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Jammin with you

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A cosmopolitan city, a metro to boot, needs its share of jams

There must have been an infernal accident, I thought, as one rowdy bike smashed against another jumpy microbus. Parts flying, limbs flailing, clothes ripped apart, the road bathed crimson, I let my imagination loose. Either that or our loving neighbor had blessed us with another blockade, this time of inner city roads. Made sense: Why stop at the border when you can directly impact Kathmandu’s ruling, exclusionary elite?

What else could explain the long line of vehicles, big and small, public and private, sleek and scratched, that, on that evening, snaked their way up from the tri-junction at the end of the famous slope at Gyaneshwor, up and up and past the Galaxy byroad? The queue was easily 500 meters long. Didn’t compute. Never before had I seen such a big jam there. If fact, I couldn’t even recall a small congestion. But by the time I had walked to the top of the slope I had a sneaky feeling I knew the actual cause.

My hunch was confirmed when I reached the bottom of the slope, the banana bend to Maitidevi. It was them again: the ubiquitous white caps.

There were three of them this evening. One was holding up the descending traffic from Gyaneshwor, firmly lodging himself at the head of the queue, bum to the headlights. If there was a brake-fail behind him, he would be flat as a pancake in a hurry. Another one was on the road to Maitidevi, furiously whistling and wildly flapping his white-gloved hand, but only half succeeding in directing the hydra-like traffic from Ratopul towards Maitidevi.

The third one, standing by the side of the road to Ratopul was, well, doing nothing, if we discount frantically walking up and down the road, this cursed vehicle to that, as work. (Could be. What do I know about traffic training?)

But I couldn’t imagine why this junction, which almost never witnessed a jam, now suddenly needed three cops to manage. Perhaps they get a little lonely if they are all by themselves out on these busy roads, the classic case of not having a drop to drink even when you are surrounded by an ocean.

Or perhaps there really is something to the rumor that all those who clear the loksewa exams, the entry ticket to public service in Nepal, can opt to be traffic cops if they can’t be adjusted in any other public office. In fact, if you ask me, it makes perfect sense to post our brightest folks on bespoke capital roads.

This is why they can these days be spotted everywhere, ever ready to offer their service to the motorists clueless about road rules. Clueless because lest the valley denizens get bored of plying the same roads, day in and day out, chosen sections are branded one-ways overnight. That way you get to play a new road puzzle every morning.

In fact, these days, whenever I find myself in a big jam, my eyes start dancing left and right in search of my beloved white caps. And surely, every time, I spot a poor sod; sorry, two or three or four of them most often. They are sweating it out, even at roundabouts. Man, the things we have to do to maintain a unique identity in the world!

I sometimes wonder what kind of training they get. My informed guess is that they are told that at every intersection there has to be a longish queue. That is why these traffic cops exist at all, right? Makes perfect sense to us scribes. If there is no newspaper tomorrow—especially those published in the language of the firangis that millions of Nepalis read every morning without fail—how will we be able to impart our boundless wisdom to the hoi polloi?

I do not (dare not) imply that these diligent traffic cops are deliberately creating the jams. Far from it. What I am saying is that a cosmopolitan city, a metro to boot, needs its share of jams. What if the Kathmandu Metropolitan City does not have a metro, what if it has no good roads, what if it does not have enough water and electricity? We have Only-in-Nepal traffic jams. Now how cool is that?

Think about it. What better way to show that we are a hot and happening place than to put a million vehicles on the capital’s streets, all those glitzy bikes and cars potent symbols of the growing riches of Nepalis? If you have it, why not flaunt it?
I digress. My point is that traffic cops don’t get the recognition they deserve. These cadets of the national traffic police hiring program, culled from the premier stock of humans, are the best in the business. I mean just look at them in action: whistling and gesticulating and strutting and baton-wielding; they are a veritable opera. We Nepalis are pathetic at appreciating talent. So hands off the wheels and a round of applause for these jam up maestros.

By Biswas Baral

The writer can be reached at biswas.baral@gmail.com