Even More Thoughts on Driving

I believe at this point I’ve covered the topic of traffic enough. It is a truly fascinating and endlessly discussed topic, which I hope to have translated culturally to you through this blog. To read more, please check out An ABCD’s Alphabet Guide to India (Part 1) and Some More Thoughts on Driving.

And now, the grand finale of the Driving series: Even More Thoughts on Driving.

Every Day I'm Hustlin' @ Hyderabad Zoo

Every Day I’m Hustlin’ @ Hyderabad Zoo

1. Remember when I said that America is a ghost town compared to India? That comparison comes to mind particularly when observing traffic. Social interaction happens frequently, even between total strangers in different vehicles. Once, my scarf (actual scarf, not dupatta; I ain’t dumbin’ down nothin’ for ya) was about to catch in the gears of my cousin’s bike, so a man driving by casually yelled to me to adjust it. Another time, a neighboring motorcyclist asked my auto driver for directions, prompting an extensive conversation about the various ways to get somewhere, all while scooting through traffic.

Choo Choo @ Hyderabad Zoo

Choo Choo @ Hyderabad Zoo

2. It’s not always so benign though – basic traffic sense is expected, and when it’s not exercised, you can be sure to receive a dressing down. For example, I recently went to the Hyderabad Zoo with my sister-cousins and aunt, and we took a golf-cart-like tour as to prevent my inevitable heat stroke. On the way, the road-hog tour driver happened to run over a woman’s foot. Instead of apologizing, as one would expect, he started berating her for not moving aside after hearing the horn. Remember, this is at a zoo, where foot traffic is pretty much expected. Despite him being quite nice to me, slowing down whenever I seemed interested in taking a photo or getting closer to the animals (despite having another ten riders…), I constantly was worried he would drive off when we got down or potentially go on a hit-and-run rampage.

On the street, though, it’s even more dangerous. Hundreds of little roads converge at random, and when drivers and motorcyclists are happily speeding around, this leads to plenty of near-accidents. My aunt and I were walking back from shopping and ice cream yesterday when we witnessed one such case; a young man and a young woman nearly came to a head as the woman was driving down the main road. They stopped, luckily, and the man waited for traffic to clear before safely going on. But he probably would have rather gotten hit by a car, since my aunt laid into him for not waiting for the main road to clear before continuing. “It’s your fault,” she told him, unprovoked – but such scolding is completely normal and he ashamedly took it without much complaint.

Servant Bikes @ Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

Servant Bikes @ Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

3. On the opposite note of cars staying still, parking is like a bizarre game of Jenga. It’s common that vehicles are double-parked, but because so many people have drivers, said drivers stay with the car and move in the case that the thing they’re blocking needs to get out. It seems like a boring and really environmentally harmful job to be a driver (sitting for hours around exhaust and coolant) but I cannot underestimate their utility (especially since I cannot speak Telugu that well and would totally get ripped off if I were on my own in an auto).

He's Only Joking, Guys... @ Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

He’s Only Joking, Guys… @ Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

4. On a side note: you kind of have to be a badass to get around in India. Because of my paranoia that I’ll lose anything that’s not immediately in my sight, I brought my big backpack on board the bus from Mysore to Coimbatore, instead of putting it in the dickey (trunk/under-bus storage area). The bus wasn’t packed, so we easily could have put it on a seat, but in the case that someone from an upcoming stop had reserved that seat, my cousin put my bag in the aisle. We were in the back, so we didn’t think it was too big a deal, but when the conductor started getting upset, my cousin shut him down, telling him to shut his mouth and get back to work. I was a bit shocked, but that’s just how things are here – you have to peacock a bit if you want to get things done.

Just like that, my aunt refused to pay an auto driver the inflated price he was quoting. She instead just paid him whatever she thought he deserved and laughingly walked away. Again, I was a bit surprised, but amused – bargaining is part of the daily service interaction, and something you get good at if you live in a country in which this is the norm. However, I’m absolutely terrible at it, since I believe that if you’re selling something on the street to someone who’s wearing a 3,000 rupee kurta, they should be able to pay the extra 40 rupees that they just bargained down.

"I'll just sit here, if that's OK" @ Hyderabad Zoo

“I’ll just sit here, if that’s OK” @ Hyderabad Zoo

5. However, some other people seem to expect some sort of tip for providing absolutely no help. I understanding paying for parking, but not tipping when you’re “advised” to park in a spot that you would have found on your own anyway. Of course, this is what happens when you have too many people in a country – jobs are created in the most unnecessary of places. My family and I went out to dinner one night and were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find parking. The attendant looked absolutely bewildered, but started suggesting a variety of spots in which we could double park – giving the valet the keys, as also is the norm, despite my feeling that “valet” is just another name for “acquiesced auto theft.” Hilariously, the following totally epitomizing conversation occurred:

“You can park here. Or here. Or if you turn the car like this, here…”

“<pointing out a totally obvious spot> Can I just park there?”

“…Ahh, yes, sir. You can also park there.”

Like, what do you do here, man?

(This is an existential question I ask myself often. Luckily, I’ve survived traffic such that I am able to ask this yet for another day.)

Checkpoint Ch... Vamsi @ Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu Border

Checkpoint Ch… Vamsi @ Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu Border