Driving on Indian roads is a pretty spiritual affair. It enlightens the mind and purifies the soul. It develops faith and piety. This experience is at the root of the Indians being so religious and pious. Deep in their hearts they know that without the active and constant assistance of the almighty, it is virtually impossible to reach home in one piece.
Indians are good drivers, generally, and the presence of Indian taxi drivers around the world testify to this skill. But even the best of skills cannot counter the fact that there are no laws or even conventions that regulate traffic in this blessed country (except for islands of sanity in parts of some metro cities).
It is the law of the jungle that prevails for most part. The bigger the vehicle the greater right it has to hog the road – any side of it. But the motorcycles are the hyenas of this jungle – they do not care even for the tigers or the elephants. They steal the crumbs – the empty parts of the roads – from the mighty trucks with impunity. Some hyenas lose their lives, but then, in a jungle that is to be expected, now and then.
In India one feels for the plight of the pedestrians in a manner that one feels for the war victims of Bosnia or Congo – with a vague sense of resentment against the unfair share of troubles that these poor victims have to suffer.
It is not surprising that chess was invented in India. The sight of two armies massed against each other, eyeball to eyeball, is a common sight on the crossings. The entire road is blocked due the classic battle formation taken up by the opposing sides of the traffic flow, and the issue is resolved only through war – verbal and physical.
The traffic light and the traffic policeman is a common sight on every crossing. Oprah Winfrey, when she visited India recently and travelled across Mumbai, and later between Delhi and Agra, wondered what they were for. The mystery is yet to be solved. It is somewhat like figuring out why there is a Queen in England. I believe they are there because it is a tradition to have traffic lights (four) and traffic policeman (one) – a convention, without which the city roads would look less like roads, and more like lanes or highways. In some parts of India the traffic cop cuts a sorry figure, being abused and ignored; at others he is an evil character, stopping vehicles randomly, for his ‘cut’. (A ‘cut’ is a type of a tax imposed in India; the concept of this tax cannot be explained in this article.)
Here the adults need no video games or 3D gaming consoles – the roads are exciting enough. The horn is the missile launcher (- you know all the other controls), and no less deadly. The body of the vehicle is the armour, inside which no harm can enter – that unwavering faith keeps the driver going.
The rear view mirror is a misnomer. It is the vanity-kit mirror for the ladies (and for most of the men, I am sorry to say), whether they are driving or not. The brakes are to be used sparingly, and at the ‘lastest’ of all moments, when honking, shouting and maneuvering fail. Some drivers believe in not using them at all.
Parking is not much of an issue for the Indians. It can be done anywhere, anytime. The process of parking, from start to the end can be described thus: madam notices a shop – madam shouts stop – the driver puts his full weight on the brake – the vehicle stops – madam gets down to shop – driver waits for her to return. Notice the steering has not been used in the entire procedure. The result – the car has been parked, in the middle of the road, or anywhere that it was at the time of the “Stop” cry. The driver passes time chatting with the vehicles that line up behind him, till the time madam returns.
Indians take life in the spirit of the flow of traffic. They know that the smooth flow can be halted, temporarily, at any point of time, for no valid reason. They have to bear the hiccups, monk like, and take the fast with the slow in their stride. They believe that ultimately the fate of man is already destined by his actions in past lives, and so the time it will take to reach office is also ordained and cannot be influenced by their best efforts. The bosses in the office also know this to be a fact, though they do sometimes act as if they were unaware of these basic tenets of life.
The family greets a man returning from office with a degree of surprise and joy, unseen in other parts of the world. The wife (or the husband) welcomes the spouse heartily, offering tea and juices for having returned unscathed from the ordeal of driving on the Indian roads. This daily uncertainty about life keeps the family bonds strong, and turns the soul towards the benevolent family deity, every night.