Like many things in India, crossing the street requires more courage and determination than one expects to have to come up with for such an everyday event. Street-crossing styles range from the terrified to the brazen, from conciliatory to let’s-make-a-deal.
It takes all kinds to make a world, but my favourite street crosser is The Networker. She starts by making eye contact. There she is, standing confidently on the edge of the road, with no intention of wading in until she has someone’s surprised attention. “Hello there!” her expression says. “You’re a pedestrian at times, aren’t you? You’ve been in this position too, right? You know you have.” She never stops looking at the driver she has selected and before he knows it, he has stopped, almost against his will, and is smiling back at her as she moves out in front of his car.
I like her style because she’s on to something fundamental. She knows there’s more to life than crossing the street. And while she does want to get across (she’s got appointments, she’s got a schedule, she’s got things to do), she also wants to change the world – one intersection at a time. She wants the guy who lets her go to feel good about doing it; so good that he will do it again for someone else. And again for someone else. And again. And again. Till it’s a habit.
And when she’s the driver herself, she remembers the pedestrian she once was and will be again and she startles those waiting patiently by the side of the road by stopping and waving them across. She watches their surprised and wary expressions, smiles encouragingly as they hesitate and then broadly as she sees them get the idea, sees them realize that she is really stopping for them and that they can take their time as they step out onto those mean streets that suddenly seem less menacing and more like friendly avenues which are as much theirs as hers.
I like her style because she knows that everything, even something as simple as crossing the street, is about relationships, about trust, about knowing that the other person could be me, and very soon will be me, and that how we treat the driver whose help we need, how we treat the pedestrian who needs us, will determine how the world will evolve – not only for us but for our children and for our children’s children. She knows that slowing things down to a human, measured pace, a speed which even a child, a disabled person, an elderly man, even a camel can manage, is going to help us all slow down.
I like her style because she is being the change she wants to see in the world. Because, like Gandhiji said: “There’s more to life than increasing your speed.”