At last we have an environmentally conscious statesman, I thought, lauding the man who set out to introduce the “odd-even” rule to control the pollution levels of Delhi’s highly toxic air. So vehicles with odd registration numbers were to ply on the roads one day and the even numbered ones were to ply on the next. Imposing a rule was the only way to cut emissions by vehicular traffic, because, those who appreciate such measures do so only to spout lip service. Of course there were plenty of exceptions, since rules are not for rule makers. VVIPs, VIPs, women, ambulances, and so on, making me wonder at the real efficacy of the rule. Since I didn’t belong to any of those categories, I had to toe the line.
But the real truth hit me after a moment’s reflection. What was I to do on ‘even’ days? My car had an odd registration number. I belonged to the middle class who can barely afford to buy one good car. I have a Honda Civic and had just finished paying off all the EMIs. I had just only begun to feel a real sense of ownership. I could have got an even number (maybe) if I had another car. But now, left as I was, with a single four wheeler, and as is the wont of most humans, my first thought was how to find a loophole or even, how to circumvent the law.
I gave up the idea though, not because I couldn’t think of any evil plan, but because, and I stand proudly to say this, my moralistic upbringing refused to allow me to indulge in unethical deeds though it is the path most trodden.
What next then? ......
I thought I should consult my neighbour, sit over a chai pe charcha and negotiate a plan of action. But wait, what was his name? We have been neighbours for over two years and I didn’t even have his surname. I blame the stressful lives we are leading nowadays for this. The only commonality I had with him was that we both rushed out of our houses at the same time to get into our cars in the morning and the most I saw of him was a vague outline of his face. Jet-age relationship flaw...
Suddenly I remembered that Neeraja (my wife) used to interact with Mr. Unknown’s wife over the garden wall. “Neeraja”, I called urgently, and as she came running, wondering if I had had a stroke. I asked her very casually. “What’s the name of the guy who is our left side neighbour?
“Oh that guy? He’s a very nice and courteous man”, she gushed.
“Okay, but what is his name, and do you have his number?” I asked.
Good wife that she is, she scrolled through her contacts list on her smart phone and came up with the number. His name was Arnab Dutta. Not only his name and number, she also knew where he worked. It turned out that his office was just a few blocks from mine.
So I called up Mr. Dutta, and invited him over for tea that evening. He lived up to the reputation that my wife had formed of him and readily accepted my invitation without questioning the US/ Russia type of relationship we had had up until then. So, after a nice cup of masala chai with some homemade pakodas, I posed the question to him. “Mr. Dutta, how are you planning to tackle the odd-even rule?”
“Oh that”, said Mr. Dutta with a greatly relieved expression on his face, as if to say he had expected me to discuss an alliance between my daughter and his son. “My car has an even number, so I can drive it on those days”, he said, stating the obvious.
He may be a courteous Bong, but their famed wit has eluded this one, I thought, since he was not forthcoming in terms of ideas.
“What about the odd days?” I asked. He waited politely (or was it dumbly) for me to suggest something, so I did. “Can I ride in your car on ‘even’ days? You can come in my car on ‘odd’ days”, I suggested.
“Sartenly”, he said with his distinct bong accent. “That is a good idea indeed. And we will both be saving on petrol as we will be taking out our cars only on alternate days”. Now he was showing great thinking I thought. Informal agreement reached after a second cup of chai, timings fixed and days charted out, we parted.
So we went to work, comfortable with the arrangement we had mutually chalked out. I even got to know Mr. Dutta much better. Our conversation during the long drive to office veered from politics to cricket (of which he was a passionate follower) to fashion and even women’s movements. I discovered that he was very well informed in all these areas. Never judge a book by the cover and a man by his well oiled hair I said to myself. A warm bonhomie had developed between us.
It so happened on one ‘even’ day, Mr. Dutta called to say he was ill and would take the day of. That being a Friday, he would get rest till Sunday and hopefully get back to work on Monday. Since it was only a matter of a single day, I thought I would give the Metro a try. Having the luxury of a car, I had never travelled cattle class but that day I was in an adventurous mood. Anticipating various delays, I started out an hour earlier than usual. I enjoyed a short morning walk breathing in lung-fulls of yet-to-be polluted air. Unaware of the procedure, I just followed the crowd and bought a ticket to Hauz Khas where my office was. I got in, took a seat and looked around as the train steamed out smoothly from the station. There was this lady sitting opposite me and I kept staring at her. Why was she going to work with such heavy make- up on? Perhaps she was a performer at a dance recital or a play and needed only to put on her costume when she reached her venue. There were boys and girls talking animatedly about the singer Adele, some serious types discussing a scientific theory and an old man reading a newspaper. What a variety! It must be fun travelling by metro every day, I thought trying to make up imaginary stories about all those travellers.
I looked at my watch. It was past 9.30 a.m. and I had to take another short walk after alighting from the train to reach my office. I stood up to see what station we were at and that’s when it hit me. We were two stations past my stop. I cursed my hyperactive imagination, got off, took another train in the reverse direction, completed the short walk and reached office at 11o’clock. I made sure there was no encore of the slip up on the way home after work.
A month down the line and one day I saw my wife making some urgent calculations. “What are you doing?’ I asked.
She said, “Another couple of months and you can buy me that diamond necklace with all the money that we have saved.” Ramanujan would have turned in his grave at this new mathematical theory.
As for me, ‘A Nano with an even number would have come cheaper,’ I thought.