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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Superman of King's Circle - King Uncle

I generally walk to places. I choose the bus over autos or taxis but even that involves walking to the bus stop. It’s not that I can’t afford taxis but I simply prefer walking. It is a great way to know a neighbourhood, and that's why to encourage this, we at Breakfree started Walks across Bombay this year. But, walking in Bombay isn’t easy, crossing the road, even at signals is difficult and each time I find myself jaywalking even when the figure on the signal has gone green.

As a child, I was taught Z for Zerba crossing. I didn’t know what that was, never having seen the white stripes painted on the road. Those were meant for pedestrians to walk on to cross over to the other side, when the signal went red. In the suburbs, the concept of a Zebra crossing never existed. I first saw them on a visit to Churchgate, though not many motorists bothered to stick to the boundary line and encroached upon it. Almost as if this would boost their chances of gaining a few precious seconds on their journey. As I grew up and started walking more and more, I began fighting with those who didn't toe the line, shouting at the taxi drivers who hoarded every inch of space reserved for pedestrians. But nothing ever came of it. 




Last Sunday, while I was leading a walk around Matunga we came across the Superman of King's Circle. As we waited to cross over from the Koolar side, we stood and watched an old gentleman clad in a loose red t-shirt monitoring traffic. He stood right where the white stripes were painted and ensured that at each red light, all vehicles stopped and stopped behind the crossing. If a motorist broke the signal and rushed, he would turn around and shout after him. If an eager biker inched forward, he would face the music. Just when we were about to cross, he stood in the middle of the road and stretched his arm wide to stop a speeding BEST bus right before him. The driver slowed down and so did the other vehicles. After about 40 seconds, when the signal went green, he clapped his hands and motioned the vehicles to move. 

He would keep repeating this throughout the evening. Tirelessly, this retired gentleman went about doing a thankless job. I was inspired. His rage was inspiring. In a country, known for its callous attitudes towards basic issues and the infamous chalta-hain attitude, coming across such a man who could very well sit at home, have strong filter kaapi and read The Hindu can’t be anything but inspiring. We've become tolerant to bullshit. We sigh and tolerate traffic offenders, failed institutions, lethargic workers, people who spit on the road and litter the train compartments, mindless political propaganda against migrants, minorities and the list is endless. Where is the outrage? I wonder. We know very well to rant on social media (just like this post) but how many of us take matters into our hands and ensure the rules made for our safety and welfare are followed. We are highly intolerant of each other though, the vast diversity in terms of religion, culture, cuisine, language makes us uneasy, we prefer our own ilk more but we can tolerate every other thing that is really wrong in the country. This attitude, we must change. 


Monitoring and regulating traffic maybe the job of the traffic police but until we deploy highly driven, honest, well paid, traffic personnel at every junction working on an 8 hour shift, I highly doubt if pedestrians will be able to cross over to the other side by walking on that part of the road which is rightfully theirs. Therefore, when people like this man don the role of an informal traffic regulator, I feel that all hasn't been lost. If only, fellows behind the wheel were not in such a hurry and followed traffic rules - the road would be a great place. For a city facing traffic snarls daily, making its streets pedestrian and cyclists friendly could go a long way in solving this problem of congestion on the roads. A lot remains to be done, and I will not give up, but until then, I will be grateful to the Superman in the red t-shirt, who stands at King's Circle and tries.

Update: 



P.S. Subramanian Iyer fondly known as King Uncle passed away on 25th October this year. On a recent visit to Matunga, my friend Afzal gave me this news and these photos everywhere in King's circle confirmed it. His presence will be missed. 

An article about him written in DNA earlier this year can be found here. 

A documentary on King Uncle was posted on Youtube on 23rd October. Do watch to hear his message.

Photos by: Mohini Bhavsar and Biswajit Dey

5 comments:

rewind the tape said...

Hi Rishi,

Loved your detailed post alongwith the photographs. Its really heart-warming to come to know of such people who at the cost of their confort are thanklessly enduring for the convinience of others.

Kindly continue sharing such wonderful stories.

rewind the tape said...

Hi Rishi,

Loved your detailed post alongwith the photographs. Its really heart-warming to come to know of such people who at the cost of their confort are thanklessly enduring for the convinience of others.

Kindly continue sharing such wonderful stories

Rushikesh Kulkarni said...

Hello Rewind,

Thanks for your encouraging comment. I am always keen on sharing such stories, thanks for dropping by. I shall definitely keep posting :)

Manali said...

It's really inspiring and heartening to read of such people. :)

Rushikesh Kulkarni said...

Hey Manali, thanks for your comment. It indeed is heartening to know that such people still exist.