As the day drew to a close and the sun made way for the stars, I dutifully powered down my laptop and concluded my office work by 9 pm, on Tuesday. When I reached the main road I encountered a befuddling snarl of vehicles, creating a veritable gridlock of cars. I had naively thought that this would be a mere trifle, just another ordinary traffic jam that I had grown so accustomed to in Shillong city. However, as I made my way from Dhankheti to Civil Hospital, I realised that this was to be no ordinary evening.
My stomach began to grumble and rumble as I reached Umshyrpi bridge, with not a single shop open in sight. The thought of leaving my car stranded in the middle of the road in search of food was out of the question. So, I remained seated in my car, suffering the hunger pangs that wracked my body.
The clock struck 12, and I was still stuck in the 101 area, my car surrounded by a sea of other vehicles. It was then that I heard the sweet and innocent voice of a child speaking to her mother. The child’s voice made me think of the many families out there, where the mother had gone to work, expecting to return home to her loved ones.
I could not help but sympathise with those less fortunate, especially as it got colder. I was grateful for the comfort of my car, which was equipped with the heater that kept me warm. However, my thoughts kept drifting back to the child and her family, huddled together in an old Maruti 800 car, trying to stay warm in the biting cold.
Finally, at around 12:30 am, a car from the Assam Tourism Department passed by, heading back to Guwahati from the upper reaches of Shillong. It was a reminder that I was not alone in this journey and that others shared my struggles.
As I found myself idling in the lane, I struck up a conversation with the driver beside me and learned that he and his passenger had been visiting Sohra and had become ensnared in this traffic for no less than five to six hours. The hour was late, nearly 1 am, and I was beginning to feel sleepy adding to the pangs of hunger. It was then that my colleague, who resides in the serene locale of 3rd Mile Upper Shillong, reached out to offer me a warm bed for the night. Initially, I declined, thinking that the traffic would soon dissipate, but as time wore on and I found myself struggling to stay awake, I changed my mind and gratefully accepted his invitation.
Upon arriving at his house, I was greeted with a warm meal and a room heater to chase away the chill. I hit the hay for a brief respite, but upon waking, I was filled with a renewed sense of determination. Alas, as soon as I stepped onto the main road in 3rd Mile Upper Shillong in the morning, I was met with the same, stubborn traffic congestion that had plagued me the night before.
It was also now that I realised that the cause of the commuters’ collective misery was a truck that had broken down on the kutcha road, which was to be used as pipes were being laid on the main road and hence blocked.
By now it was 11 am and I had already been stuck on the road for 14 hours; my brother managed to make his way to me on his two-wheeler to take me home. For once, I did not think twice about abandoning the car by the roadside; home mattered more.