Miscellanea / Manjula Padmanabhan
The right kind of restraint is a prerequisite to every kind of freedom
On the way to see the Australian acrobats of Circus Oz perform at
Siri Fort auditorium last week, my taxi got stuck in a traffic jam.
I had set out from home well ahead of time but the jam, which began
just past the junction of the inner Ring Road and Khel Gaon Marg,
didn't let us out of its grip for a full twentyfive minutes.
Initially, I thought it was the usual six thirty cattle-run
and assumed that it would not detain us for longer than ten
minutes. But fifteen minutes crawled past and we were still
alongside Neeti Bagh. The taxi driver was shifting uneasily in his
seat, leaning out the door of his cab and suggesting manic detours
whenever he encountered a break in the road divider. Not only was
I bound to be late reaching the auditorium, but the entire evening
seemed doomed to be spent staring into the eyes of fellow-jammers.
I assumed that there was an accident somewhere up ahead, but
I was wrong. As we snail-paced our way towards the decisive
traffic lights where Siri Fort Road meets Khel Gaon Marg, it became
clear that there was no physical obstruction anywhere on the road.
The culprit was a barefaced disregard for rules. The traffic
lights twinkled unnoticed, as motorists rammed their way through by
sheer force of numbers.
By the time my taxi was within three cars
of the intersection, I could see a pair of young men running about
in the thick of the fumes, the flashing lights and the honking
horns, like a pair of junior matadors facing a rampaging herd of
woolly mammoths. They were either astonishingly brave or merely
foolhardy young men, because the traffic barrelled on despite their
frantically flapping hands. By the time the lights had cycled
through another couple of changes, the police arrived in a jeep.
They behaved even more reckless than the two amateurs. They
banged and thumped on cars, challenged the auto-rickshaws to run
right over them and roared unheeded commands at the swirling clouds
of carbon monoxide. By some miracle they evaded death, perhaps
only because the rush hour had by that time begun to ease up.
Anyway, my taxi finally moved through the intersection, and sped
down a nearly empty stretch of road to reach the auditorium in
under a minute. Half an hour's wait for a minute-long journey!
Thinking that I could have walked that distance in the same length
of time, I dismissed the cab, then hurried to find the friends who
I thought would be waiting for me impatiently to bring them
their passes to the show.
But they were stuck in a queue too! And this one seemed
endless and hopeless too, because the gates were resolutely shut
against the vast throng of would-be audience and their bitterly
disappointed children. There were more passes than seats
available. The modest stretch of road between the auditorium and
its car park churned with departing fleets of Zens and Cielos even
as fresh troops arrived in Toyotas and Esteems.
My team of four
swelled to six as one wave-front of friends met another wave-front.
Transport arrangements dictated that we remain in the vicinity of
the auditorium. We had waited while the crowd thinned and were
moving in the direction The Pub, when lo and behold! The gates
opened! We charged through helter-skelter and, despite a couple of
reverses, found ourselves five minutes later, sitting downstairs in
the aisles of the auditorium, waiting to be enthralled.
And we were. Circus Oz is dedicated to the concept of
entertainment without cruelty to human or beast. So they restrict
themselves to feats of acrobatics. But if this was restriction,
what price freedom! That was the theme running through my mind as
I watched those lithe, seemingly carefree bodies twirling,
leaping, defying gravity, redefining flying: the right kind of
restraint is a prerequisite to every kind of freedom.
That traffic jam, for instance. If all those drivers had
accepted the restrictions of orderly driving, we would all have got
to our destinations on time. And that queue at the gate would not
have been possible if passes had been issued discretely rather than
promiscuously. Meanwhile, on the credit side, the Oz acrobats
would have been unable to perform even one of their amazing
physical feats if not for years of training and rigid self-control.
Shackled by discipline, they are free to soar. The rest of us,
prizing freedom over every other quality, remain stuck in traffic
whichever road we're on.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier