April 4, 2012

Chaotic roads reflect the chaos in our mind

This moment in my life, I happen to be resident in India. I see the chaos on the streets of Delhi and begin to realize that streets reflect the culture of a people. As a very descriptive editorial in the Times of India, New Delhi April 4, 2012 issue lists out, the increasing throng of vehicles on Delhi’s roads reflect the hierarchy of society in the varying shapes and sizes of vehicles plying, the lack of compassion for pedestrians, aggressive attitudes of not giving way in the lane or at traffic lights or running the red light, abhorring lane driving, keeping ambulances waiting but giving way to the entourage of the rich and powerful, cutting the lane, or seeking to get the best position in the queue at toll-gates, honking the moment the red-light changes to green, etc. From a sociological analysis, these behaviors collectively indicate, the writer notes, is a living example of history and how the people have been nurtured by it. How our social values and mores have been shaped. The ways in which we drive, deal with our fellow-drivers, and with pedestrians are fundamentally linked to these historical and social conditions.

How about our roads in our little capital of Maldives? Would our little chaotic corner of the world give some insights to what is seething in the value-deprived depths of our social ethos? The chaotic road dynamic in Male, while uncomparable to that of Delhi, shares the bases of the sociological underpinnings that define a past, if not one that we are learning as we “progress” in national economic development. I say economic because that seems to be where the totality of our national focus is on. The decisions on national development that we hear about daily in our media or ambient gossip are all about money and materialism, and very little about the silent breakdown of our social fabric. We don’t hear our leaders raising these in public forums or see new foundations for it laid in schools or family circles. There seems a general short shrift given to this aspect while embellishing the programs that would lay the ground for economic development. How much of it are we blindly seeking? How much of it are we really willing to share with our fellow citizens, or are we just moving this agenda for the benefits of a few? How much of it can we carry away with us to the next world? Unfortunately, the chaos we are witnessing on the streets of Male – the selfish disregard to pedestrian safety, the speeding by sized or oversized motor-cycles, the lack of walk space for pedestrians, the street violence prepetrated--and sadly injuries and deaths from such events--is the result of the mindless push of economic development in a context without the requisite social fabric to value the realized gains from it. The windfalls of economic development in the hands of those who don’t have the social values and mores to use these delights wisely cannot but lead to greater chaos and social fragmentation. We need a balanced agenda for a balanced polity of the future.

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