Friday, March 31, 2006

Driving Me Mad

I always knew driving in India was tough. Heck, walking in India is tough and involves instances where your entire life flashes before your eyes pretty often. Driving though goes to the next plane. One of the reasons is that as a car driver you are in the exclusive position of being the Loser in every possible accident situation.

Let us take the possible range of things/people you can collide with. The first in the category of ‘victims’ are pedestrians. Pedestrians in India do not believe in using the footpath. 'When there is a perfectly good road available, why can't I use it?' is the logic used by most. Not surprisingly, over time, footpaths have come to serve as places where electric transformers, phone boxes, roadside peddlers, snack vendors, beggars etc co-exist peacefully. Of course, pedestrians point out that the cause-effect relationship is the other way round and the reason they don’t use footpaths is on account of the impediments scattered around. I say, show me a pedestrian who uses footpaths in India and I will show you a man who has not lived in India long enough. Pedestrians also do not believe in zebra crossings, preferring to dart across the road when they spot their destination. That this may cause an oncoming vehicle to swerve suddenly and crash into a building and kill ten people is not of much consequence.

The next category closely competing with pedestrians are two wheelers and three wheelers. They follow a variation of Parkinson's laws - motorists will fill up any available space on a road. This involves making instant calculations on whether the motor bike's entire width is less than the 1.5 feet available between a bus and a truck on the road. More often than not, these calculations are precise to a millimeter. The 'not' is when problems arise.

With both pedestrians and smaller vehicles, the forgone conclusion is that you are a Goliath pelting Davids all over the place with your big bad capitalist attitude. The assumption is that if you are driving a car, you must be rich and have the attitude of a big bad capitalist. So the public sides against you, you pay whatever money is needed to settle the issue and worry if your EMI payment on the car was less than that.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are buses. The most dangerous of this lot are the public transport buses called CTCs. They are usually huge, look extremely unbalanced from years of carrying too many people and are stuffed with most of India's 1 billion population. When a man knows that he is the lifeline to ease the city's transportation problem, he drives at a level 8 ft from the ground and is a government servant, he does not quite care if he dents a couple of car bumpers a day. Even during my driving lessons, I had put down CTC bus drivers as mean and unpredictable and driving next to one as the worst situation a car driver can face. At that point, however I had not seen one CTC bus overtaking another. This scene is somewhat like watching King Kong stomping through New York - beautiful but terrible.

Imagine a narrow road, which has two lanes. Now imagine a bus stop where one CTC bus is parked. The next one approaches from behind. Seeing the earlier bus, the CTC driver quickly calculates that he will have to trail behind all along the length of the entire narrow road. A thought that clearly causes intolerable grief. So even while the last passenger is boarding, the second CTC bus lurches in a 45 degree angle, powers full thrust ahead and regally overtakes the first one. You can usually smell the burning tyres of vehicles that had to brake suddenly to avoid close contact with a lurching bus. I have sometimes pulled over to admire this wonderful sight. That is infact the only way to handle the situation. If you are stupid enough to be hit by a bus, don't bother arguing with the driver for justice. He can scrunch you up like a little insect and still get away with it.

So clearly car drivers are at the bottom of the food chain. Why do we still drive? Most people, I think, love the challenge of seeing if they can get to work alive everyday. After that, anything that assails you at work can only be better. As for me - I can't think of a better place to sing aloud without inviting widespread abuse.

Anita B.

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