Tuesday 15 January 2008

Poop Poop Poop

How people drive is a mirror into the soul. The English can be genteel about it, but the theory is pretty much the Mr Toad One. I want to get there soonest. I must defend myself at all times (as Mike Tyson used to say), and the horn is a rude emergency device. Only rigid lane discipline, traffic lights and roundabouts can defend me from the aggression of strangers, and prevent accidents. Road Rage is just below the surface.

Indian driving is different. Roads teem with life, ox carts, herds of goats, motorbikes going the wrong way, toddlers. Horns sound every few seconds, with no offence given or received. Seatbelts are ornamental, but not Mobile phones. 4 lane highways have speed bumps, herds of cows & pushbikes crossing:

The crowning glory of our Indian Driving Experience, was probably the gentleman in the Northern suburbs of Bangalore, riding to work on the back of a motorbike with an office chair on his head instead of a helmet. Like you do. But we also saw families of five on motorbikes, with one helmet between them and a baby lying across the back seat. An Indian road is a total transport system for anything. You wouldn't think anyone would survive ten minutes, but they do. How? Here are some tell-tale signs about the human logic of Indian driving:

Indian Driving is a Social Dance. Indians drive with elaborate, sensitive social antennae, tuned to everyone else. Everyone keeps going at their own pace, simultaneously. The root concepts are radical pragmatism and social sensitivity. The Horn is a greeting, and drivers expect you to use it generously. Red Traffic lights (very rare) have a word painted on them — not “Stop” but “Relax.” By and large everyone’s journey is held to be as important as anyone else’s. You don’t need roundabouts because the whole road is a roundabout if you need it to be. Everything has its own order, but here’s the interesting bit — priority goes to the smallest, the weakest, and the least able to look after themselves, including animals. If there's an accident rigid hierarchy indicates automatically whose fault it was — the biggest/ fastest/ most able. Whatever happened it was their duty to protect the weak!

Here’s an everyday example of the whole dance, from our front windscreen traveling through Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, possibly Gooty. They drive on the Left in India but actually our excellent driver happened to be driving on the right as the clip begins. I particularly liked the guy in the white van driving round and round in circles, and the motorbikes going the wrong way up the pavement on the left at the end. What does the way we drive in England say about our real social values?


Eric said...

I'd be dead in five minutes!

Here in the U.S., particularly where I live, most people drive large trucks or SUVs (ugh) whereas I have a car.

I drive just a bit above the speed limit, and yet most people tailgate me, switch lanes, and speed up to pass angrily, only to have to slam on their brakes at the stoplight. (Which we reach at the same time, anyway.)

I think you're right to say that a particular driving style says loads about a person's personality!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I surely notice how ungenteel the most genteel English become behind the wheel of a car. Perhaps we're all roadkill in the end!

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