Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Surviving India: Vol. 4

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote this of families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He could well have been talking about the traffic in India when he wrote this. The problems that Delhi residents face are worlds apart from those faced by the ones from Calcutta, and these are wholly different from the rigour undergone by the Bombaywalas. (In Delhi, all you need to worry about is not getting raped and keeping your body parts intact, and in Calcutta, it's the ubiquitous garbage that might be your end.)

This guide has been written keeping the travails of the poor, lost, hungry, weary, desolate, woebegone, and despondent soul of the Bombay resident in mind. May thou resteth in peace. And as for the purpose of this pontification, you would do well to keep these in mind before making any attempts at driving in Bombay.

1. The pedestrian who is crossing the road right in front of you WILL NOT be looking left, right, and then left again. In fact, he will not be looking at you at all. This is because right in front of him, on the other side of the road, is the angel of death waiting to take him home, and he can't take his eyes off of her. But it is your job to prevent them from meeting. EVER. Hence, YOU will look before HE crosses the road.

2. If you are trying to overtake someone, rest assured that no matter what he has been doing until that very moment, he will decide to speed up right when you are trying to get ahead of him. Overtaking is serious business here in India. Mind it!

3. Signals are meant to be broken. The government has ensured that every fifth signal is stuck at red to make sure that you get adequately trained at breaking signals. All you need to do is look around you and do what everyone else is doing. And if no one's around, what does it matter anyways! This is a critical skill if you want to drive on Indian roads. You will die otherwise. DIE! So remember. Green says go. Yellow says look before you leap, but leap anyway. Red says look around and follow the leader. Monkey see, monkey do—repeat after me!

4. If, in spite of my instructions in the previous point, you are indeed stuck at a traffic signal (which is entirely different from being stuck in a traffic jam, as you all know), you can proceed to take a short nap. (I use this time to put on my make up.Works every time!) Rest assured that as soon as the signal turns green, a thousand divers and riders will start honking their horns to ensure that no time is wasted.  

5. If as a result of your bad driving, someone turns to you with their nose in the air and screams "You are a terrible driver. Get off the road!", turn to them and calmly say "You are a terrible human being. How would you like it if I told you to get off the planet/go die?"

6. If  the road is even remotely clear, your best bet is to drive smack in between two lanes whenever you can. That way, you can move to the right or left lane depending on which gets clearer at each point. This is called "equivocation driving." (This knowledge is what makes Indians, excellent politicians.) Remember. Driving a car is like playing checkers. You gotta be willing to make all kinds of moves all over the place, and if a space that you want to occupy is not empty, you may need to knock off a few pieces. Just sayin'! 

At this juncture, I would like to say that I DO NOT do this and I abhor people who do. They are a pain in my funny bone. One day I rammed my car right into the behind of the car of a man who was doing this. Ok, maybe I didn't. But this is the stuff my dreams are made of.

7. Make friends with your horn. It's the only way to get other people to stop honking! Pretty soon it will be a conversation. (Shut up! No, you shut up!) C'mon! You know I'm right...

8. Everyone talks on the cellphone when they drive. (Except me. I took the "no mobile phone while driving" pledge with Oprah and I take such things seriously!) But otherwise, it's like a rite of passage—if you can talk and drive, you're good; if you can text and drive, you're a pro; and if you can text and ride the bike, you deserve a standing ovation because you're like the coolest eva! (Not!) So this is the permission that I am giving you: If you see anyone using their mobile phone while driving/riding, fell free to knock 'em dead. And if you are one of 'em people who talk/text while driving a vehicle, shame on you. Shame! Sharam aani chahiye!

9. There are a few things that always take precedence to you on the road.They are commonly found indulging in all kinds of activities on all kinds of roads and they are "untouchable." (No, I am not talking about this.) They are:
a. Cows, buffaloes, bison, oxen, and other bovines. (This is critical information that could save your life! Cows are holy in India [other than when you want to eat beef, in which case, no rules apply]. The only time when they are not untouchable is when you want to seek their blessings, which you do, by touching their behinds. You will be guillotined if you hit one with a car. Serious.)
b. Dogs, large and small, pretty and not so pretty, rabid and not rabid. Do not hit dogs and run! 
c. Goats, sheep, roosters, chicken, ducks, geese, gander, turkey, and other livestock. The least we can do is let them live until, you know, they are ready to be eaten. :( (I feel horrible! I wish that we would all stop eating meat. I wish that we had never started in the first place. I hope that there is a place for these pretty little things in heaven.)
d. Crows and pigeons. (They are curious creatures who have all of the world to flit about in, but somehow, they love lazing around on the streets of Bombay. Methinks that crows and pigeons are the most common kind of roadkill.)
e. Elephants; because you won't kill them, they will kill you!

10. Drive only fuel-efficient cars. This is serious business, you guys! While driving, you are pretty much on first/second gear at all times. If, like me, you have a car that guzzles fuel, you will have to give up your kidneys or your eyes to pay for it. My third eye is already turning blind; hence, selling my eyes is not even an option!

Ok. Lesson 4 complete. Now, hit the road!

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