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India’s traffic explained by a ‘Fourth Dimension’


There was another dimension. It was the only explanation. There were the three standard ones: the up and down, the to and fro, and the side to side. And here in Jorhat, there was a fourth. No, not time, but another quite remarkable and entirely new dimension – in space. Or there again, perhaps it wasn’t new. Perhaps it was just the modern manifestation of that fourth space dimension they’d used for the Indian rope trick. Only now they were using it to skim inches off the sides of buses and whisk entire rickshaws into non-existence. How else, Brian asked himself, could it possibly be happening?

Sandra had chosen to sit directly behind the driver, which meant Brian, in the seat next to her, had an unimpaired view through the windscreen of the minibus. That’s to say he had an unimpaired view of a never-ending series of countless movingtraffic miracles, which could only ever be explained by his new hypothesis on a further space dimension, a dimension of which even Stephen Hawking was still ignorant. Assuming that is, that Mr Hawking hadn’t ever ventured into the east of Assam.

‘And shit, look at this one!’

It was a red, blue and green “public carrier” – listing horribly to starboard. One of the countless pre-historic lorries seemingly constructed from dented cast iron and wooden off-cuts, which lumbered around the roads of Assam and, most significantly, had pre-eminence on these roads. Public carriers trumped buses, buses trumped minibuses, minibuses trumped 4x4s, 4x4s trumped cars, cars trumped rickshaws, and rickshaws trumped bicycles. Pedestrians were somewhere below bicycles, but Brian was not yet clear as to how they ranked in relation to cows, goats and dogs. And anyway, the status of pedestrians vis-à-vis that of the four-legged furniture of the thoroughfares was not now at the forefront of his mind. No, that place was currently occupied by the prospect of the moving metal equivalent of a brick shithouse bearing down on their insubstantial minibus and the unavoidable conclusion that there was about to be an unavoidable collision. Both vehicles were steaming past rickshaws and cycles as though the road ahead was clear – when it clearly wasn’t. When it was clearly far too thin and far too cluttered to allow the two vehicles to pass each other without there being a seriously destructive encounter.

Brian gripped his seat-belt. This time their driver had got it wrong.

‘And God! Look at that bloody cyclist! There’s no way…’

A cyclist had just emerged from behind a lorry, which might have been making a delivery or which might have been abandoned sometime in the Sixties. It was difficult to tell. But it was easy to tell what was about to happen to the cyclist. He was about to be squashed between a red, blue and green public carrier and a minibus carrying a dozen “Nature-seekers”, their agreeable guide, Sujan, and a blind or stupid driver.

Brian’s eyes widened to cartoon proportions. He couldn’t not watch. He was about to witness a horrible death.

Then the cyclist disappeared. Past the near-side front corner of the minibus straight into that novel dimension – followed quickly by a six-inch slice of the bus itself (complete with its rear-view mirror) as it slid effortlessly past the side of the oncoming lorry. The two vehicles hadn’t even slowed. Such is the efficacy of this fourth dimension and people’s confidence in its use. Only Brits two days out of Brit-land would have had any doubts.

Brian was stunned. Although he was no scientist, he had, many years ago, graduated in chemistry from the University of Birmingham. The course had included quantum mechanics and something equally impenetrable called solid-state chemistry. All he could remember from the quantum mechanics was the image of a one-dimensional box with a potential of infinity inside and a potential of zero outside (which had served to convince him he was not a natural for the subject) and from his solid-state chemistry lectures, all he could recollect was that within the theories studied was the proof that there were only twenty-seven basic designs for wallpaper. But he could also remember that in neither of these rather challenging disciplines was there even a hint of a fourth dimension in space. Not in Birmingham and certainly not here in the cacophony of humanity that went by the name of Jorhat. It shouldn’t exist.

But it did. And to reinforce its existence beyond any remaining doubt, it swallowed up a rickshaw. Right before Brian’s eyes, a slow-moving rickshaw travelling in the same direction as the minibus and about to be mangled under its wheels, instead glided by its side where there was simply no room for it to do so, but where obviously there was a convenient corridor of that “Indian fourth space”.

Brian took a small plastic bottle from between his legs. Perhaps a refreshing drink of water would help him come to terms with his new knowledge of the universe. He unscrewed its cap – and made his second new discovery about space in India: that they don’t leave any of it at the top of their water bottles. It was full right up to the rim. Or at least it was before Brian spilt the top inch or so of its contents over his binoculars.

‘Shit!’

‘What’s up now?’ demanded Sandra. ‘And why have you poured water over your binocs?’

‘I haven’t. It was the bottle. It was too full.’

‘Oh, naughty bottle. Why didn’t you stop it? Why did you let it do that?’

Brian looked at his wife. He was just about to deliver a suitably clever retort to her sarcastic observations when it slipped away to be lost in the depths of that blasted fourth dimension. Or that’s what he thought. The truth, of course, was that he was simply distracted by the moistened state of his Swarovskis. This was just the start of the holiday. He hardly wanted to screw up his wonderful binocs before he’d even used them.

‘Here’s a tissue,’ announced Sandra in the middle of his distraction. ‘Although I hardly think a little bit of water is going to hurt them.’

It was true. Modern binoculars, and especially binoculars requiring a Northern Rock-scale mortgage to acquire, were hardly going to dissolve in a teaspoon-full of water. ‘Thanks,’ managed Brian. And he took the tissue and applied it to the dampened surface of his precious eyepieces.

He felt mildly ridiculous. But so what? He often felt mildly ridiculous. It was almost his default state of mind. And furthermore, he had a new distraction. Not someone else’s moistened binoculars, but a change of scenery. Yes, finally Jorhat was behind them. They had made it through the metropolis with their minibus and their limbs intact (thanks to that magic new dimension) and they were now into open country.

Well, “open country” might not be the most accurate description of the sort of landscape through which they were now driving. Indeed, in a court of law, even the most incompetent of advocates would have successfully challenged the use of this terminology and would easily have convinced a jury that a more appropriate phrase might be “non-urban, ribbon despoilment” or just possibly “a bit of a bloody mess”.

Brian wanted to be charitable. This was a poor country. It couldn’t afford the credit-supported niceties of Britain, and it had the concerns of daily survival to contend with, not the challenges of winning the forthcoming “Britain in Bloom” competition. But really, it was all a bit grim. Everywhere seemed to be falling down, or standing up only because it didn’t have the energy to fall down. And it was all so ugly; decrepit (possibly) abandoned factories, buildings painted before paint had even been invented – and litter, litter all over the place.

Will things look up for Brian? Find out by reading his book, Brian on the Brahmaputra, available from Troubador.

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