If you are one of those who flips the page contemptuously at the sight of fish, crabs and scorpions crawling over two columns of newsprint, with the reigning pundit telling you that he sees much hope for your business today or love is in the air for you or watch that pothole your sign is full of accidents, and if you happen to be a BEST commuter to boot, it’s time to be deeply depressed. The BEST has designs on your peace of mind.
The news is that the BES & T Undertaking plans to install two 22-inch LCD screens in every bus in its fleet to give you news updates, information on branded goods, automated announcements about the next bus stop, tips from Tarla Dalal on eating right and, hrrmph, astrology readings by Bejan Daruwalla.
It appears that there’s a set-up called the Visual Interactive Transit Entertainment System which is going to supply us with the above-mentioned noisy goodies. Did hordes of commuters sit in dharna outside BEST house when we weren’t looking, clamouring for information on branded products and tips on sensible eating? No. BEST in its very own infinite wisdom has decided we are a pack of uninformed dolts who need to be enlightened on our way to work. In fact one news report makes the BEST plan out to be a form of social service. It seems the venerable undertaking is sadly aware that the way commuters rush around, they are left with no time to sit and stare at their newspapers and/or TV sets. This leads to severe information deprivation. The 22 inch LCD screens per bus are the undertaking’s humble contribution towards creating a more informed citizen.
I’m thinking back to my days of bus travel from Shivaji Park to VT (oops! I mean CST). I particularly remember a fellow commuter who would regularly fall asleep at Sayani Road and wake up with the smell of fish at Crawford Market, all set for the day ahead. What this gentleman was deprived of was not information but sleep. Will today’s victims of sleep deprivation, common to most commuters, be able to sleep through Tarlaben telling them not to eat fried foods, Daruwalla telling them not to fall into potholes and a seductive baritone telling them it’s oh so cool to wear glares that will cost them half of next month’s salary?
Those days I composed most of my Tuesday columns for the late and profoundly lamented “Evening News” en route to the office because, what I was deprived of at home, was time. The columns got composed despite the thunder and clatter and honking of traffic outside because you knew the noise wasn’t maliciously directed at you. But now BEST plans to customise whole wavelengths of noise specially for you, and you can’t jump out of the window because you want to get to work in one piece.
Yes, it’s bad news. But there are two silver linings you can hold on to. The BEST plan can materialise only if the BEST committee approves of it; and experience tells us that where there’s a committee, there’s a roadblock. More good news. Currently the committee is in a sulk for which the official reason is that there’s been some breach of contract by Interactive-what’s-their-name. But actually the committee’s pissed off because the Interactive people went to press before the committee had officially approved the commuter information plan.
The second silver lining is for plebeians. The toffs who ride in air-conditioned buses are going to get the first experimental blast of information. Let’s rub our hands in glee. For who knows? Electronic stuff is tricky. It simply may not work in the AC buses and the whole thing will be called off. Plans involving crores have failed, so why not this? Or, equally reliably, someone will breach some other contract. They do it all the time. Either way, we plebeians will be saved.
If success takes the silver out of both linings, there’s a third that we can make available to ourselves. I’ve just been to the dictionary to find out what “interactive” means. It has a very promising meaning. In electronic devices it means a two-way flow of information in which the giver of the said info responds to the user’s input. Now just assume-- I’m not inciting us-- but just assume our input is a couple of well-aimed stones? The response would have to be silence, na?