Friday, August 14, 2015

To Do As You Please

The car jolted through the roads, dipping into potholes and bumping over humps. Kani checked her watch. There was still time to reach the venue.

But as if on cue, the traffic slowed down near a main junction and the car came to a stop at the signal. She looked up at the timer as it ticked in a countdown from 45 to 0. She braced for the car to start, but the traffic didn't budge. Horns blared, to no avail. The traffic flowing from the other side had not stopped, despite it turning green. A third side entered the fray and within minutes, there was chaos, each trying to cut in and effectively. There was no traffic police and like the proverbial mice playing when the cat is away, the people jumped the signal as if they would be stuck on the road forever otherwise.

Kani grimaced, pained at this simple lack of discipline. Her driver switched the official beacon light on and forced her way through, a few people tailgating in her car's wake.

The roads were smooth till they entered the street. She had to close her nose. The sewage water was overflowing and the driver drove cautiously, for fear of getting stuck in a ditch. An SUV with a party flag drove past more confidently, brazenly, splashing slush generously all around. "Ugh!" she exclaimed.

She entered the apartment where the meeting was to be held. She was welcomed warmly, obsequiously by the residents. Her experienced eyes quickly assessed the situation. She could see people standing in loosely formed groups. Some were clearly the residents of the apartment. There were a few who looked like they had come from the nearby slum. They looked uneasy and militant. There should have been a third group, but hardly surprising that it was missing.

The secretary of the apartment association whispered in her ear, "The hospital management team that was supposed to meet got held up in a meeting and were unable to come..."

She pursed her lips and nodded as she walked towards the community hall.

The hall filled up as she took her place facing the crowd. The secretary stood up, welcomed her and introduced the topic - the overflowing sewage that had made living there and walking on the road impossible.

"Madam, after much investigation by your department, it has been found that the hospital's waste is getting into the drains and clogging them..." he submitted humbly.

The people in the audience started murmuring. "Such a large hospital, and they cannot control it?" "How are you going to stop this?" "It is an environment problem..." "How much are they paying in bribe?" demanded the educated.

"Children cannot play on the streets!" "The water enters our homes!" "The water mixes with our drinking water!" the slum people added their voice.

She got up and raised her hand to calm them. She had asked for a projector and connected her laptop. Images came up, of garbage being thrown near the drains by the slum people. One man had stuffed sack full of bricks in the manhole to stop the sewage from entering the slum area. The residents of the apartment looked shocked.

The slum people became quiet.

She silently played another set of slides. Sanitary napkins, used condoms, plastic covers in manholes clearly inside the apartment complex.

The residents fell silent.

"We provide the services. Do you want us to police its use also at all times?" she asked quietly.

She packed her laptop and left the hall, refusing the offer of coffee and snacks. The next day was Independence Day and she had to be early at the office for flag hoisting.

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