I was driving solo to the city of Kochi and heading towards the North Overbridge. Just as I was plotting my way through the maze of traffic moving at a snail’s pace, all hell broke loose. A traffic police vehicle was on my tail with lights flashing and siren blaring as if I was speeding away in a getaway car after a bank heist. I had neither visited a bank nor broken any speed records as the traffic was just crawling along.
I was peremptorily ordered to park my vehicle on the kerb and scrutinised as if I had just landed from another planet. I was not exactly an alien to Kochi since I had pursued my college studies there a few decades ago. Like many collegians of my time, I was quite familiar with the location of most of the cinema theatres and I could find my way blindfolded to either the Sridhar or Shenoy theatres in their heyday, where English films were screened regularly. But with the ever-changing landscape, maze of traffic lights, ongoing metro rail project and heavy traffic I was driving just like Alice in wonderland.
I do not live in this city but from time to time make an occasional visit, mostly with the assistance of a professional driver. In this instance, due to non-availability of a reliable one I had to take the wheel on my own. I even tried to park my car at the Aluva railway station with the intention of taking a train to the city but had to abandon the idea for want of parking space.
During my college days, I remember cruising around the city in an Ambassador car. There were no traffic lights, speed breakers or dividers. There was only the solitary policeman directing traffic at important intersections. Only cycle rickshaws and Kerala State Transport Corporation buses plied the roads apart from the few private buses in the city. Driving through Kochi then was such a pleasant experience. In contrast travelling today from Aluva to Kochi is a hair-raising event for an elder, with private buses overtaking one at breakneck speed, bikers and auto rickshaws criss-crossing through the smallest available space and the KSRTC buses speeding with equal aggression. A distance of hardly 15km, which a train covers in less than half an hour by road, it takes one to two hours.
The business-like traffic inspector pulled out his receipt book and was obviously about to fine me `1000 for a traffic light violation. I pleaded pointing out I was a senior citizen who has been driving for years without a single violation but due to the ever-changing landscape and overflowing traffic, I may have missed a red light.
The officer was far from amused, probably my dyed hair failed to convince him. Hoping to pin me down he examined my licence and verified my date of birth. He checked my vehicle registration certificate, indicators, etc. The vehicle was in perfect order. Finally came the verdict: My good track record saved me. I was let off with a stern warning that any further violation would lead to a fine of twice the normal amount.
I was perspiring profusely in the sweltering heat and anxiety of the moment. Thanking the cop I drove away with a sigh of relief, vowing to sport far more grey hair next time around.