4 weeks ago I did something stupid. The day started out relatively innocuously. I woke up on a lazy Sunday morning to my diligent, slightly aggressive agenda: breakfast at 9. run at 10. picnic at 12. tea at 5. dinner at 7. Nothing too earth shattering. What then proceeded to occur was also standard operating protocol.
I ate breakfast later than planned. I sat behind my computer to check a thing or two, and was immediately swept up inside the cacophony of what I like to call the virtual version of a Delhi traffic scene. Cars (big hairy news) everywhere. Jammed up against one another. In the small spaces where cars cant fit, motorcycles (inspiring ted talks) nudge their way in. Everyone clamoring for attention. Honking their horns with their opposable thumbs to make sure you know they’re there. To make sure they know they’re there. That their opinion also matters. That their voice is also heard. On the sides in the potholes and along the barricades are autos and bicycles (interesting but much too long to read right now articles and blogs) and pedestrians (filtered instagram photos of someone’s obnoxiously cute kids) moving slowly, but somehow making better time, getting much further than everyone else, in that frustrating how-is-this-possible kind of way that makes you curse the world at how clearly little effort they’re putting in, how little value they’re adding to this process, how they’re actually hindering everyone else from moving along yet still, somehow, they’re getting all the attention.
I go for rides in virtual Delhi traffic often. Joy rides even, with no purpose at all, no place to go, just to go for a drive. Get a whiff of the unfresh air. Let it muddle my already muddled thoughts. Often it’s inspiring. Like spotting a bright papaya Nano in the sideview mirror and considering how much innovation it must have taken to create a seriously affordable car like that, or how little foresight it must have taken to achieve such a massive failure in marketing that innovation. Sometimes it’s infuriating. Like seeing a kid on the corner of a street waving a plastic airplane in the air at the man inside his pristine black on black BMW and thinking about the butterfly affect our inhumanity can have. And then watching him roll down his window and hand over a hundred rupee note and a banana is when it turns into self-loathing for having judged without giving someone I barely know the benefit of the doubt.
I hate it and I love it. I can find myself lost amongst the traffic for hours, no map, no direction, just riding. Sometimes I’m not even in the driver’s seat. I’m observing and reacting, but I’m not driving. I’m not making any moves or adding any value to the situation. I’m simply sitting standstill riding in shotgun. Often though, I’m driving. And it’s when I’m driving that the bliss comes. When I’m dodging the big trucks and slowing down for the U-turners. When I’m rolling down my window and giving someone directions. When I’m contributing to the movement with intent. This is when I’m content about being on the road. I like adding value to insane, impossible situations. I like it so much in fact that I forget where I was heading in the first place. Or where I came from. What the whole point of the journey was. I was going somewhere, I’m sure, but I can no longer remember, and now someone’s asking me where I want to go and I’m drawing a blank.
So I backtrack. I go back to the last turn I made. The last road I was on. The last sign I saw. I go all the way back to before I even got in the car. To when I was just thinking about getting on the road. To that moment when I had purpose in my movement. And I remember.
I remember waking up in the morning and deciding how my day was going to move. How I was going to move within my day. Being purposeful in my movement. So I decide I need to make a new decision now. I grab the handle. I open the car door in the middle of traffic and step out. With cars and autos and motorcycles flying by. With people milling past, clicking their tongues and yelling to get back in my car.
I stuff my headphones in my ears, shove my key in my shoe, turn up the volume, and start running.
I realize I’ve lost my mind. I realize I will miss so much of what it going on around me. But the whole reason I got on the road in the first place was because I had put my foot to the pavement and spent time listening to my own voice. On paths no one else knew about. Dirt roads that twist and turn and go up and down and leak in and break out of the crazy traffic. I know they’ll lead me back to the traffic eventually, with intention, but in that moment it became obvious: unless I got back on the dirt road in my bright yellow sneakers blasting jazz beats and bobbing my head like a crazy person, I would get lost sitting standstill in the traffic forever.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. sumitxblue says:

    whoooooooooooshh….. you’re really destined to change!
    i’m sure she’ll be the change to bring transformation!

  2. Anand says:

    Awesome! Sunday, Traffic, Thoughts- been there, felt that (maybe too often!)

  3. Anuj says:

    HI Sabnam, Myself Anuj Arora from Washington DC. I would like to take this opportunity–to say–that I am feeling so good after reading your blog. Keep writing my friend. I will come to India in December and please meet me. Email me your phone number at

  4. Prashant says:

    You write well, must say that. And I loved this piece, especially the part to do with being in the traffic and not knowing where one is heading up to……….in a crowd, but still aloof or alone, depends on how you perceive it. The traffic always makes me nostalgic, especially now when winters are approaching – it always takes me back….don’t know why. I like to go out and drive endlessly, just for some peace, some inner peace, it gives me lots…the only difference, I like to go out at nights, when I feel the world is real and the life is reality…when it gives a sense of being alive………whoops… talking about myself now 🙂
    So let me come back……..loved the way you have expressed your thoughts, feelings and so much in this blog……it touches the highway of life, in a very sensitive but safe manner 🙂

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