I was on my bike at a traffic intersection in Pune the other day when the lights, all of a sudden, went off. For some, it may be straight out of a sci-fi computer-hacker-villian-terrorist attack movie, but in India, its just another day to the office. Everyone knew what was going to happen next. All the possible space in the junction was filled up with 2, 3 and 4-wheelers before anyone could say “Amitabh Bachan”! The funny thing was that no one looked surprised, they just accepted the fact that it was the law of Indian traffic. Sure, they were hurling colorful abuses, the likes of which would put all rappers out of business, but no one got physical. They were simply doing what they do best.
Back home, one would drive with caution so that they don’t hit any other vehicle, but here, its different. We drive carefully so that no one comes close to hitting us. If you’re on a 2 wheeler, you’re at the bottom of the Traffic food chain. No one would let you pass them, it’s a matter of ego and horsepower. Driving on your side of the road when there’s no partition is taboo, and blowing your horn, boy, the horn is substituted for the siren politicians use. If you blow your horn in a crowded street (Considering your horn is loud enough) gives you the right to break the sound barrier on land. All lowly pedestrains are expected to give way for the loud-mouthed devil machine.
And bus drivers (they still scare the shit out of me) are not to be messed with. Their threat is evident in the daily morning newpapers where at least one unfortunate bike or bicycle would be overrun and the incident would be forgotten the next day when another similar incident would grace the same pages, same incident, different names. If you see one, behind you or ahead, keep as much distance from them as possible. They are like Gladiators on wheels, and if you happen to encounter one after dark, pray hard.
Back to the gridlock at the intersection, since there was no more space to move, people just waited for the traffic cops to come and sort it out. Afterall, that’s what they get paid for, right? Why should we make their jobs any easier. Any sign of courtesy on road is considered a weakness, and the liability to be destroyed where one stands. 4-wheelers argue they should be given way since they are bigger, 2-wheelers disagree since they are smaller and should pass first. The amazing thing, though, is that the matter was resolved in a matter of minutes, and traffic flowed normally as usual, under the supervision of the cops. It seems no one wanted to cooperate unless there’s a hypothetical DANDA up their ass. Maybe that’s why Indians are considered really good workers and employees, they can follow orders, but are reluctant to agree to a descision of their peers.
I still love driving back home, just because people are so courteous, and you’re an asshole if you aren’t, for instance, the dipper. If you dont use your dipper at night, other drivers have the right to start a fight cos’ it just the traffic rules. In Pune, the only reason you use a dipper is to warn oncoming traffic that you are overtaking a vehicle on a two-way road in broad daylight, and you need to flash it threateningly to be convincing enough. At night, a dipper is simply to have a better look at the road for potholes. There goes the traffic rules.
I knew a Flight Lieutenant while I was in Military school. He once told me that while he was posted in Mizoram, he was stopped by a cop one night in Aizawl. Apparently, he was not using his indicators to make a turn and the cop thought that it was broken, so he stopped him to inform him that. He was deeply impressed with the cop and the traffic culture, and it felt good to be a Mizo at the time.
Christmas 2008: I was driving without a license ( I had lost mine, and it was holiday season, so it was difficult getting it re-issued). I was never stopped by any cop and asked to produce my license, so as far as I’m concerned, I loved it. In other parts of the country, as long as you don’t look LOCAL, you are stopped and checked for your license and papers while others, half of them without either documents, zoom past you, and you can feel them sneer at your back “Serves them right!”. I’m not bitter, but I’m simply telling like it is. I’m a realist.
Anyways, I love riding a bike. It gives me a feeling of so much freedom. True, I must’ve jumped a couple of red lights in my time, but the trick is to never get caught, localite or not. And I would always enjoy driving just for the sheer pleasure of it, be it home or any other place, no matter how screwed up the traffic would be. Power, always, to horsepower.