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India without direction

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India without direction, S Madhusudhana Rao. Millions of people across the country will face the same puzzle as I face when they leave their homes on bikes or in cars.

More interesting (irritating?) is the size of sign boards. They are so small that one has to strain one’s eyes to know what is written on them and often announcements of various sorts are pasted over them. They are like bikinis tantalizing lookers to guess what is behind

Millions of people across the country will face the same puzzle as I face when they leave their homes on bikes or in cars. That is, roads without indications, directions and signboards. For many road users, they are immaterial since they are used to asking passerby or roadside makeshift shops selling tea, snacks and knick-knacks for directions. But for some motorists who are more dependent on official road indicators and follow them diligently rather than vendors’ sense of direction and guess work, driving on sign-less roads is like moving blindfolded.

Nevertheless, they drive, slowing down at crossroads and roundabouts, looking around for boards to give them clues to which way to follow for their intended destination. Mostly the signposts are either absent or tucked somewhere in a road corner whose presence is hardly visible from a distance. Even if they are sighted, they are obfuscated by the imposing posters of some latest film that is released in local theatres or a huge billboard of an advertising company promoting everything and anything consumers can fancy of in as many eye-catching ways as possible.

Instead of getting a glimpse of what is indicated on the direction board, the motorist will get an eyeful of the hoarding. He has to pull up and seek the expert advice of the nearest hawker to drive in the right direction. More interesting (irritating?) is the size of sign boards. They are so small that one has to strain one’s eyes to know what is written on them and often announcements of various sorts are pasted over them. They are like bikinis tantalizing lookers to guess what is behind.

What I have never understood is who puts them up and for what purpose when they don’t convey what they are intended for. The way the purposeless sign boards bob up here and there is scandalous. Those who do that job know well, perhaps, that no Indian in right sense will look for directions in big and bold letters to drive forward. If he/she has any doubt the person will stop, even in the middle of a busy road, to enquire and then proceed, cutting through the traffic.

The issue is not lack of proper road signs or placing them in an obscure manner or done in a ritualistic way to claim contract money but the inexplicable resistance to scientific road traffic management and unwillingness to adapt to easy-to- follow-and-go practices. The situation is worse in rural side where roads branch off without giving any clue to outsiders to which village or town it leads.

Is there any rational explanation for laying thousands and thousands of kilometers of roads without giving proper directions to those who use them? Or, is it taken for granted that travelers will somehow manage to find their way like homing pigeons? Of course, they do, wasting considerable time and reaching their destinations late.

The only silver lining on the otherwise directionless country is national highways which follow international standards and norms in guiding the drivers; otherwise, one has to use own wits in finding directions or keep calling the kith and kin to go about one’s way.

However, now, the scenario has changed, thanks to smart phones and their apps which include maps that take you to the desired destination by the shortest route possible and guide you at every turn of the road.

Whether there are road signs or not, the app knows how to make you drive safely without making you crazy in the right direction and reach the end point on time. Indeed, it is a blessing in disguise for a country that moves without a direction to leapfrog into the 21st century without even firming up the basic ground info on road networks.

We have to admit that such hi-tech satellite-based technology is of immense help not only to motorists but also cross-country truck drivers to transport thousands of tonnes of cargo from one corner of the country to another without even knowing the contours of a State. But that is no solace since ground-based physical indications are more important than guided instructions from above, though the margin of error in such systems is stated to be minimal.

Besides being helpful in directing the people, including motorists, to which way to go in an unfamiliar place, the sign posts are hallmarks of discipline, orderliness and clarity. Their absence means confusion and dilemma. Imagine a scenario when a stranger to a place gets stranded at a junction of radial roads.

At that moment, life may seem to be at crossroads and who is responsible for creating such a predicament in the road users’ minds?

The issue is civic but it reflects the mindset of authorities and their propensity towards creating hassles and hurdles in the way of ordinary people by making a simple issue complex. Signs, or lack of them, on roads can well be termed as the signs of times in Orwellian humour. But deep down, roads and politics without direction lead us nowhere. And, their users and practitioners need discipline too.

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