Today while I prepared a simple kichidi, a South Asian dish, and teamed it with a famous Goan pickle, prawn balchao for dinner, which you have to try out, various topics ran through my head. While I brushed aside the need to drive to the market for a few groceries, I remembered one that I wanted to write for a while now. Traffic, roads and the like! In the Gulf, we always cursed on the roads if someone, according to us it was usually an Arab, drove in the middle of two lanes or stopped in the middle of the road to unload passengers. There, speeds were scary and accidents were horrifying. So, we all blamed the non-Indians for driving rashly, even though we sped too. Then, I shifted base to my home country and sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was on a road or in a marketplace. It wasn’t only the rashness of other drivers on the road that disturbed me anymore. Read on…
Manual gear: The first thing that I dreaded was driving the manual geared car. I had only driven the automated geared vehicles till then so when I attended the driving course, I would repeatedly stop in the middle of the road unaware of what to do as the other experienced drivers behind me would honk their asses off, because I was wasting their time on the road. Nervous, I would forget to turn the engine back on, which would in turn cause a traffic jam giving the ones behind to release their frustrations on their horns. Besides that, sometimes I forget which gear I am on, leading the car to jerk suddenly.
Cattle and pets: I wasn’t sure if I was more bothered with the big animals who could break my car if I bumped into them or the small ones that could get under it. Nevertheless, both were on the road, aimlessly wandering without restrictions. Sometimes, I would be amazed at the nonchalant tea parties the cows looked like they were enjoying in the middle of a busy road and disrupting traffic and at times I would have to break suddenly due to a chase across the road, where a cow would be running after a possibly naughty canine.
Potholes: In the Gulf, owning expensive cars made sense to me. It was normal to see a Lamborghini or Maserati zoom by. In India, I wonder how people have the guts to own BMW and Audi sedans as they not only cannot use the engine to its maximum capacity, but have to drive slowly due to the number of potholes that suddenly spring up, especially after heavy rains, leave alone the narrow roads that I, sometimes, get to know are State highways. In my little Wagon R, I’m quite comfortable to drive over dents and depressions as the car is high, but if I drove any other car, as I’m unaware of the pothole locations, I mostly do not exceed 40kmph. My Mother would always hold her heart in her mouth when I drove at a speed of 120kmph or more on the smooth Gulf roads; so she thanks God for the irregular road levels here.
Bikers: In my initial years of driving, I rarely had bike riders to look out for as it isn’t common on the dangerous Gulf roads or in the extreme climates there. You don’t know when you will be drowned in hailstones from above; or hit by a sandstorm or the zooming expensive cars driven by the rich and spoilt. However, India has an army of bikers who think that no road rule applies to them, or that they are allowed into any no-entry zone or one-way roads. So, when I’m driving, I need to look twice or thrice into the rear view mirrors and my side windows just in case a biker comes out speeding from the wrong side or thinks he can fit into the gap in the side of the road I’m already at the end of.
High beams: What is the idea with high beams? Don’t people realize that there are street lights in some places? Don’t they realize that they are blinding the oncoming traffic? Or are they just lazy to switch their beams according to the road lighting? I wear numbered eyeglasses and sometimes I find myself driving with all my trust in God, because all I can see is ‘glare’.
No emergency lanes: I thought Emergency lanes were a must on all roads, until I came to India. In the Gulf, in addition to examining your cars, you would find ‘smart’ people zooming on those lanes while the rest of us waited in the traffic. Here, few main roads have lanes for emergencies and yet are not used at all. People prefer stopping their vehicles in the middle of the ‘fast lane’ (which I also thought existed until now) and repairing their cars.
No lane system: During my oral driving test in the Gulf, they asked me to point out the slow and fast lanes and I did correctly. I’m not sure if the same is followed here because not only can I see driving in the middle of lanes like I thought only the Arabs did, but the slowest cargo van on the road is also driving on the fast lane while the rest, who are driving at normal speeds, have to overtake them on the slow lane. And if you give the crawlers ‘the look’, they give you ‘the look’ back. I wonder if, maybe, they get a thrill out of pissing off the other drivers because they themselves are pissed with life.
Bad road networks: I live on the outskirts of the city and I love it here. The moment I have to get to the center of town, I dread it inspite of the ‘straight highway’ to it. When I get on the main road, it is a wonderful eight lane highway but very soon it will turn into a four lane bridge where the confusion begins with people trying their level best to overtake the other on any side possible and perhaps a car would be broken down on one of them to make matters worse. Left or right turns are sadly jammed as many ‘no-brains’ would be blocking the whole main road just to get into a two lane turn, as if the bottle necks are not enough to prevent travel convenience from one part of the city to the other.
The conspiracy to give me ‘drive-o-phobia’, by pedestrians, cyclists, bikers, animals, carts and other cars driving towards me on a one-way and bad roads, is nerve racking but I have now learnt to leave the house early, keep calm and curse less as I drive, as that’s the only way to keep my sanity intact while on the road.