The traffic conditions on Indian roads is a worst thing to mention and as the number of vehicle on Indian roads keep growing day by day, problems in this regards are also increasing by leaps and bounds. The study on how to correctly predict match and arrive at the correct vehicle estimates is like taking or arriving at a correlation between Sensex numbers, growing GDP numbers, Global warming numbers with the vehicular presence on the Indian Roads. Well good thing is we need lots of staticians to be hired, leading to good all round employment creation. With the Nano evolution just to start in few quarters I would like to leave the numbers to the staticians and economists.
From my end I would like to share my few penace of travelling on the Indian roads, what kind of people you would come accross, etc.
- How to overtake, well the sign say overtaking not allowed or overtake only from the right, well thats for weak hearts. On city roads, it is ‘survival of the fittest’, you really have to drive past your onlookers keeping just an inch gap, such that they barely will be saved from getting hit and detracted. The overtake is from all sides - right, left, and may be the day is not very far when someone will ‘fly past’ you from above the head and gush out a stream of smoke. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality.
- RGY (Red Green or Yellow) - People in India are colour blind, they can't really differentiate between colour changes, thats the reason that most of the drivers trust the driver in front of them for direction at the crossings. If the vehicle infront is moving and police is not waving his hand its all go. Don't bother about the lights its for jazzy up the road-life, and attract foreign investments. City like Hyderabad incidently has the highest number of colour blind people closely followed by Kolkata.
- 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 only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Either ways don't get bothered if a young man puts his hand-up as he crosses the road for he just a fan of Hitler, he misses him so much so that if you were to hurt him other Hitler fans on the road will join in the pursuit to show and demonstrate the Desi-Nazist culture. Never ever dare to defy the birth right of one who puts his arm up. "Hey Ram" - gone are those days of Gandhi-giri.
- Blow-horn - OK Well thats what you read on back of a truck and never hesitate, or else the person one your back will think your impotent. Blowing a horn on the road unlike many countries is not sign of protest, but an expression of joy, excitement, resentment, frustration, romance or say simply a small kids way of expressing himself of his arrival in the world. Some of the meanings you need to decipher when someone honks. "Hey look, watch out. I am coming."
- Connecting People - Cell phones are the devices which connect people, and people know that barriers break when people talk, true very true, for drivers home their mobile devices soo close to themselves that they are never willing to forego the same. And one of the ad on TV sanctifies the statement that people love giving free advices. So guys take my bit of advice keep your handsfree, bluetooth's on while driving. Well if you have none of this our human body is so ergonomically designed that one can tilt our heads to hold the phone by a bend of a neck driving at neck breaking speeds on seemingly smooth and pothless holes.
- Everyday you learn and preach - With every passing day the know-how and knowledge-base of a person grows exponential with every minute one spends on the road. You will know the meaning of a road-rage, stunt driving, balancing acts of entire families travelling on two wheeler, optimal utilisation of hatchbacks, how to maximise capacity utilisation and incresase the tonage of trucks well beyond its permissable limits so as to wheelie a truck. A whole lot of road etiqutte can also be learned from the Autowalla when you faintly try to honk and pass them off, or when you trying crossing a road on a busy road, travelling on Indian roads makes one equip with whole new lot of Vocabulary, for its not just eye, hand and ear coordination but also the mouth coordintation which is so omni-essential. And if for some strange reason you curse the driver or the road or anyone in general, you are reminded in no uncertain terms, "Buri Nazar Waale Tu Zeher Khaale!" ("You evil eyed one! Why? Take some poison."). Well I guess the F1 drivers like Ralf have taken a cue from our truckers by putting "Don't hit me, if you can read this you are close-enough" kind of slogans on back of their tail fins.
- Lane(Gulli) Culture - There are no standards for road signs or for lane markings or the color or the markers. Sometimes lanes are divided by yellow lines, sometimes they are white. Sometimes they are solid white, sometimes the two sides of the road are divided by double yellow lines, sometimes just a single yellow, and so on. Lane discipline and lane markings, are non-existent. Lanes can only work in a nominally homogenous traffic. In India, one will find, in the busiest of highways in the biggest of metros, everything from bullock carts to Mercedes S Class sedans. In most places, three cars will occupy two lanes. Suddenly the lane will disappear and two lanes will become one. Since the horse-power of vehicles on an Indian road is anywhere from 0 to 300, there is every possibility that both the lanes on a road are filled with rickshaws or cows or beggars or people just having a fun time spitting or haggling with the fruit vendor.) Moreso no one follows or rather understands the lane culture for its very much Alien to us right, Firangi culture it is. By the way lanes never mean a route or a speed route or a vehicle lane but mere colour pattern for making the roads more beautiful.
"I am overtaking you, notice me."
"Invisible people beware!"
"Speed up." or "Give way."
"The light is green. Why can't I move?"
People on Indian City Roads
- Young blood…Th youth of today. The flag bearers of tomorrow. The future of India. Listening to Himesh Reshammiya sneeze his way to nasal popularity. They think wearing sunglasses at night is cool. Usually to be spotted in bright colored cars (model and make directly proportional to either income or if no income, then father’s income). This genus of car-owners deserver their rightful place in the traffic ecosystem as entertaining jukeboxes in course of a long traffic jam. Their contribution to the orchestra is always as the percussion. They honk in rhythm with the beats of the song playing in their car stereo. Lost in the hypnotic effect of rhythmic honking, they usually end up in H&R scenarios (hit and run). After all, they’re young blood!
- Safe Players - My teeth fall faster than I can change gears
The pioneers of driving. The blood of yesteryears, now simmered down and circulating in a body crouched over the steering wheel. These respected old men have it all – patience, sobriety, forbearing, unhurriedness. Their insecurity on the road shows up conspicuously, as they desperately try to cope up with an altogether different league of drivers, with both hands gripping the wheel. These poor uncles, out of no fault of theirs, bear the brunt of excessive honking from their other callous peers. Having learnt driving on Fiats and NEs they never get accustomed to the gear stick on the floor and play it safe by sticking to first two gears only. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the traffic. They do their musical bit via intermittent long honks. Just to make sure everyone heard them.
- The Upper Crust
These are the most educated and sophisticated of the lot. That is, up till you hand them the wheel. They usually are US returns, having a glorified view of the land of opportunities and a totally opposite opinion about their motherland. Frustrated by the fact that the common man has no say in the parliamentary proceedings, they voice their opinions through the loudest means as possible – honking. To “cut them some slack”, they are obedient drivers, have car papers in order and follow traffic rules. But when it comes to the honking, they are the horniest men ever! Peeved by the Indian atmosphere full of dust and smoke, they travel in a permanently air-conditioned environment. The only time they are exposed to the true Indian air is in the short hop from car door to home door and back. These isolated conditions make them unaware of the decibel level of the horn that they blow. The high-end cars which they travel in also have special amplifiers I believe. Even car companies are building disabled-friendly (extra loud horns for deaf people) products nowadays.
- Meandering Motorcyclists These are men of the future. Literally. They overtake you first and sound the horn later. By the time you realize what just rushed pass you, they are busy doing the balancing act again rounding another car in a dangerous curve. Some fancy guys dare to install horns meant for four-wheelers onto their two-wheelers. Poor chaps, that’s the closest they can get to luxury. That, in fact, is a real tricky and slick move. The driver of the car ahead expects a car behind whereas a motorcyclist rides by in a blur honking away to glory. They are at their musical best when performing as a choir group. Each bike acts as a motivator (or rather a rival) for the other. The harmony thence produced is rarely surpassed and is a sight to witness. Add on it the latest fad of brake tunes. A dash of Bollywood chart toppers at every speed breaker ensures that their journey is never the same again. I wonder whether there are copyright issues with this or not!
- Bossy Buswalla
The true kings of the road, notorious for the most accidents on the road, the 2 tonne six wheeled disel powered monster ploughing its way through the busy 30 feet road is an achievement in itself for a buswalla who is busy ferrying his bus overstacked with immigrants who have no insurance booked for them or for the passers-by. Poor onlookers and by-passers only insurance policy is the one-lakh rupees of exgratia the government offers for loss of life in case of fatality, I guess a few of the Insurance company are noting down the potential opportuity in making. Well I don't mind if a buswalla every now and then lets the governement offer that hefty ex-gratia to a politician, this would atleast increase the funds flow of Governments books. Not to forget that the bus is symbol of pride, honour and justice. Did I say justice, yes of-course if you are not in agreement with any of the government poilicies easiest way to bully around is to stop a bus, remove the air, break a few glasses and if required torch-the busy if one wants to turn on the heat.
- Ludicrous Ladies
It would have been unfair to the fairer sex had a separate section not been devoted to them. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world and honks the horn most unnecessarily. Ever since the women’s liberation movement gained momentum, they are on the lookout for ways of empowerment and have wrongly deduced the horn to be one such power. The horn is the answer to all problems. It doesn’t matter if they never used the external rear view mirror. It doesn’t matter if they use the internal rear view mirror only for make-up. It doesn't matter at what speed and at what end of the road they are driving for what matters is do they have the foot on the throttle and know where the brake is. It doesn’t matter if they keep the headlights always on high-beam (“What’s high-beam?” they’ll ask). It doesn’t matter if they reverse the car without looking back. All that matters is that no traffic orchestration is complete without a solo performance from a lady driver.
Unique to Indian traffic:
This is something which MR. Bond, Oops James Bond fancied a lot that he left his fancy cars to take a ride in this -wheeler in the movie Octupusy. The Auto-Rickshaw or an Auto or Rick for short is a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare.
After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps and also cling on as side bumpers all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of motion en route to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur and are licensed to irritate.
The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs no more than 40 kmph on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.
Leaning Tower of Passes
Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem (hell). There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers. Most of the passengers hanging or not, just shout at the ticket collector "Pass" meaning they have a license to free-board the vehicle cramp it and stomp it.
These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type.
Reverse Gear Beepers
One finds an utterly remarkable device in Indian cars these days. It is the reverse-gear beeper. As soon as the car is put in reverse gear, the car starts sounding loud beeps or melodies. Now why would one need such a device? Two reasons: Hubris on the part of the driver (why look back when he is sounding such a loud beep that everybody should get out of his way) and unawareness of one's surroundings on the part of the other creatures on the road (the road is their property, what is this car which is slowly moving to and fro and honking, well he's honking, so he must want to get somebody who is in front of the car out of the way. Ater all, how do they know that his honking is for them. Oh, it is the reverse honk. Okay, sorry buddy, moving away.)
Innovative Ways of Saving Fuel
No Sir, am not talking about Hybrid calls or Jatropha fuel, am talking alternative innovative commonners way of saving money. Cars running on subsidised(by over 70%) domestic cooking LPG cylinders. Passenger vehicles mixed with subsidised kerosene, or a Merc fitted with Ambassador engine or worse. Cars and motorcycles going the wrong way because to take a U-turn further up the road would be really expensive. People find all kinds of excuses to save money.
This is something which proves that Indian is still an Agrarian country, a country of farmers. No am not talking about a scenario in a village, this is in heart of the city, that every now and then you still can see bullock cart ferrying fodder, steel pipes, counstrction material etc. A marvelous site to watch as the moving vehicles stall on the 30feet roads. As this weren't enough in the bull-market run, the heat rises up as the counters hit all time high with a passing herd of buffalo's fresh out of their afternoon bath is nearby drains and sewage system. Yikees I don't believe that the milk supplied is so bubbly after all the exotic shower.
Lest I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also.
Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left un-tarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.
Having said all this, isn't it true that the accident rate and related deaths are less in India compared to US or any other countries ? Then why the cry and hue over the Helmets and the Seat belts - for we hardly can go beyond 40kmph on our roads except on the highways and bigger roads.