I won’t be boring you with entries about India describing how spiritual and life changing India is. Please assume that India is effecting and changing me in ways that I will only realize in years to come. I can only make a fair assessment of the impact on me when I return to Canada. I will though address the giant elephant in the country (pun so completely intended).
I quickly realized when I arrived in India that navigating the streets of India is a paradox. You don’t necessarily navigate the streets, you mostly ride the wave when you catch it. Imagine you are on a massive rock in the middle of the ocean, you want to get to a distant shore and you have waves that keep passing by and every time you want to catch one of the waves a different wave from a different direction decides to show up and you don’t seem to know in that instant which wave to go with. If you pick the wrong wave, you may just get slammed back into your rock and have to start all over again.
If you could only catch a break and get the wave you want.
You finally see a wave and you have worked out a pattern to the other waves and you are now on your way. Now add 1000 other massive rocks in your way and just imagine how long it would take you to get to the shore.
That is the simplest way I can explain the chaos that consumes all of India.
When we were planning our visit, Hema had asked me if I wanted to drive in India because she knows I like to drive. I enjoy it. The longest drive I ever made was 19 hours straight. I drove from Oakville to Thunder Bay to visit a friend for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was able to experience the Northern Lights and also saw a Moose. I was 19 at the time and thought that was the experience of a lifetime. Now that I’m India, that seems like a small moment in life.
So, I told Hema that we should really just get taxi’s in India because I wanted to observe more. We went to Portugal in August and I drove everywhere and it was enjoyable but of course I had been there so many times and the population in Portugal is only 30 million. Hema also mentioned that through the Hotel which we were staying at in Jaipur we could get a driver for the 4 days that we were there and the driver would take us anywhere we wanted to go, day or night. I didn’t have to worry about figuring out a route or hoping that a GPS system was up to the task.
The driver picked us up at the airport in Jaipur and to say his navigation of the streets is efficient is not doing his skill any justice. He seems to know what other drivers are going to do and he shows no hint of road rage.
That is an extremely important thing not to have in urban India.
The attitude of every driver on the road is one of having a balance of urgency with patience. In Ontario Canada, all driver’s lack the virtue of patience, add the sense of entitlement and you will understand why insurance companies charge absorbent amount for coverage. When he left us at the hotel, it was night-time and I couldn’t really make out the extent of the traffic volume. The next day when we left to go see the Amber Palace and the Observatory Jantar Mantar to see the largest sundial in the world, I got a taste of the chaos.
Everyone drives with the thought that they are sharing the road, there is no sense that they are the most important person on the road. The sheer number of cars, motorcycles, bikes, buses and what the Indians call an Auto (3-wheel vehicle which seats 3 but usually seats over 5 people), is staggering. There is no order to the traffic, no one is in a lane on a road with two lanes to each side, you have 4 lanes of cars to each side and sometimes one side is reduced to 2 lanes because some cars from the opposite side of the road have merged over to the other side because they have to get though. The cars coming at you simply move over and let you through but not before you get honked at. This is where I come to the first good thing you need when driving in India.
- Good Horn.
The Indian driver has established a new language and one that communicates simply and directly. Amidst this chaos, you have a constant orchestra surrounding you. It has its own beat and harmony and tempo. The constant honks and beeps become musical. There are 3 basic honks and beeps to communicate your driving, the first being a short beep.
Short Beep- use this to let every other car know where you are. It is needed as traffic is very fluid and changes on a second by second basis. Remember that wave you are trying to catch? Once you’re in the wave it changes speed and direction constantly and new wave riders are joining you and departing constantly.
2 Short Beeps- you are asking permission to get through, even where there is no space to get though. The 2 short beeps can also be used to warn another driver that they are intruding into your path. 2 short beeps used for a dual message.
1 Long Beep- if you hear this, it’s because traffic is not moving and it’s not just one person being impatient, it is a large group of driver’s trying to force the traffic wave forward.
You never seem to go faster than 40 km/hr. Even at that slow speed you must have the second good thing to drive.
- Good Brakes
Every car obviously needs good brakes. In India, they need to be at their optimum working level. In the West, we have been conditioned like robots on how to drive. Stay in your lane. Use turn signals. Give way to pedestrians. Watch for children. Obey traffic signals and always know the right of way.
These rules do not apply in India. Take everything I have just listed and make it the opposite. On average in a 4-lane road, (2 lanes in each direction) you have hundreds, if not thousands of cars, for every car, there are 100 motorcycles, for every motorcycle there are 10 scooters, for every scooter there are 5 bikes and for every bike, there is one pedestrian. Now put all of them on one road. The number of variables in which something can go wrong is truly frightening. You must always be ready to brake. I didn’t even mention the Auto’s which zig zag in and out of traffic and on the shoulder of the roads. If every single human being on the road decided just to do what they wanted, there would be mass murder on the streets of India. But they don’t. They are, in their chaos, all working together. There is one common rule that every Indian shares and without compromise. Life is precious and must be cherished. Because of this rule, every driver and rider and passenger and pedestrian always respects each other and know when to give the right of way. The odd thing about this is that the streets have no safety for the pedestrians and yet they magically can control the traffic. Elders are constantly monitored and all driver’s, including commercial trucks will stop and let the old man cross the road because he can easily do it from where he is standing. It’s the classic, the shortest distance from A to C is to skip B all together. Doesn’t matter that going to B may not be as dangerous, saving time is more precious. Good brakes come in handy when you have all these vehicles and human beings making decisions based on their individual assessments of the traffic. Having said all of this, it brings me to the 3rd and last good thing.
- Good Luck.
Good luck driving in India.
On my first day when I arrived I had to get lunch and because Hema’s family was concerned about what I could eat, I went to KFC to eat a chicken sandwich. I went with 2 other people. We walked. The only advise I was given when crossing the road was, just keep walking at a slow pace, driver’s will let you cross.
So much for waiting to see the Walking Man signal.
Oh no, there is the flashing orange hand and the count down, I better make it across in time.
No, I just better hope to make it across without getting hit.
Good thing I made it.
Hey look that’s a 4th good thing.