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Rush Hour

By Sahar Raza

The siren wailed incessantly but the cars would not move. Neel tried to focus on the heart monitor, and its irregular graphs, the heart was still beeping at a steady rate. He prayed another attack would not come. This was a 35 year old man.

Outside a heavy sheet of rain fell, horns honked, engines whirled, and the screeching rhythm of the ambulance kept up its irritating monotone. Still the cars would not move.

Neel thought how this was a genuine emergency case, in his career as a paramedic; it was surprising how few of those he had yet encountered. This was the kind of life and death situation where all depended on how quickly you reached the hospital, and how well you gave pre-medic care. The last one had happened more than 3 months ago when they had been called to a crash site. The driver had bled profusely and died before the ambulance could reach hospital.  Neel was shaken for days; he did not like to open the ambulance doors to anxious relatives of dead bodies.

No one had even accompanied this man in the ambulance. The emergency call was sent from an office building. No one had come forward and taken responsibility. He did not even know if the man had relatives in this city. At least he hoped they will be present in the hospital.

This guy was in his thirties, but he looked much younger. Heart attacks were much common these days but what kind of lifestyle would lead to this, Neel wondered. Maybe he did drugs, all well healed young men with plush jobs and six figures salaries did these days. How ironic, all their life they are pushed to achieve, to work hard for their ambition, for a better life and yet once successful they all went to bars and pubs to further abuse their bodies with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol.

He had read in newspaper how a college intern barely 23 years old had come out of office to the parking lot, dropped to the ground and died out of exhaustion. A man died simply because he was tired. Had this happened when people were just hunters or farmers not financial analysts or IT engineers?

The electrocardiogram still showed steady heartbeats; Neel looked out of his ambulance window to clear his mind. Outside the rains had not slowed down their fervor. Through a blinding grey sheet Neel could see a pizza restaurant, a motorist drenched in water, his windcheater jacket clinking to his bones, a woman standing under a flimsy tin shed of a grocery shop and the hood of a white Mercedes car.

They all had their lives, different lives which they led, not knowing when it could suddenly stop, they had no idea that a man lay amidst them dying, and they were too involved in the current moment to think of inevitability. Neel wondered what they were so busy with...

Pizza Boy
A pizzeria, Sai tried to keep his bile down, the smell of rancid cheese nauseated him. But he did not have many options. A brother of an uncle of his had got this job for him; before that he was cleaning tables and washing dishes in a third grade roadside Dhaba. This place was a 100 times much cleaner.  Besides he was learning how to drive in a city, driving was good money, he could become an auto driver, or a better still cab driver, be in a union, secured for life.

He use to throw up usually by evening when  he could not hold it any longer, but it was all good for when his shift ended he could always fill up with a glass of  local bear which made him sleep much better. This job was a dream! It closed regularly at 11 in night, work started only bynoon. The area was posh, he regularly got tips and the scooter was handy to drive and never broke down. At this rate he could even get married; his mother had promised him that.

The pizzas for the next order had arrived and there was trouble. The cook had got the order wrong, another pizza was loaded into the oven, the cashier shouted at someone, no one in particular heeded. Suddenly those infamous dark Bangalore clouds appeared on horizon of an otherwise bright sunny sky. Rains in Bangalore arrived thick and fast.

Five minutes over, only 15 to go. Sai hurriedly loaded the pizzas on to his hot basket, smiled and waved at the attendant, he felt the rush go through his body like an electric current, Sai loved to move on his scooter, it was no less to him than a racer bike. But as soon as he swerved the scooter out on the road the traffic suddenly slowed down and crawled. He had 20 meters to go before he could take a turn into his street. 20 unforgivable meters, he tried to turn to the right side of the road navigating in the littlest amount of space between the cars, by the time he hauled his Honda to one of the internal routes he knew, big fat water droplets had started to fall. Sai accelerated his scooter and swerved haphazardly to the right for his turn,   in trepidation he almost hit a woman on the footpath and scratched a vehicle. He did not care; he could hear a screech or two and an angry shout as well as he turned inside the street.  He did not look back even once. Somewhere far away an ambulance was wailing...

The woman
Meera's body was on fire. She was waiting for bus on the roadside and had just almost been hit by a pizza delivery boy. Standing in heavy rain without an umbrella under a flimsy tin shed, she cut quite a distressing figure. But distress was far from her state of mind, she was alive and kicking.

Wild rains always triggered something inside her, she felt so alive in heavy rainfall with strong winds as if they echoed what went in her soul all the time that finally all the elements of nature inside and outside of her body were in sync.

Inside Meera, there was always a lot of suppressed rage. She had always hated someone as far as she could remember, she felt oppressed almost all of the time and unable to break through, the world believed her to be a nice lady with a smiling face, Sometimes at night she bit into her pillow in anger; she fought imaginary fights with people just exactly what she will tell someone if she could speak honestly.

For Meera had the terrible gift of seeing the most brutal truth about every situation. This did not let her see any situation lightly or view any person much positively. It  had allowed her to see that her husband however  a nice man did not respect her or love her, that her friends were much ahead of her in their careers, that the years she has wasted to focus on family were not appreciated by anyone lest of her by her children.

Her 12 and 10 year old were rather unfeeling for her maternal instincts which let her to be a little lax as a mother. It may as well be because she disliked conflicts even with her own children and hubby. But the world in general was not kind to her as kind as she was to the world.

But now she was no longer the person being run over by someone or other all the time. She had come on her own. She had secured a job in one of the top most companies of this city. After years of struggle her career had found a direction. Her pay package was nearly as big as her husband. Ha, let’s see what they say now!

The appointment letter was secure in her purse with CTC (cost to company) in bold, black and bright letters. She felt vindicated; she would never have to ask for money ever again. She could buy anything and everything she ever wanted without having ever to think about the budget again. Somewhere around here there was a jeweler store, maybe she will head off and buy something today itself, a small celebration. Throw away the money in abandon.

She wondered what would be her husband's reaction. He will not show his anxiety perhaps that this would mean long working hours that their children will suffer. But then why he would cite examples of other guys double income to her. Why would he exhort her to join a job, save her career all the time? Why would he not think that so many years there was a reason his wife did not work. That she cared about the family that she made sacrifices, easily forgotten sacrifices. So he has to be happy he has to show joy, later the excuses will come, this company was too far from their home; it made employees work hard a lot... But she had already programmed herself to laugh it away.

Her children would not really understand the jubilation or disturbance. They found it hard to look beyond themselves and their lives. Maybe it was their age or maybe it will always be like this....

A thought crossed her mind, how exactly they all will manage, her kids came home by 3 and she would need to depend on a domestic help. How can she trust anyone to look after them, who will get their homework done? They have to find a cook. A couple working long hours, perfect recipes for kids to drift away get spoiled. She has seen it happen all the time around her, especially now when they were on the cusp of teen when they needed her most. Self-doubt and conflict started engulfing her. It was not that her family needed money for essentials.  She shook herself out of those guilty thoughts.  After all these years now was the time to be selfish

Meera delighted in the rain, she looked at the wailing red and blue sirens of the ambulance and wished it would blast its way out of the rut it was in, wished it would race down the road, for that's what ambulances were destined for, To move ahead, not to get stuck inside a traffic jam wilting under its own noise.

She started walking propelled by her own force.  She would find that goddamn store and buy diamond earrings. The water seeped inside her bag and washed the ink of her appointment letter, but she will get a soft copy anyway. She had to go somewhere, she had to do something.

The Car
Akhilesh cursed and muttered under his breath. He was sure his Mercedes was scratched. Nothing he could do about it. The pizza delivery boy had disappeared as soon as he had appeared. It was raining outside, beside his car the ambulance was wailing, it irritated him, he wished someone would give it a pass; he did not like the noise.

Akhilesh was on opposite side of the road, but he was not being shouted at by irate drivers as there were already two cars ahead of him which blocked the incoming traffic. Now it was all a mess, cars were stranded in all directions blocking each other, but once the jam clears he would be the first to get away since the vehicles would not move if this side of the road was not open.  If he had been on the correct side he would be behind at least 20 cars.

But unfortunately it was raining and no one would get out of their expensive vehicles to clear the traffic. They could be stranded here for a long time.

Akhilesh had a meeting to attend. Every afternoon around 3 his boss would call in attendance meeting of senior managers. The meeting served no purpose other than to ensure that all senior managers would come to office and they all knew that there was a boss on top of them

Otherwise Akhilesh attended all meetings on call; mostly from home. It’s not like he had to say much he just had to listen to the teams squabbling with each other. Sometimes he would put on mute and do other stuff. Once or twice he would interject, ask some questions enough to keep the managers on tow and then go back to half listening again.

Akhilesh had good insight, most senior managers relied on reports and excel sheets  for status of project ,  he relied on the tone of the people to glean in what shitty waters they were in. It was easy to catch a defensive tone or an overtly confident one. People who could be relied on to finish their work were just at the right tone, nor too conflicty neither too airy.

Senior managers complained of being busy... but by choosing the right kind of people Akhilesh sort of sleep walked through his job. It had also allowed him to be busy elsewhere, his real estate investment, trading accounts, making business contacts.  Irrespective of the success of his company or his project, Akhilesh always climbed the ladder with ease.  He may not be a very successful man but he was a rich man and that is what counted at the end of it.

Akhilesh decided he was going to be late and even if it was for mere 10 minutes, his boss would realize that he came to office only to attend this meeting and that would seem pathetic. It was of utmost important to keep immediate manager happy even as you plan to pull the rug from under his feet. It was better not to go at all. Maybe he could send a text stating a family emergency... but this excuse always sounded a little lame to him at his level.

Suddenly he had a brainwave. One of his projects did some outsourcing to a smaller firm some distance away. He will wheel away there for a surprise visit. But he will tell his superior that it was a scheduled visit. This sounded genuine and active much better than an excuse. Maybe his boss who was running out of topics to discuss everyday would simply be grateful to get this idea as a 'best practices' discussion today.

Meanwhile, as he messaged away he saw some motorist come out in the rain and start clearing the deadlock so that the ambulance could move. There was a tiniest of opening in front of him, instead of moving forward Akhilesh maneuvered his car behind the ambulance. Once the ambulance starts moving he can tail it and clear the road in the fastest way possible. People always gave way to ambulances.

Akhilesh smiled to himself, the trick was to know how to win the game and not to follow its rules.

The Good Samaritan
Dayanand was a conscientious hard working man. He could afford a car but he always rode a bike as he felt it was his duty to reduce the congestion on road. Sometimes he would get drenched but he never got sick. Today he was late to office, he had to take his children to doctor, his wife was a housewife and was hopelessly dependent. It was late afternoon but still he had to go as there was urgent work to be done. He would most probably had to make up for lost time by staying late in the evening.

He realized with distress that not only he was late but was going to be more so as now he was caught in heavy rains. He worried his manager will shout at him, they had a project deadline to deliver to and so much coding to be done.

Dayan and surveyed the situation before, it was a hopeless case. There were cars on opposite side of the road facing each other. He wondered what happened to people when it rained; they lost all sense of traffic rules. And then there was the ambulance too. He parked his bike on the side and walked ahead, something needed to be done, deadlocks do not clear of on their own..

There were one or two other  men who had come now to help regardless of the rain,  of course no one had left their cars , they were all lowly lives, scooter vaalas, idle  pedestrians , no one who minded getting drenched. In a wordless mutual decision they decided that the ambulance should pass first. And they started clearing the side of the road where ambulance needed to go. In the sparest of spaces the cars facing each other were asked to back off and not move forward and turn and twist so that traffic can flow easily. The drivers helped. Everyone welcomed a good Samaritan in this situation. Some more space cleared some scooters and bikes saw their opportunity and passed instead of waiting. He wanted to scold those who raced ahead regardless of his instructions but what was the use.

Dayanand decided to stay till the ambulance can pass. It was three cars behind. He was going to be late further but it did not matter. The story continued here.....