Some More Thoughts on Driving
Here are some more thoughts on Driving.
Keep in mind the effect of recent and sudden industrialization, as well as the insurgence of cheap, easily-available vehicles. These cars and bikes have now moved much of the population off their feet and onto several combinations of wheels. However, infrastructure hasn’t yet kept up with the changes in the market, and thus India has experienced yet again a strange juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, all supported by a dramatic rise in the population which makes the change evermore observable.
I’ve split this into two posts, because for some reason, I can’t get enough of talking about traffic. Admittedly, Indians can’t get enough of sitting in traffic, so at least I’m paying it the due it deserves in regards to its place in society. To read more, please check out An ABCD’s Alphabet Guide to India (Part 1) and Even More Thoughts on Driving.
1. What people in the States refer to as “running into traffic,” Indians call “crossing the street.” Due to the never-ending flood of cars, autos, and motorbikes (India is rarely quiet, as my uncle proudly points out, and as I’ve noticed when I often wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens or petrol tankers seemingly overturning), people have no choice but to play Frogger. It’s kind of like Russian Roulette, but with car-sized bullets instead. While some people seem to value their lives more than others, choosing to race across the street when traffic has come to an ebb, others casually meander across and between cars, narrowly avoiding calamity but calmly carrying on. Why did the chicken cross the road? To feel alive!
2. Though I could never drive in India – because I’m a woman, as my cousin jokes (maybe?) – I can’t help but get excited every time I get into a car. Because I’m a guest, I’ve been allowed to sit in the front seat almost every time (plus, the combination of bumpy roads and extreme heat cause for a bit of motion sickness, which is not the only “motion” my relatives and family friends have felt it appropriate to discuss with me). Sitting shotgun, which is the driver’s seat in the States anyway, gives the best view of India – racing through every face of this crazy country, safe from pollution and buffeted with freezing A/C in my face!
I’ve now come to the conclusion that driving in India must be something like a real-life Crazy Taxi. Accompanying my cousin at the speed of light in the car and on his motorcycle – the Bullet, currently the most badass bike in India – has only compounded this feeling.
3. Speaking of taxis: has anyone else felt that autos must be glorified lawnmowers? They have three wheels and are started with a pull cord… I’m starting to believe I’ve been riding a lawnmower around the chaotic streets of India, which is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
4. I can’t remember the last time I wore a seat belt. I habitually will reach for it whenever getting into the car, then remember that if we get into a car accident (at the speed of light, as I mentioned earlier), a seat belt won’t be much help. My cousins have laughed at me and my silly American habits, so in an effort to fit in (and be a badass, of course) I have forcibly reminded myself to act cool and forgo basic safety procedures. Because nothing screams “cool” more than “gaping head wound”!
I also don’t wear a seat belt on buses or trains (because they don’t exist in either), nor in autos (because lawnmowers don’t have seat belts, duh), nor on motorcycles (because falling off a motorcycle might be safer than being strapped to it in the case of a crash… though on particularly bumpy roads, my cousin has actually looked back to make sure I was still there).
5. With people hanging off the sides of trains and buses and literally sitting on total strangers, I don’t understand how conductors collect fees. Personally, I think all public transportation should be free and subsidized by the government in an effort to decrease the insane amount of traffic most major cities experience, but no one really cares about my opinion (because I’m a woman… kidding, because I look like I’m 13).
That being said, people seem to jump on and off buses at reckless abandon, regardless of where in the street said bus is. This has oftentimes caused spontaneous traffic jams, as buses have a tendency to stop abruptly when drivers realize people are trying to get on. Though this is a logical reaction – stopping a moving vehicle when someone is attempting to board – it’s taken to an exaggerated level in which people are literally darting through traffic both to get on and off various public transportation. If you don’t believe me, I have a video of a bus stopped while making a turn, in effect blocking five lanes of traffic.
If you can’t get enough of reading about traffic and all things driving-related, read on to Even More Thoughts on Driving, the next and final edition of this exciting Driving series!