Prabhu was good at riding the bicycle. He was fast and good at reading the minds of the people who crossed the road suddenly without any notice whatsoever. He also knew when to ring the bell and when to stop suddenly.
Never mind the two or three occasions when he had hit something and come down rather quickly to mother Earth. On all these occasions, however, as he would have proudly said so himself, “Nothing happened to me”.
Prabhu had been working at the roadside grocery store for over three years now. His father Ramdas handed him over to the grocer at the tender age of nine. In doing so, he was not only getting rid of one mouth to feed, he was also sowing the seeds of his own future – he nursed the ambition of giving up his job as a cleaner with the Municipality and starting a grocery store on a hand cart. He had seen too many of those small handcart owners grow very fast into “respectable” shopkeepers. Moreover, he compared himself and found out he had many more virtues than they did and none of their vices. He was sure this would lead to prosperity, and what better way to do that than to team up with his bright young son.
Prabhu was indeed bright. The five years that he went to school brought him many a word of appreciation from his teachers. As a matter of fact, one of his teachers who lived in the neighborhood did not tire of telling Ramdas that he should have let Prabhu continue his studies. To which Ramdas would throw up his hands and say, “Everything is in His Hands Saab”.
The grocery shop where Prabhu worked was situated on Main Street. And recently, in a desperate bid to discipline traffic on the road, the Municipality had installed dividers on Main Street, almost all the way from the Town House to the Tourist Hotel. Even while they were installing the divider, Prabhu felt uneasy since he had seen many people go on the wrong side of the road. Now, he felt, this divider will become the excuse for all those people. Whatever happens, he was sure of one thing – he would never go on the wrong side of the road.
Over a period of about three months, Prabhu kept thinking of ways to stop people from going on the wrong side of the road.
He timed people going down the wrong side, and then tried reaching their destination by using the right side of the road. Almost always, the times showed negligible difference. When he brought this up with some of his friends who habitually went down the wrong side, they would just brush his suggestions away.
He approached the pot-bellied policeman, who stood at the junction of Main Street and Cine Street on days when a VVIP was expected in town. The policeman looked at him and barked something like, “Can you brats not keep to yourselves and let us do our jobs?” and then continued watching the haphazard traffic at the junction.
One afternoon, Prabhu was attending to an important customer when he heard a loud thud from the road, followed by high-pitch screams. He excused himself and ran out, even as the grocer shouted after him to come back and mind his business. A motorcycle that was obviously on the wrong side of the road had hit an elderly gentleman standing in front of the shop. The gentleman was hit on his left hand and was in pain. The motorcyclist insisted that he had used the horn to caution the gentleman and that it was not his fault. Prabhu did not know whether he should take the elderly gentleman to hospital or take action against the erring motorcyclist. In the meanwhile, a small crowd had gathered and some people were trying to push and shove the motorcyclist.
Prabhu jumped onto a nearby handcart, and at the top of his voice, appealed for calm. He told the crowd that the problem was not whether the motorcyclist had used the horn or not, the problem was that he was on the wrong side of the road. He asked the crowd how many of them were themselves on the wrong side, and that those who were had no right to take any action against the erring motorcyclist.
The crowd was stunned into silence. Prabhu then asked the erring motorcyclist to take the elderly gentleman to the nearby hospital and get his injury attended to. He then told the crowd, “Please, for the sake of the elderly gentleman you just saw, keep to the correct side of the road.” The grocer was also stunned at the wisdom of the boy as was the customer who was being served by Prabhu – he happened to be the Police Inspector. He came out of the store and addressing the crowd, said he was very proud of having Prabhu in his town. He then told the crowd to always ask themselves the question, “Which side of the road am I on?”.
Dear Reader, which side of the road are you on?