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Non linear
  • Writer's pictureShubhra

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Last May, I travelled out of Southasia for the first time. I went to the UK, to Birmingham, London, and Llandudno, a small town in Wales. The first evening out in Birmingham with my sister and brother-in-law, we were crossing the road to go buy some supplies for the house, and they pressed a button to indicate they wanted to cross the road. I stayed fixated on this road-crossing-push-a-button situation. I couldn’t entirely put my trust in it. In India, crossing the road is a dodge for your life situation, for me. And there I didn’t have to be extra brave or nearly die. I am not a confident road crosser!

I did get into an accident once when I was maybe about 8 or 9, I was waiting to cross the street with my mother but I was upset with her, so I shook off her hand and ran. A scooter slowed down but still hit me. I was unharmed. It was probably this that made me extra fearful of roads, I don’t know. I’ve always been a little terrified of life.

I read about road safety rules around the time of this incident in a school textbook. The rules were: Look left, look right, look left again and if it’s clear, then cross the road; and that zebra crossings were meant to be used to cross busy streets. I firmly believed everything I read and was taught. In real life, I would usually go from school to the school bus, and then to my house in a cantonment part of the city. These were small cities and towns in the 90s. There wasn’t much traffic generally. They were quiet, with little traffic. 

At age 10, my parents moved to a small town in Madhya Pradesh called Mhow, nearby was the bigger city of Indore. Liberalisation had happened some years ago, and my sister wanted a pair of Levis jeans, a preposterous idea according to my parents but we went shopping in the big city anyway. And what I remember besides my sisters’ fashion choices and the gnawing feeling of being a have-not, who only got hand-me-downs, was looking at a street mad with traffic and then the realisation that we were going to cross this mad street. It felt like death. My parents held my hand and walked across I suppose, I remember feeling scared. This was nothing like I had been taught.  

Crossing roads was among my least favourite things to do. I hated being in a busy street alone because it really felt hopeless. In college, in Delhi, I once fought with a friend, and marched on alone, and then froze in the middle of the road, paralysed by fear, but with folded hands. The cars stopped, that’s how terrified I must have looked. Our fight ended instantly because she said people in the cars were laughing, as was she. I'm known to make people laugh with my eccentricities.

I would sometimes get really late for class because I just couldn’t cross the road alone. I’d wait for someone else to show up and then follow their lead. When subways and footover bridges started being made, I was quite relieved. 

So then, there I was in the developed world, the first world, the white -western world, the imperial-colonial world, and I could push a button and the light would turn red and the cars would stop and all for my little pedestrian self. A lifetime of learning to ignore a fear and suddenly I didn’t have to run across quickly to save my life and cross the road but I could respectfully walk on and the cars would wait for me. This was a shocking turn of events, unexpected and unbelievable. I couldn’t entirely put my trust in it. 


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