I had a most interesting month-long holiday in USA recently. Refreshing, invigorating, enlightening, enjoyable and at the same time a bit disconcerting and unsettling. Some ambivalence here, I realize. Well, stories from my USA diary will find their way to the blogspace someday. I will then endeavour to explain the conundrum. The nascent writer in me is straining at the leash to let go, even as the prospective recipients of my travel journals run for cover. That’s not going to stop me folks – so brace yourself for it: it may be sooner than you imagine.
For now, what I wish to share with you is relatively benign, though intriguing and not a little mystifying – even amusing from an Indian perspective. Instructive too.
So let me explain – I allude to the palm: the hand which brings Americans to a dead stop anywhere and anytime, the hand that rules the roads and intersections, the hand that directs and often delays. This is the ubiquitous orange palm sign for pedestrians to cross the road at intersections – a necessary but oft exasperating symbol of authority and order.
The India perspective, in particular the scant regard, bordering on dismissiveness, for traffic symbols, rules, laws, byelaws – brings in the aspect of intrigue. Here too we use the hand to cross a busy street – but it is our own hand. This palm of the pedestrian has the same power – to stop everyone on wheels dead in their tracks. The ensuing curses and abuses of motorists, as their brakes screech, leave the all powerful hand unfazed – in fact, more empowered. The owner of the palm saunters on, headphones often firmly in the ear, a wicked smile and a resolve to use the powerful panja with gay abandon at the next crossing.
My American friends – and I did make a few – would find this perplexing. On several occasions, on a completely vacant crossing, they have stood still, till the ‘go’ was given. A picture of genteel obedience and order.
Strangely, some of us, most wilful and liberal users of the hand in India, as described above, followed the rule to a T there! This is not a hand you messed with: you could be handed down a ticket. The fear of law is always at hand there. There are no palms to be greased. Also, you don’t want those glares and baleful looks, often reserved for third world denizens. So you meekly eat out of the hand that stares from the pole. You resolve firmly to hand it out with greater vigour when back home.
Talking of home, there is another palm that had been looming large on the political landscape and threatening to halt the ruling party in its stride. Hand in glove with others, it promised more than a handful. Probably the reason why people saw it as a sleight of hand. Fortuitously, the Hand of God intervened, a flower bloomed and swept the hustings hands down. That Palm and its proponents may feel they were dealt a raw hand…they have grudgingly handed over claims to power, which successive generations had handed down to heirs who felt they must have a hand in running the nation.
That was an aside. Back to the orange palm. As you stared at the broad, often car-less roads, waiting for the palm to turn into the ‘go’ signal, which resembles a man in a break-dance jig, you wondered how such order and adherence to rules could be enforced back home. A hands-down approach, a ham handed outlook, a hands off policy, kid gloved handling, or a firm hand to deal with offenders? One hand too many there.
Whichever hand is played, we do need a hand in finding a solution to the hand issue… it is the Individual Hand versus the State Hand. While the former appears to stop all vehicular traffic, the latter halts pedestrian traffic. One is lawful, the other is taking the law into your hand – literally and figuratively. The intrigue lies in the question – why we follow the State hand outside the country and our own hand inside. A show of hands on the hand that you prefer may be handy.
Either way you look at it, the hand just found another use… a facilitator or an inhibitor. The hand has been dealt. Take your pick.