The title of this piece was inspired by a disturbing sight on Murree Road as I drove by to attend a private reception near Lok Virsa, in the Shakarparian Hills. A pair of motor bikes raced passed me, dangerously zigzagging through the traffic. Suddenly the leading rider, a young man in his teens, reared up the front wheel in the air to perform a stunt notoriously known as freewheeling. Not to be outdone, the second rider first stood up ‘in the stirrups’ and then lay down full length on top of his speeding machine, while holding onto the control handles. I barely had time to digest the acrobatic performnce, before the car turned into the road leading towards my destination, but the sight failed to erase itself from my mind. I wondered at the stupid recklessness of the two young men, in courting their demise consequent to even the slightest error of judgement or loss of balance. I was angry at the callous indifference of the boys’ parents, who had failed to instil discipline in their children and even angrier at the thought that they must have bought these motorbikes for their offspring and then let them loose with nary a thought for what these juveniles would do with them. There was ire too at the apathy of the police manning the checkpoint, who could not have missed the show that these morons had put up, right beneath their noses.

A motor bike is one of the most affordable and therefore popular forms of locomotion in Asia. Manoeuvrability, size and fuel economy makes it an ideal vehicle in countries, where everyone cannot afford cars. This machine can squeeze through impossible spaces between cars, pick up speed and turn ‘on a dime’ and it is these very advantages which, in the hands of irresponsible individuals, turn into menace.

There are motorbikes and scooters in many parts of the world, but they are driven in a disciplined and responsible manner, using designated lanes and observing regulations. It is not so in ‘The Land of the Pure’, where a vast majority of motorcyclists think that driving in the fast lane, deaf to vehicles seeking right of way; riding three and even more to a machine; turning abruptly without warning because their ride does not have indicators nor rear view mirrors, is a birthright.

Just yesterday, I stopped at a red light well short of the zebra crossing on Seventh Avenue and found several motorbikes negotiating the narrow space on my right and left onto the pedestrian crossing. One of these vehicles was a sight to behold. Minus its indicators and mirrors, it carried an entire family of six – the master and mistress of the house, plus their four children ranging from a tiny tot to a girl around ten, all stacked and packed like sardines on the flimsy two wheeler. It was almost a miracle that no member of this family fell off their mobile platform and got injured in the process.

A colleague’s car was hit broadside by a motorcycle, which took a U turn and instead of completing the 180 degrees manoeuvre continued at right angles. It was found that the gentleman was busy talking on his cell phone while executing the turn. He was very lucky that he escaped with only slight injuries and was sent home after basic first aid.

While one can see crash helmets in use by motorcyclists in Islamabad (due to police enforcement), this safety measure disappears the moment one crosses the line into Rawalpindi. It is even worse in the seat of the Punjab Government, where errant bikers have made driving almost impossible for senior citizens with slow reflexes. One never knows, when a motorbike will materialise out of a side street, a blind corner or in the overtaking mode. It appears that the onus of averting an accident lies squarely with the person driving the four wheeler.

I must however reluctantly acknowledge that the category of two wheeled drivers is superb practitioners of psychology that transcends into the realm of blackmail. They will break all acknowledged rules of the road, hit the other vehicle and collect a crowd of sympathisers, in whose eyes, the fault would always lie with the car driver. At the receiving end of this therapy twice last year, I have adopted a very effective counter strategy – I do not drive beyond sixty kilometres an hour and give every motorcyclist a very wide berth.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.