He has more pictures and videos of potholes and traffic snarls on his mobile phone’s memory card than of his five-and-a-half-year old boy in Ninja Hattori poses. He has a customised texting template from which he picks the same message to send his boss almost every day: “Stuck again...will reach office late...sorry”. He has run out of songs on the MP3 player to keep him occupied — and calm — while he waits for the taxi to crawl another five feet. He has taken to Googling “mastic asphalt”, “PWD patchwork” and “permanent pothole solution for NH34”, as if that would throw up some good news the papers and channels still don’t know about.
Misery comes in different forms. His is the journey to work and back through a road that has gone from being in a shambles to a shame for civilisation.
If Jessore Road is the king of craters in the kingdom of Calcutta’s broken roads, he is its slave. And there is seemingly no escape. Just as there isn’t for thousands of others who have chosen to make a home close to or beyond the “fast developing” northern fringe of the airport.
On Wednesday afternoon, he hatched a plot to dodge the despot. He set off at 2.30pm, well ahead of time and determined to reach his office around 19km away by 4.30pm. He wouldn’t be denied today, or so he thought on finding a taxi just outside his housing complex near BT College More. The watch showed 2.45pm — good to go even accounting for the moon’s craters and moonwalking traffic on the approximately 4km stretch till the Airport No. 1 Gate. From there, it would be a swift journey to Nagerbazar, a change of vehicle from taxi to autorickshaw and then the good ol’ Metro.
When he finally walked into his office, it was 6pm. The journey from BT College More till the Airport No. 1 Gate alone had taken two-and-a-half hours, more than four times the minutes taken to cover the remaining 15km. Just the other day, he had driven more than 180km in that time while returning from Puri through roads smoother than Hema Malini’s cheeks!
He wondered whether the elderly gentleman who had an appointment with his neurosurgeon at a private hospital on the Bypass at 4.30pm had reached before the doctor left for the day. The retired Airports Authority of India official and his wife had been desperately looking for a taxi at the Bankra bus stop, just over a kilometre from BT College More, when he offered them a lift.
“I now realise why my Hyderabad-based engineer son and his doctor wife refuse to return to Calcutta,” the man said in between answering calls from his Ballygunge-based daughter, waiting at the hospital for her parents to turn up.
The couple had built a two-storey house in Bankra in the early Nineties, when living beyond the airport meant “escaping the madness of the city” and traffic snarls on the home stretch were unheard of. “We were in Hyderabad for a few months before my illness and our son repeatedly asked us to stay back. It makes sense now but how do we desert the home we built here?” the ailing gentleman said.
The taxi driver, apparently looking for an opening to cross over to the relatively less choked opposite flank at the Birati crossing, suddenly turned the wheel to screams of “Don’t!” from all three passengers. He backed out at the last millisecond, grumbling: “Dada, eishob na korle eikhane boshe thakte hobe aar koyek ghonta (If you don’t permit me to do this, be prepared to be stranded here for several more hours).”
Nobody replied, but merciless Jessore Road proves the taxi driver right every single day.
PS: Yes, the ‘he’ in question is me, a Jessore Road victim.
Which is the worst road in Calcutta? Tell