It was late, the roads were empty, and I was cruising with my arm on the window sill. I’m approaching the Dehiwala flyover when I see him. A pair of headlights, their proximity indicating that they belonged to a car of Indian make, appears behind me and to the left. I am now really close to the flyover and am reaching the barricade separating it from the rest of the road.
Suddenly, the guy behind cuts through in front of me, in what is an insane maneuver, and just manages to edge past in between me and the barricades without causing an accident. He then zooms triumphantly off up the flyover, only to come up short at the top behind an old, rickety lorry (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place).
According to Scott (2000) road rage is ‘quite unlike other forms of interpersonal violence’ and therefore leaves ‘conflict resolution practitioners’ in a fix. And why is this? Three reasons
1) It involves strangers,
2) It’s related to a driving incident and
3) It hinges upon invasion of personal ‘space’ and thereby is a challenge to identity.
Anyway, after a kilometer or so I roll up next to him, we’re both caught in a patch of traffic as someone makes a right turn into a by lane. My initial instinct is to be superior and above it all. So I ignore him. At first. But then I can’t resist taking one look at this belligerent idiot who almost killed himself and took me with him. So I turn my head and take a look. He is about my age, arrogant looking and is staring me back right in the eye. And upon contact I swear our eyes narrowed, and we coldly assessed each other for a split second, and in this split second we exchanged a mountain of information, most of it not good. The outcome then is predictable.
As soon as the patch of traffic clears up. We’re off. He’s driving what looks like a late model Alto, while i drive a 2005 Zen. He gets a head start because he obviously raced off the first gear. I let him get in front, and use the opportunity to scope out the path ahead. There’s just a slow moving Honda Civic on the road in front of us. The roads are wide in this part of Mt. Lavinia so there’s plenty of room. All I need to do is pass the Civic on the outside, and I have passed my newfound enemy. My car has good acceleration and weighs less than his. So it’s no contest, after a few seconds, I’m ahead of him.
But he doesn’t give up. He’s dogging my tail. This is one determined belligerent idiot. So I go faster. My eyesight narrows into tunnel vision and I only see what is ahead. A yellow crossing materializes, and a pedestrian appears in my line of sight, I slow down slightly and swerve a bit to give him room to walk. Whether he avoids my tail is not my problem. But my tail is still on me. If anything, my slowing down has given him an edge. And now he’s catching up.
I accelerate some more. We are both probably traveling at near optimum speeds. He keeps up, and is now scoping out a way of passing me on the inside. I am calm. My mind is on a different plane, detached, observant and analytical. We are reaching the junction at Templers Road when I see an opportunity ahead.
The man is on a bicycle, and he’s slowly crossing the road on a yellow line. He approaches the middle of the crossing. And I slow down just a bit in order to let him pass in front of me. I know my pursuer can’t see the bicycle but he must know that I slowed down for a reason, but still he insists on making the mistake of accelerating and trying to pass me on the inside despite this, but now the bicycle is directly in his path, and his only options are either to brake hard or to kill someone, possibly himself.
As I reach the junction, now accelerating again, I don’t hear a crash. And I don’t see my tail anymore. I have won. Despite myself, this makes me feel good. What I did was absolutely stupid. Several people could have died. But the soaring feeling of triumph in my gut is not going away.
But after a while I feel a little shame. And in response my mind becomes analytical again. I suppose that’s why I wrote this post. Because this little drama that went through last night is played out over Sri Lankan roads on a daily basis. Tuk tuks, buses, Marutis, Hondas, Defenders they all do it. Uncles, mallis, thathhaas and Guney aiyyas. We all get a thrill out of the occasional road race. The rage of being wronged is hard to contain. And righteous victory must always be ours.
I was in Japan two months ago and it’s impossible to imagine something like this happening there. The Japanese are immeasurably polite, pedestrians would rather wait five minutes until the ‘don’t walk’ sign turns green rather than violate social protocol. And mind you this is when the street is absolutely empty of cars. Drivers respect pedestrians even more than pedestrians respect drivers, and they will stop abruptly well in advance of almost breaking your knees (which is how lowly pedestrian are treated here).
In Japan they don’t appear to dehumanize other people on the roads. Over here other people are just inanimate objects. As if we are all playing Need For Speed. Because you know, if we die, we can just hit the restart button.