Silent traffic jams: How Aizawl’s road etiquette is a sign of a broader peace

A photograph of Aizawl, the capital city of India’s northeastern state of Mizoram

When I was a corporator, my office was on the other side of the hill and it took me over an hour to get there. Because of the small lanes and roads in Aizawl, we have traffic jams. But we know that just by honking at people, we’re not going to get there any faster. So, we wait for our turn. We grew up with this etiquette – we just know how to wait. We also have the habit of leaving home an hour or two early, just to make room for the traffic.

I used to go to Guwahati [Assam] often as a corporator, and I remember hearing a lot of honking. It was so loud sometimes they almost gave me a heart attack. There are horns meant for big vehicles, such as trucks and tempos, but over there, I felt even the smaller vehicles, like autorickshaws and bikes, had installed these big horns. It doesn’t make sense. A horn is supposed to warn you about someone’s approach or call attention to some hazard. But they used it so much that we didn’t know where to look: back or front, right or left.

I don’t drive. When I get into a vehicle with a driver and we’re in a rush, if he wants to bypass the vehicles in front by honking, I tell him no, be polite to them – it could be an elderly person, and honking might shock them. This is not restricted to the traffic alone. We [as a people] don’t rush things or put pressure on others by trying to hurry them along. When we go to a store or to an office, we patiently wait for our turn. Sometimes, that’s a disadvantage because we often get late! (Seling, a small town not far from Aizawl, has a unique practice of ‘shops without shopkeepers’, where, operating on the principle of trust, money is collected in a safe deposit box outside the shop).

Baryl Vanneihsangi

Baryl Vanneihsangi

For instance, being a corporator, we have this designation plate on our vehicles saying ‘corporator’ that gives us right of way.  But if I’m not going out on official duty, I usually put my designation plate upside down so that people don’t see. I don’t like exercising this exclusive right of way, and would rather wait in traffic like everyone else.

The government has been experimenting with traffic policies in the last few years. For instance, on the 7th of a month, all vehicles with numbers ending with 7 are asked to stay off the road. Another test is where, on odd days, all vehicles ending with odd numbers can ply the roads and vice versa. The alternating vehicles experiment is not a law yet, it’s still being tried and tested.

Our state is known for its peace and progress. The main reason we’re focussing on traffic is because of the broader peacefulness it has brought people. We often brag about how peaceful it is around big events and times of the year. It can be during elections, or any festival time, we don’t have to worry about excessive noise and chaos. Not New Years though. All year round, firecrackers are not allowed by the government – because the sounds they make can harm people with lung and heart problems. But there’s an exception on the night of New Years. So between 11:45 pm and midnight, we all light up firecrackers. It’s the most awaited time of the year, and for those 15 minutes, our city is not so silent anymore.

We’re still not where we’re trying to be as a city, but we’ll keep progressing and get there one day.

(As told to Neha Mehrotra)

The writer recently became the youngest MLA to be elected to the Mizoram Legislative Assembly.

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