Chennai traffic sign

Apropos the above story, as those who send letters to the editor of a beloved local newspaper are rather fond of writing, The Man from Madras Musings would like to know if traffic lights matter at all in our city. MMM writes from personal experience. There is one traffic light en route to the Madras Musings office that has never worked in living memory. No, that would not be the absolute truth for it does flicker to life at least once or twice in a year. But it remains dormant for the remaining 363 and a quarter days (and nights).
Now this is a fairly busy intersection with a large hospital that is separated by a busy road from its morgue on one side. There are besides several schools in the vicinity, as are many popular eateries. Traffic swirls around the place night and day. The hospital, founded in 1847 or thereabouts, follows certain practices from inception. One of these is the transporting of the dear departed in winding sheets on wheeled stretchers across the road, in the midst of busy traffic. And so this is one junction where the living and the dead compete for moving on, apart from the usual cows and dogs. Despite all this, accidents almost never happen and hold-ups are also comparatively rare. Everyone keeps moving.

Collisions and the occasional skirmishes happen, but these are all viewed as part of the give and take. A few hot words are exchanged and then peace is restored, the traffic moving on. Nobody misses the traffic light and, as for the policeman who is perpetually resting under a shade-giving tree, he is a firm believer in the policy of laissez faire. He is, in fact, the first to egg people to keep moving, even those who pause and gaze at the signal, expecting it to come back to life.

All, in short, is well except on the odd day that the signal works. Traffic then begins piling up on all sides. Vehicles tend to jump the lights, resulting in accidents, and plenty of heated arguments. Those in two-wheelers shy away sharply on seeing the sheeted dead waiting next to them at the same signal and this adds to the general chaos. And then we have the poor policeman. A working signal means more work for him – he has to ensure vehicles don’t jump the signal and those that obey them stay well within the stop line. Based on the time of the day, he has to alter the time duration of the signals in certain directions. And he has to make peace among those arguing, something that he was doing earlier but with far fewer incidents to handle.

Taken all in all, life without a traffic signal is far easier than when it works. It may be best to have them all removed and leave it to the people of Madras to do what they do best – adjust, and get along with life.