Welcome to India, a speed breaker country!

Have you ever seen an Indian walk? They walk with a peculiar jerk (not insinuating anything but merely describing our gait) which is unusual, but unique to each region

Peruvemba RK Jun 11, 2020

Have you ever seen an Indian walk? They walk with a peculiar jerk (not insinuating anything but merely describing our gait) which is unusual, but unique to each region. Strangely this jerk is less prevalent on rural folk who are sans vehicle. I have always wondered why; then it hit me the way a speed breaker does that. It is because of the permanent fixture of speed breakers (also called speed bumps/humps) at frequent but irregular intervals in all roads of India; be it urban or rural ones. 

‘Build speed breakers and bung in a road’ seems to be the administrative policy on India's roads. People dealing with this business like the surface transport ministry officials, local civil authorities, and traffic police attend specialised capsules with only the top of their batch getting selected to attend. Even contractors who build roads on speed breakers are looked at with awe and given special privileges when awarding contracts. They can charge twice a year for maintenance due to heavy tear and wear (naturally not much compassion is shown to the vehicle owners or victims of accidents!).  In India anybody can create a speed breaker, just needs a little mud, stones, tar or cement (even big pipes or uneven grilled structures will do), which he can obtain/or steal from a contractor. People will willingly help as we do with anybody who wishes to build a place of worship, but that is another story altogether.

The intensity, ferocity, and periodicity of vertical and numerous 3D jerks are directly proportional to the frequency, height, inclination, composition, the health of road including a number of potholes, and whether the speed breaker is marked or unmarked. Multiple jerks of varying intensity due to multiple or multi-layered speed breakers are common (will call them breakers, hereon, for sake of simplicity and truth). There are a group of people, however, who promote it passionately like the Orthopedician, especially spine surgeons, physio-therapists, and quacks, who quickly seize upon this back-breaking opportunity. Lastly, godmen and pandits to whom people turn to when all else fails. I will not be surprised if India has the maximum back and muscle ache population and consequently healers.

Like we attribute a particular cuisine, habit, language, slang, diction to a specific region or city, like dosa to Tamil Nadu or colourful topi to a Pahari, we possibly could attribute a particular type of jerky walk to a region like the Calcutta or Kanpur jerk, or fix his residence close to the national highway if the jerk frequency is low. Experts may even venture to guess if the state of the road has improved or deteriorated by a person’s walk! Has the state of roads in Ferozepore/Tanjore improved, or the number of speed breakers increased’ may be a query after identifying his typical walk with minor variation? So do we arrive at a natural deduction that every Indian is a jerk!

The Commissioner of Police (Traffic) rather than taking offence of people taking matters of speed into their own hands feels honoured. It will not surprise me to hear them boasting to each other about the number of breakers in their jurisdiction or putting up signposts like ‘Maximum Speed Breakers Street’, like San Francisco proudly proclaims ownership of the ‘Worlds Crookedest street’ with maximum hairpin bends. Soon our cities, towns, and villagers will try to outdo each other to establish more and more breakers. Their structures have no consistency, and the more brutal they are the more credit the locals get. 

The fact is that these structures have actually caused more accidents, even death, and motor vehicles to breakdown. It is a matter of principle that they will never be marked, lit up, or warning boards put up so that drivers are surprised violently when he crosses one. Delight is expressed if it catches more drivers unawares, more accidents occur and more people die, both in and out of the vehicle. This leads to more breakers, of course, and the vicious cycle continues. Another interesting trait observed is that the person who most vociferously protests against speed breakers is the first to demand a speed breaker outside his home/office. To make it more exciting breakers are thrown in for good measure along national highways especially after lulling drivers into supine, jerk-free journeys causing mayhem and pileups especially in inclement weather and poor visibility conditions. 

Post accidents/pile up reports and media have never blamed speed breakers for the horrific accidents since remedial measures ‘make no news’. It is highly probable that the term ‘Breaking News’ came from speed breaker accidents like ‘Breaking News- 100 cars and 1,000 bones broken in yet another pileup along NH 1’. In fact, a penchant for a higher percentage of breakers in some states or towns is borne out by the fact that there are more ‘break ups’ between couples in those areas, and some even travel interstate to traverse such roads to signal their intent and literally break the news to their unwary partner.  

When some locals have had enough and protest strongly for a breaker audit, immediately a committee is set up which strenuously debates every technical and traffic detail. It is a fact that their report starts by strongly condemning speed breakers, and after detailed analysis recommends at least 50 percent more speed breakers but with different structures, dimensions, and potency which can demolish any vehicle (I fear even tanks) on one traverse of the road. The committee even puts up notices on all new breakers proclaiming their ingenuity and degree of difficulty in construction them. This one product is truly ‘Made in India’ and will soon be exported world-wide due to its tremendous success and innovativeness,

Could this speed breaker syndrome be an Indian trait? The cautious Indian hates innovation, ingenuity, excellence, and meritocracy and consequently adores mediocrity, hates speed/ progress/ development, and loves speed breakers in life.  Maybe, not on his own, but in all other's lives. ‘Sharmaji is doing much better than me and contributing in all spheres, let’s throw a breaker at him’ is a common refrain. Rarely would you find a speed breaker-less road or an Indian, thus making it a road less traveled! Not surprisingly, it has been mastered into a fine art by our politicians to gain/or retain power, who don’t work for national interests and party political goals, but focus on throwing breakers on opposition party routes without realising it slows down their own and national aspirations. 

So fellow citizens and netizens, rise and remove the speed breakers in your roads and minds and see our ‘India Flying’. Zoom India is a better choice, but under present circumstances may not be appropriate!.

(The writer is a social activist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at flyboykumar15@gmail.com)