Saturday, November 07, 2009

Driving In India : A Precautionary Tale

Driving Lessons
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:

1. 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.

2. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality.

3. Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the 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.

4. 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.

5. Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance or just to mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar.

6. 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 rain waters to recede when over-ground traffic meets underground drainage.

7. Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience (for those with the mental makeup of Genghis Khan). In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded with liquor. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record.
On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

8. Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation.

9. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver and the peg of illicit arrack he has had at the last stop; his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught.

10. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India and are licensed to kill.

11. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously. Of course, all this occurs at night, on the trunk roads.

12. During the daytime, trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show any signal. (And you must watch for the absent signals; they are a greater threat). Only, you will often observe that the cleaner that sits next to the driver will project his hand and wave hysterically. This is definitely not to be construed as a signal for a left turn. The waving is just an expression of physical relief on a hot day.

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

Some unique things to Indian traffic:

Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi):

The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote.

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 (Kolkata) :

Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem (hell).

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.

Road Ownership :

India is the only country in the world where you can own a substantial piece of road for 10-15 days by putting few pieces of stones or leaves and stems round your broken vehicle. This "property" can be used either as a movable tent to sleep under or for repair shop not only of your own vehicle but others also. Indians will never question the vehicle owner about this and we are so nice that we may even ask if they need any help!

Lest I sound hypercritical, 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 the pipe for year-end accounting.

If, after all this, you still want to drive in India, have your lessons between 8 pm and 11 am - when the police have gone home. The citizen is then free to enjoy the 'FREEDOM OF SPEED' enshrined in the constitution.

Having said all this, isn't it true that the accident rate and related deaths are less in India compared to US or other countries?


15 Comment:

Georgina said...

Nicely depicted. True Indian picture. Still India is Great.

breath tester said...

I worked with one gentleman from India and this isn't far off. His uncle was killed driving, which led to our discussion, not that accidents & deaths don't occur in other countries / continents.

Doesn't necessarily mean they have to conform to our driving culture ( ;> ), but certainly something different all together!


john - Miami Locksmith said...

I have heard that it is even worse in Egypt.... LOL

Erika said...

You are a good writer, you have made me laugh all the way. There is humor in the true story.

bibi said...

I have always tried to avoid driving in many countries roads outside of the uk. That might sound bad my experience is that safety is not the top of the list when it comes to reads in many countries. This is represented by the huge dead tolls on their roads. It really is the technology being available but the training not so

Girl Behind Red Specs said...

This really was entertaining :)
I am blogrolling you

Online Printing Company said...

Haha! Oh my, that's hilarious!
But you know, I don't think these rules only apply in India. I assure you, traffic is absolutely as horrible as drivers, everywhere you go!

Jason said...


Joe Thompson said...

Love the post, sounds a lot like when I visited the Phillipines and had to find my way around on 7 lane freeways without lane dividers, dodging flower salesmen and Jeeps filled with 30 people

neelmoney dot com said...

Wrong picture, In India Drivers is always placed at right side

wedding invitations said...

Karma has everything to do when driving in India. And praying to any deity is also necessary. The truth is that most indians have developed instincts when driving which an average european or american driver simply cannot.

Noodlehead said...

applause you deserve!! it was a fun read.

Noodlehead said...

You may also add that Indians don't have to learn driving, we are just born with those skills! Just put us into the driver's seat and put us onto a road, we'll figure out the rest!

Wellness Retreats said...

The precautionary principle is also a driving force behind arguments. Anyways nice tips to survive.

Tallynine said...

Sad and True facts but Very Funny.
People drive here vehicle as if the entire road belong to their personal property only other people have no right over the road. Bigger vehicle never respect small vehicle !

I firmly believe that all our Gods help us daily to save our life from accident so that we can prepare for tomorrow as it really like a miracle how people drive here and still survive

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