Life at a Traffic Signal

I was driving to office in my car. The traffic light turned red and I stopped at the traffic signal. The traffic was pilling up; the additional traffic was because schools had reopened today after summer vacations. Everybody enjoys summer vacations: the kids for they are not bound by a fixed routine, and office goers, like me, as there is less traffic during school vacation! So, as I sat in my car, I looked at the traffic signal counter: it indicated there was still 73 seconds to go before the signal would turn green. So, I turned off my car’s engine and casually looked around.

Another car came and stopped next to me; nothing unusual about it. The car was a Nano, branded as the world’s cheapest car. The lady driving the Nano turned around and with great urgency took something that was placed on the seat next to hers. As I could not see from where I was, I guessed she must be using her mobile to message her friend or complete a game that she may have left in-between or do something to that effect. Instead, I saw a piece of roti (an Indian bread) in her hand; it was a lunch box that she had next to her!

In the past, I have seen people eat packed food in their car. In fact, I recollect seeing one of the fast food joints tag line being, Take a bite on the move. But this was slightly different. It was home food, at least packed from home: may be prepared by her mother, herself, or by a caterer who had delivered it to her house.

What I saw made me recollect a movie that I had seen a long time back, with my father; it was in my childhood. The film was Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin. Although, I do not vividly recollect the complete movie, however, there is one scene that I recollected when I saw what the lady next to me was doing.

As the period depicted in the movie is the Industrial Revolution, the factory owner is very much concerned about the workers’ productivity. So, the owner is trying to devise ways to ensure that workers spend as-much-time-as possible on the shop floor. The owners reasoned out that any break a worker takes is loss to the company. A worker’s lunch time too was way too precious to be wasted on taking a lunch because that took the worker away from the shop floor! So, the owners devised an automated system, which we now call robot, to feed workers as they continue with their work on the shop floor.

The robot is put to test on the shop floor, and Charlie Chaplin’s character is the guinea pig. To start off, everything seems to go well: the robot feeds the worker as he continues to work. The owners are happy that there is no loss to workers’ productivity, while the worker is happy that he is being feed. However, after sometime, just like Murphy’s law, If anything can go wrong — it will, the robot develops a snag. In his own unique way, Charlie Chaplin takes the audience, like me, on a laughter riot on what happens after that.

Probably, the entrepreneur back then was not smart enough; he tried to create a system that complimented a worker’s existence in the factory. Now-a-days, entrepreneurs are smart: they have robots that replace workers!

The traffic signal count down indicated 11 seconds. As I watched, the lady thrust another piece of roti into her mouth, placed both her hands on the steering wheel and looked to the signal counter with such intensity that it almost felt like she was at the pole position ready to take on her race opponents! Probably she was – she wanted to go to the next signal as fast as possible so that she could have 4 bites of roti rather than 3 bites of roti that she had in this signal!

What have we driven ourselves to?

Charlie Chaplin wonderfully depicted mechanization of our lives, before anything of that sort had really happened. We are driven by the clock to such an extent that we do not even have time to pause and reflect, least we fall behind the line.

I think Scientists, Philosophers, and Spiritual leaders all agree on only one thing and that is, humans are the pinnacle of the creation or evolution, however one wants to see it. We humans do lot more silly and irrational things. The least we should do is to not go about doing our activities as machines, for we are the only beings capable of enjoying and cherishing every moment of life.


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