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.

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