Both my next rank and reputation in simultaneous jeopardy, I had to act fast to break the deteriorating imbroglio….
Back in the mid 1980s, the wait for purchase of a Bajaj chetak could extend to 2-3 years. You could however bypass the waiting line, if your booking had been done using foreign exchange. My elder brother’s official trip to Japan came in handy as he shelled out the required dollars to do the booking on my behalf. The day I took delivery of my prized possession, he was also kind enough to gift me an ISI marked Stud helmet.
“Please don’t ever compromise on safety and your safety gear”. His big-brotherly words of advice never stopped echoing in my mind as I hopped appointments in service. And then came a stage where I commanded a station. Like everyone in similar appointments, I was adamant on ensuring that there should not be a fatal on my watch.
Man proposes and God disposes. Very early in my tenure, we lost a corporal in a road crash whilst he was on leave in his home town. Word came across that the youngster was not wearing a helmet. Hellbent on not having an encore in any form, I set about enforcing road discipline in the strictest possible way. Not an easy task in an 1862 acre campus, spread over seven land parcels. I also realised that I held a deep-rooted conviction of road safety ultimately leading to a ‘safety of flight’ culture in the station.
Education and awareness have a role to play but it is fear of strict penal action which finally delivers. That’s how enforcement works. We found innovative ways of catching and correcting the errant boys. For instance, any guy riding a two-wheeler, if caught over-speeding would be stopped. The vehicle was impounded right there. It was thereafter left parked on the side of the road, with a prominent notice board indicating its owner and the section he belonged to.
The vehicle could only be reclaimed if the embarrassed protagonist came over, along with his superior officer on the due date. Regular three-four of such ‘confiscated sightings’ served to act as perfect speed-breakers. And yet the odd violations continued.
Not far from the main gate entrance was a roundabout at a junction with five leading-in roads. It was quite nicely designed and marked with signboards to regulate the traffic. However, cutting short to reach the mess (and not going around the roundabout) to save those 10 seconds was a regular violation. I could sense a potential accident in the making and strict instructions were passed to prevent such an occurrence.
Much to my anticipation, a group of five young airmen were caught one late evening by the security officer. The charge trial followed and this time I was in no mood to spare. In what appeared to be a sadistic streak, a disproportionate level of punishment was given to all the offenders. Fourteen days imprisonment! – the maximum I could force myself to dish out at that moment.
Within hours the sensational news spread like wildfire in the station. The event became the talk of the town in whispered tones. And almost like turning on a switch, traffic violations totally ceased in the station.
Frankly, a stage came where people were even scared to overtake cyclists. The zenith probably came when the AOC-in-C arrived for his annual inspection. While the privileged guest majestically took his place in the rear of the car, I took my seat beside him and put on my seatbelt. The C-in-C gave me a rather twisted eyebrow look as the practice was still not in fashion in 2010.
His ‘Wg Cdr’ Staff officer, loaded with a large briefcase and a mysterious gift box dutifully took his place in the front. Next to him was the specifically chosen MTD Sgt Ojha. “Let’s go”, an unbelted SO hinted to Ojha.
Ojha the stickler, thought this was perfect moment to showcase the unenviable traffic discipline of the station. He refused to budge and indicated the seatbelt in sign language to the SO.
Taken aback a little, the SO not used to being pointed out in field stations, muttered, “It’s okay, let’s go”. ‘No Way and No Go’ was what Ojha had decided and did not move an inch. He was convinced that I had his back. Not understanding that I did not quite enjoy the same equation with my boss who grunted, “What’s the bloody delay?”
A silently grim Bermuda triangle emerged in the staff car for a few seconds which felt like eternity. Both my next rank and reputation in simultaneous jeopardy, I had to act fast to break the deteriorating imbroglio. I suggested to the SO, “Saha, why don’t you pass that packet to me in the rear so that you can fasten your seat belt?” Better sense prevailed on the youngster as he sheepishly did the needful. Ojha let the parking brake down and set course with an unexpressed whiff of victorious smugness in his chin.
Ojha must have retold the tale, God only knows how many times, to how many of his mates. He became a hero no doubt but the message to the station was now loud and clear. We were in fact soon rewarded for our obstinacy in an unexpected way. Sqn Ldr Ramji Yadav and his family travelling during vacations had a horrific car crash. The entire family miraculously came out absolutely unscathed. Everyone including the toddler, had the seatbelts to thank for.
Sometimes we do-not realize the after-effects of our actions. Three years later, I happened to get posted to head another unit. Cpl Sonu, one of the five protagonists of the ‘roundabout shortcut’ fame was already posted there and smilingly came over to say hello. He had got over his past very boldly.
In fact, he had spread the word around about my ‘road discipline kink’ well before my arrival. Unbelievable but true, for the next two years, I did not get a single opportunity to take any corrective action for any act of indiscipline, leave alone traffic violations. The same happened for the subsequent next four years. I realized then that reputation does make a difference.
Today, it has been three years since I hung my uniform. There is a well known ‘Sai chowk’ not very far from my abode in Gurgaon. There happens to be a small roundabout at this road junction. Except for yours truly, I have not witnessed a single guy going round the circle in the last two years. I often wonder if it is me who hasn’t quite got it right. I must awkwardly admit to a one-time wild thought of going along with the romans lest I have a prank, being the odd man out. But Sonu’s impish face somehow crops up every time to remind me that:
I do not have the right to even dream of such a misdemeanour in this birth!
Always belting up,
First published on seekmediation.com on 15/10/23
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