Civic Sense, Honesty, Discipline…

It was about 10.30 in the morning and I was driving past the taxi stand towards the Jan Palach roundabout in Curepipe a few days ago.

It’s a time of the day when the town starts to get quite busy with the usual hustle and bustle of people going about their daily routine, and with summer around there was a certain gaiety in the air. The traffic lights turned red and I came to a stop, allowing the commuters to pass.

As I lazily watched them doing so, my eyes fell on a lady who had just stepped out of the pedestrian crossing and was walking towards the market. She was smartly dressed and looked handsome and strikingly elegant, with a determined walk enhanced by the high heels she was wearing. She also sported nice sunglasses, and carried what looked like a brand handbag. I must say I was all in admiration of this middle-aged woman who didn’t look her age, a pleasant sight to cheer one’s morning.

But suddenly my illusion was shattered! I was flabbergasted to see this fashionable woman spit out on the road, with nigh a bother about any fellow pedestrian who might have inadvertently been the target of her inconsiderate act. She didn’t even care to take a tissue paper – which she must surely have had in her bag — and wipe her lips smeared blood red with lipstick. Come to think of it, perhaps it was better that she didn’t: for all one knows she could have thrown the used kerchief on the ground just as nonchalantly as she had spat!

It was my bad luck days, so it seems. For a day or so after on the road a short distance from the Wooton roundabout going towards Port Louis I was behind a private car. And lo! Out of the window came a small plastic water bottle, thrown by the driver who as quickly raised his window as if to protect himself from any intrusion from the outside environment which he had just sullied. On the other hand, I have stopped counting the number of times I have seen plastic bags flying out of car windows.

There’s a little more understanding, at least I get this impression, about slowing down at the pedestrian crossings and allowing people to walk across. Earlier there could be a real frenzied honking from the cars behind one, especially if the wait was a little longer because of an elderly person who would be taking more time to get to the other side of the road. At times, though, there are some pedestrians who are unmindful as they take a leisurely walk across, and this especially is the case with some youngsters who keep chatting and laughing away in abandon. No harm in that, but at least they must realise that they should not hold drivers hostage to their whims. I was once a youngster too, and I write both as a driver and as a pedestrian about town.

Courtesy and discipline on the road are a reflection of the general state of these same qualities in the society as a whole, and add to the sense of pride in one’s city and country. I remember one evening when I was in Geneva several years ago. I was walking along a main road and had just put my right foot down from the pavement on to a side road which I was about to cross. Only then did I notice a taxi which was flashing to the left and had slowed down to take the turn. I immediately stepped back on to the pavement – at which the driver, having stopped his car, signaled me to cross and gave me a wave of the hand when I had done so.

On another occasion, I had taken a taxi from the UN building to come back to my hotel in the Rue des Alpes, which is a one-way street. To reach my hotel the taxi would have to go round a block and that would cost a few more Swiss francs. The driver told me as much, and said he could drop me at the Gare Cornavin and I could walk the short distance to the hotel and save some money for an extra glass of wine at dinner, unless I wished to be dropped at the hotel. To his delight and mine too, I chose the glass of wine.

When I was in England doing my posting in the Accident and Emergency Department in 1977, our Consultant, Mr Denley-Clark, had invited us to his house for dinner as a farewell to those who were completing the posting. In one of his after-dinner stories he narrated to us how once he had reached late from Canada, arriving at Heathrow airport at about 11 at night instead of the scheduled 6 pm, which would have meant him reaching Wakefield, just south of Leeds at about three hours’ drive from London, well in time for a good night’s rest before he resumed his duties the next morning.

Given the delay it was about midnight when he was several miles out on the M1 driving northwards. Then he noticed police car lights flashing behind him; the car overtook him and got him to slow down and eventually stop. An officer walked up to him, greeted him and said, ‘Excuse me Sir, do you realise that you were going at 125 miles an hour?’

He had not. In a hurry to reach back, both because he was tired and because he wanted to catch some much-needed sleep, he had pressed on the pedal. Imagine doing so when the road is clear in the dead of the night, the road being so smooth and the car you are driving is a Jaguar.

No, he replied, I am sorry Officer, I did not know I was going at this speed!

He explained about his flight having been delayed, and that he was due to resume his work at 9 in the morning in the Accident and Emergency Department.

‘Oh, in that case Sir,’ said the Officer, especially seeing that he was dealing with an elderly person, ‘I can put it down that you were going to attend an emergency and I will not book you.’

‘No, young man,’ Mr Denley-Clark told the Officer, ‘you will not do that. Please go ahead and do your job.’

Back to Mauritius, the roundabout at Caudan a few years ago. I recall an incident which was such a diametrical contrast to the UK one. It was a little past four in the afternoon and the policeman on duty there had stopped the traffic coming from Caudan side to allow the flow towards Curepipe. I was about three cars away from the roundabout, and the second car in the line at the roundabout on the Caudan side was an official one, a black BMW. As the cars for Curepipe started to move on, down came the glass from the rear window of the BMW and the face of a minister shot out of it, directed towards the policeman who was but doing his duty. From his mouth, if I may call it so, came a string of expletives with the word ‘tor ma’ liberally sprinkled in it. I leave the contents of that explosion to the imagination of the readers.

I wish I could say that it was the first and the last time I had heard such an outburst from a representative of the people. But unfortunately this is not the case. Still, let us hope for better days to come, with less or no spitting, no or less vituperative mouthfuls and in particular sparing innocent mothers and other relatives who have nothing to do with the situation at hand, and a saner and more well-behaved polity across the board.

Pious wish or wild dream – only the future will tell, one that many of us may not live to see but that we hope our children will be able to.

* Published in print edition on 22 November 2013

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