Are you one of those people who tries to sneak past a traffic light just as it’s turning from green to amber? Or would you snake through all the side roads, just to avoid one? People reveal more of themselves on the road than they would in ordinary conversation – without saying a single word
There’s the guy drumming impatiently on the steering wheel – as if the traffic is the only thing standing between him and global success.There’s a Buddha who is at complete peace with himself – waiting patiently for the lights to change.There’s the honker – even behind a whole line of cars he honks the moment the lights turn green, to make the cars in front move faster. They don’t and it only adds to the cacophony.Somehow, Indian drivers have a real liking for their horns and the louder they sound, the more they like it. There’s no such thing as quiet traffic in India – it’s as if a school brass band starts up at every signal – the band that has yet to learn a single note.
The auto rickshaws are a species all by themselves. They are the cockroaches of the road, darting into every little gap and getting into position for a launch just as soon as the lights change. For them, and for most other road users, amber is the signal to accelerate, not slow down. Autos are quite happy to race down the opposite side of one-way streets, take ‘u’ turns where none are permitted and lounge under ‘No Parking’ signs. For them traffic lights are a nuisance, coming in the way of their freedom on the road.
Buses are the other menace. They stop in the middle of the road, a full lane away from the bus stop, backing up all traffic behind them and forcing passengers to dart across and climb in. Not even an auto can squeeze through the gap between the bus and the road divider. Somehow, all drivers have a huge ego issue with anyone overtaking them. Bus drivers are bullies, leaning into their rubber horns to scatter the two-wheeler riders and cars in front of them to make way. The occasional brave soul who stands his ground at the traffic light, will have a first-hand near death experience, as the massive vehicle stops just centimetres behind him and honks to clear the way.
Indian roads are not for the faint-hearted. They have their own codes and the only way to survive is to be in the thick of things. Like the suburban trains in Mumbai, learning to use them is an art that goes far beyond the conventions of civic road sense and decorum. Drivers maintain eye contact and align their behaviour in split seconds to avoid running into one another. The polite road user, like the pedestrian who waits on the sidewalk, learns that patience is not a virtue that pays off. A clip of ‘normal’ road traffic in India has over a million views and no Indian would ever be surprised by the chaos. It’s not the right behaviour or the desirable one but something that road users have adapted and learned to live with.