Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Driving in India

For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer. Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company. The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is "both".

Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction. Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation, the other drivers are not in any better position. Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back. Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town.Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

Sounding your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We honk to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts),or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar. Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking colored lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

Auto Rickshaw: the result of creative copulation between a rickshaw, a scooter and an automobile(how this 3 in one can happen may make up for the 8th wonder). this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and cresol. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of motion en route to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur, and are licensed to irritate.

Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type. Least I sound hypocritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left un-tarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover.

Traffic Signal etiquette:If you would like to know the meaning of a nanosecond, stop at any signal which has more than 2 or 3 vehicles waiting. The time taken for signal to change to green and the guy behind the first car to honk would be a nanosecond. More the vehicles behind you, the louder the cacophony.

Traffic law Protectors: We have policeman’s post at almost every crossing where there is an electronic signal. But the policemen have been trained to play hide and seek very well. They never take the seat in the pedestal that is provided but invariably stand behind a tree on one side of the road. Their job is to hide and seek the traffic violator. And in India, where there is no policeman in sight, every road user breaks the law. And what a gleeful day the policeman has, as he catches 20 to 30 cases on most days. None of the violators get tickets but they sure go a few hundred rupees less in their purses.

If one watches the argument and discussion the traffic violator and the policeman have, it definitely belies the barbaric impression that the police department has been maligned with. The innocent violator begs, cringes, tells all lies such as (the DGP is my class mate. my son is in the hospital I am rushing to see him. my house has been burgled. my wife has run away with my best friend, I have lost my job……;….)The policeman who has been used to similar refrains, is cool and composed. He just takes the keys off the vehicle and keeps saying you have to pay a fine of 500/- or `1000/- and that it will have be paid at the police station which would be at least 2 kilometres away. Mostly the deal is concluded for 100-200 and the relief on the violator’s face when he is allowed to go is really strange. One can see happiness, sorrow and anger all at once. happiness because he has been let off. Sorrow because he had to lose a couple of hundred rupees, anger because the policeman was too adamant. The expression on his face makes it so easy for one to read what is being muttered in the head. f.......g. bastard or its equivalent in one of the Indian languages. And mind you there several equivalents in the Indian language vocabulary. Ironically, when he was talking to cop, he would have been addressing the same person with greatest respect.

As regards the roads and several other contraptions that take to the use the roads, I shall write again.


Mukund Iyer R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mukund Iyer R. said...

Keep it up Narayana!!!!