Driving on Indian Roads. An expert’s advise.

I am taking a break from posting on Customer Service to bring in a bit of humor and to host a guest post from a dear friend who is one of the few witnesses to my having gone to post graduate level of education!

This post is by Vashudev Dayalani who lives in Mumbai.  He has travelled the world extensively and has seen the driving habits of other nationalities, but has a particular soft corner for Indian drivers and conditions, as can readily be made out from his post. I have a great deal of admiration for his resilience and hope to post more of his articles on his personal life.

For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry (not Potter) 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.

On roads, rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to God and your Insurance Company. The hints are as follows:

Do you drive to the left or right of the road? The answer is ‘both’. Basically you start on the left of the road unless it’s occupied. In that case go to the right unless that’s 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 aim their vehicle in the intended direction. Don’t you get discouraged or underestimate yourself. Except for a belief in re-incarnation, 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 when traffic is moving slowly or had come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across but then, lets not talk ill of the dead.

Sounding your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. Honk to express joy, resentment, frustration, and romance or just to mobilize a dozing cow or a dog in the middle of the road/bazaar.

Keep information books in glove compartment. You may read them in traffic while awaiting the Chief Minister/Prime Minister/President’s motorcade or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, its like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon, turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On countering it, pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes. The roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not flash your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack he has had at lost stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than naught.

Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India and are licensed to kill. Often you may encounter a single beam of light about five/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. During the day time trucks are more visible, except that the driver will never show any signal. And you must watch for the absent signal. They are a greater threat. Only you will observe that the cleaner/driver’s companion, who sits next to the driver, will project his hand and wave hysterically. This is definitely not to be construed as a signal for left or right. The waving is just an expression of physical relief on a hot day.

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

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

Leaning Towers of Pisas:  Most bus passengers travel free and during rush hours there is absolute mayhem (hell, chaos). There are passengers hanging off other passengers who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded buses lean dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid to overload (so many rupees per kg. of passenger), no questions are asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

One way- Street:  These boards are put up by the traffic police to bring some humor into their otherwise drab lives. Don’t stick to the literal meaning and proceed in any direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at one time. So drive, as you like, reverse whenever you feel like, if you are the fussy type.

Lest I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Providing ‘speed breakers’ – two for each house, has prevented fast driving in residential areas. These are in addition to water and drainage pipes for that residence, that is left untarred for easy identification by the Municipal Corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipes for year-end accounting.

If after all this, you will want to drive in India, take your lessons between 8.00 p.m. and 11.00 a.m. when the police have gone home. The citizen is then free to enjoy the freedom of speed enshrined in the Constitution.

The Japanese and IIT Patna, Bihar.

A newspaper report this morning says that the Japanese have regretted their inability to collaborate with the Indian Institutes of Technology to set up an Institute in Bihar. They are however prepared to collaborate with the Indians for one at Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.

While the reason given has been that they are concerned about the poor law and order situation in Bihar, it is suspected that the real reason is their experience with Bihar in the past.

Some years ago, when Sri. Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Chief Minister of Bihar; a Japanese team had visited Bihar to study possible areas for business and educational tie-ups. After their visit, they had suggested to Sri Lalu Prasad Yadav that if they could be given six months time to rule Bihar, they could turn Bihar into another Japan. Sri Yadav told them in no uncertain terms that the proposal was ridiculous as if he was given just six days to rule Japan, he can turn Japan into another Bihar.

Can Road Accidents Supplement Family Planning?

Not a day goes by in any part of India, without the local press reporting some deaths due to accidents on local roads. Roughly 300 deaths per day are reported everyday from all over the country and it is expected to increase steadily with more vehicles coming on India’s roads. This has led some thinkers to give serious consideration to this method as a viable one to control India’s population and to suggest that such accidents must be encouraged by a series of measures by all government bodies and politicians.

As India begins to shine, it is blessed with the unchecked growth of vehicular population, two wheelers to massive big multi-wheeled semis, constantly jostling for space on limited road surfaces. Enterprising unemployed farmers have even come with a very functional vehicle called the Juggad, which need not be registered with the local RTO, as it is claimed to be for agricultural purposes. The same surface is used by vast hordes of pedestrians and animals too.

The use of roads by non-motorists is not restricted to just walking or cycling, but also to build shantytowns and places of worship. Sometimes, when a worthy personality is killed on one of these roads, a monument is also very likely to come up on the spot where the unfortunate incident took place. If the local heavy weight wants to make some money for his good friend the sculptor, he is likely to erect a statue of a national or regional leader in the middle of a convenient road, and to safeguard its future, get it inaugurated by a political heavyweight too. Seeing how desperate a problem India’s population is, the Central, State and Local governments, all cooperate with each other, in a rare instance of unity, in creating more pot holes than drivable roads, so that accidents can take place.

These developments effectively reduce the area available for vehicular traffic and cause accidents resulting in death or injury. If an accident does take place, and someone falls down injured on the road, no passerby is likely to take him to the nearest hospital as, he dreads the prospect of bureaucratic hassles and police harassment, when all that he wants to do is to be a good Samaritan. The victim is likely to die unattended.

Indians are notorious individualists. They brook no interference in their movements and resist all attempts to guide them to their own safety. It would appear that they have all been trained to be the Indian equivalent of suicide bombers. Instead of bombs, an Indian simply gets on to any handy vehicle and declares war on all that comes in his way. If the vehicle turns out to be a two-wheeler, he will shun the use of a helmet as being unsuited for the Indian climate with predictable results to himself and other similar helmet less riders.

As per statistics put out by the National Crime Records Bureau, India has just been declared runner up in the race to control population, through deaths arising out of road accidents. The winner as expected has been China. While China has actually reported a decrease in deaths due to road accidents from 98,738 in 2005 to 89,455 in 2006, India registered 98,254 and 105,725 respectively. If this trend continues, as it indeed is likely to, India should easily become the number one performer. India will not only become number one, it will also make substantial reduction to the national population. To speed up the process, it is suggested that India holds annual national championships between the states, to generate the maximum road accidents.

Apart from the largest state in size and population, Uttar Pradesh, which has to be number one in something, the three great states that lead in the prosperity ratings of the country, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, are the frontline players in this great game of population control through road deaths. Between the four of them, they account for almost 60% of all road deaths of India. The rest of the country, are not likely to take this affront lying down and will do everything possible to catch up with these upstarts.

It is rumored that, other countries battling with population control and not succeeding with their current strategies have sought specialized training by Indian experts on this technology.

What can officially be done to increase the death rate due to road accidents? Can a formal Manual of Operations be issued to all local authorities? Can special training programs be conducted to facilitators after identifying those who will be enthused in this laudable endeavor?