for opening a bus service between Imphal and Mandalay is underway. If there is so much affinity for the East, as so many are screaming from the rooftops, why is the place not trying to imbibe those qualities which distinguishes the SE Asia from the rest of the world. If in the past the place has been picking up anything from the SE East, it is those avoidable qualities such as drugs. One is reminded of a description in Orhan Pamuk’s “Black Book”, of a scene that is at the same time poignantly tragic in predicament but comic by its immediate situation. Manipur’s nostalgia for the SE Asia then is akin to someone looking longingly towards the east from a ship headed west.
Literary flourishes aside, Manipur needs to get its acts together. Let its people know disregard of traffic etiquette is generally looked down upon as uncouth in the civilised world. There are no admirers for the driving skills of breaking traffic queues to squeeze ahead of the car in front. Instead, let the traffic here emulate those of the best disciplined in the world. Let the Act East Policy begin with this change of attitude to traffic. In the meantime, it is also for the government to create the right kind of infrastructures to ensure this discipline can be easily kept. It is atrocious that none of the roads in Imphal have a pedestrian pavement, or cycle track. This would mean either the traffic authorities do not expect anybody to come out on foot or cycle. Or else they want pedestrians and cyclists share and negotiate the roads with the ever increasing number of motor vehicles, very often with very unruly drivers behind the wheels. No wonder then road accidents are on the rise, and the government must shoulder much of the responsibility for this.