Why (and how) the human crossed the road
From Himal Southasian, Volume 22, Number 2 (FEB 2009)
The advances in science made by our Southasian ancestors go beyond the discovery of the number zero. Using extrasensory perception, they recorded Andromeda – nay, even galaxies further away; and in our own solar system determined the circular path of the planets around the sun long before Galileo got to eat his apple. In fact, these Vedic ancestors discovered many more planets, which will all be spotted by the Hubble telescope in due course. All of this information is included in coded verse within the Rigveda, and found as allusions in the folktales of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
How can I say all this about the ability of Southasians to chart the trajectory of stars and planets? you ask, somewhat credulously. The proof, sir or madam, lies in the knack for observation and calculation handed down to our present-day Southasian citizens, a skill unique among the continents and subcontinents of this globe. Examples of this scientific facility abound from hill to plain, atoll to delta, but let us focus on the human crossing the road.
The ability of the citizen of Karachi, Kolkata or Kolombo to simultaneously shed fear and utilise the scientific brain is seen in his ability to cross a fast-moving four-lane highway with massive trucks bearing down and whizzing past. How is this possible? you ask again.
The calculating Southasian brain is able to compute the speed of the oncoming container truck, correlate it to his own trajectory across to the median, and choose the right angle of attack, add the speed of the truck to his own walking speed, and make the move. A split-second decision is needed to arrive at the coordinates of road crossing. A mistake, and you are verily a chapatti – or a pizza if you will, in these economically globalised times.
Even if you are a contrarian who insists that India is not shining, or that the generals of Burma are in fact a cuddlesome lot, you will have to accept this genius of the Southasian brain as fact. This is a cranial capacity that can only be handed down, and never acquired. And that is why we have such an edge over other civilisations, if only we knew it.
To return to our man there on the curb of the Grand Trunk Road near Sasaram: keep in mind that there are other vehicles rumbling past, and he has to look far to the right (this is left-hand-drive Southasia) for an appropriate gap between the barrelling vehicles. He selects what looks like an appropriate break, and gets his mind working. What he is about to do requires not only computing skills, but also a daring more than that required to confront a charging bull elephant.
Our man gets off the curb, and starts walking at an 80 degree angle, with purposeful paces at the required gait. Too fast, and he will meet the earlier vehicle, and too slow and the container truck will make unwelcome contact. At this instant, there is a telepathic connection between the truck driver and the batuwa, the road-crosser. They size each other up even at that great distance, and the driver knows he must not accelerate nor decelerate – both moves that would throw off the calculations of the batuwa.
The container truck bears down, the lone human proceeds across the tarmac, staying the course against what seems to be great odds. At just the right time the truck and driver are gone in a whoosh of wind and dust, and our guy has jumped over the median and made another seemingly nonchalant crossing vis-à-vis traffic going the other way. He was buying a sachet of chewing tobacco from the roadside vendor, the last time I saw him.
There are at least 48 million highway crossings such as the one described here happening in our region every day. We can do it simply because we are neurologically wired to do so. That is why we have no use for the overhead highway crossings and prefer to make the dare on terra firma. We know we can do it, except when we cannot. See you on the other side!