These worlds of ours

A yellow cap, a striped shirt, trousers of indefinable colour, all faded by the decades of scorching daylight that he seems to have weathered.  A grizzled face seemingly sucked dry of belief by the daily trauma of his life. He looks 75. He’s probably 50.

He bides his time, and at the right signal, he approaches all the waiting vehicles, trying to sell his magazines.  He makes no special pitch, makes no real attempt to convince hesitant customers, doesn’t even really properly show his wares. Just folded hands and some mumbled pleading words heard by nobody, protected as everybody is by their shut-off windows, focused as they immediately and constantly are on their gadgets.

He makes his way through the masses, tap tap tap, but nobody pays attention, nobody buys anything.  He lingers a little longer whenever he chances by the occasional auto-rickshaw, finding a little more pep for his delivery, making the rare sale.  But as the machines get restless in anticipation of being let loose again, he returns to his spot by the pillar, hands full.  He stares at nothing, having seen it all countless times before, hunched into himself, preserving his energy for the next round.

Waiting patiently, resignedly.  Just waiting.

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Look at us then.  In our small cars with no A/Cs, always ready to squeeze in one more (or four), windows down to catch the breeze, hands on alert to catch the hair, breezing along for joy rides.

Look at us then. Snatching random conversations along the road, buying the occasional random object thrust upon us, snapping and swatting at an excess of humanity who could only wonder at the shininess of the fake leather seats, aware of the sounds and smells and composition of the air around us.

Look at us then. In our few cars with no power windows, forced to realise our place in and contribution to the world around us.

And look at us now.  In sleeker, ever-bigger cocoons of soothing air and soft seats, increasingly rejecting more shared modes of transport for the convenience and perceived safety of our own vehicle.  Choosing to drive everywhere, all the time, even when having the choice of using public vehicles.

Look at us now. Rushing from our protective homes and offices into our protective cars, trying to avoid undue contact with the external environment, swarming as it is with pollutants and diseases.  Sitting in miles of tail-back queues, going nowhere slowly, updating the world about how horrible it is in this smog-inducing traffic, and how you hate the government for your high fuel bills.   All while refusing to acknowledge how we are responsible – by using cars to drive down to the local grocer for some milk, while running the air-conditioning maintain artificial levels of comfort, even as we constantly use smart-gadgets that are electricity sinks.

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In many cases, and for many people, cars make more sense than public transport, which can be so often unreliable and unsafe.  But there are many places and cities which offer good (even great) services, and yet the minute anybody can afford a car, they choose never to travel by a bus or train again.  Nobody car-pools either, because my car is my car and it’s my freedom and go get your own.

And every day it gets worse, and it gets worse for governments to offer alternative solutions, because really, where’s the space.  And more demand for roads for bigger cars means less choice for pedestrians means more people choosing to drive because there’s no way to walk to your destination means more demands for roads means ….

Choose again.

Take a local train occasionally, even for part of your journey.  Get onto a bus.  Cycle in your neighbourhood.  Walk.

And if nothing else, switch off that a/c and roll down the windows and smell the fumes and feel the particles on your teeth and look at the residue you just wiped off your face.  Experience a little discomfort, and convince others to do so too, so that you know what it is we’ve done to our world, and so that you get motivated to improve it.

Because it can only get worse.  And someday we will run out of roads, run out of fuel, and run out of time.

Who knows, you may even end up having a few interesting conversations with your fellow drivers.

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I pass him by weeks later, and he’s still there, hands full, tap tap tap, no sale.

I wonder what he thinks when he sees his reflection in the windows of all the cars. I wonder whether he would be more forceful, more hopeful if he could just talk without these barriers.

I wonder if he even cares anymore.