Whenever I step out of my home to go out there are a few constants. Some of these are utter disregard for safety, the bursting, maddening crowd and honking vehicles. Since these irritants are present every day, most Indians have learned to ‘adjust’- the quintessential Indian quality! But for me somehow I am unable to ‘adjust’! I keep wondering at the strange transformation that happens to most Indians on the road. I keep asking that why are Indian roads so deadly and dangerous? Why are the number of human lives lost in road accidents the highest in India as compared to the world?
Maybe here’s why….
1. Battleground – for most Indians roads are not driveways but battleground. The vehicle in front, back, side, or anywhere is the enemy. On roads most Indians start to feel some sort of godly supremacy and even the slightest provocation or challenge can result in dashed cars, choicest abuses, physical outbursts and even death. It appears that the doting father, hard working worker, fun loving friend, all metamorphose into egoistic pig heads! Rash, negligent driving is applauded as machoism. Overtaking recklessly is a sign of your masculinity and power.
2. Drunk driving – in India drinking and driving not only mix, it is the litmus test for proving that you are a man. Several hoardings declaring that drunk driving is a punishable offence point out the civic administration’s good sense of humor!
3. The ubiquitous mobile – this commodity can be seen in abundance on the roads, usually the user is seen delicately balancing atop a moving bike, head craned to one side with one hand dexterously holding the phone and the other hand busy navigating traffic. Wonder which side of the brain they are using then or it is out of reach?
4. Traffic rules – Indian roads only have one rule – the law of the jungle! To keep moving at any cost, no matter who or what comes in front of you – pedestrian, crossing, signal – that is the only road etiquette to be followed. If you manage to reach your destination with everything intact, consider yourself successful and fit to survive the Indian roads.
5. Safety is not a priority – can you guess what is the cheapest thing in India? Salt? Sugar? Mobile talktime? No, you are wrong. It is human life. If you don’t believe me just come and see people driving. You will find men hurtling past at break neck speeds on their motorbikes without a helmet or protective headgear. Pillion rider in India means the entire family on one motorbike, the youngest kid on the fuel tank, papa as the driver, the oldest kid in between mommy and daddy and another kid in mommy’s lap- all on one bike as one happy family! And don’t be surprised if you see some vehicle zooming towards you in the opposite direction on a one way road. Consider yourself lucky if he does not give you a scowl.
6. Public toilet and trash site – Indian roads are multifunctional. One can not only use them to go from one place to another but also pee and spit anywhere on the road in full public view. Actually more the public view, the better it is since you are asserting your Indian identity then. It is our national birthright. Somehow our founding fathers forgot to enshrine it in the constitution. So the next time you see a car door opening and someone spitting paan on the road, remember they are just exercising their fundamental right.
7. Holy ground – we Indians have a big heart. The poor, downtrodden and holy, all are welcome to sleep on the road. No discrimination. Cows and bulls can sit in the middle of a busy road and nobody has a problem. And they don’t mind the traffic either. They just sit there and silently bless all passerbys, praying that their vehicle does not collide with them. And if some do, they attain salvation since cows are holy!
8. Parking worries – Ha! You can park anywhere, so what is there to worry about that? Who cares about the ensuing traffic jam! So only 50% of the road is functional and the rest is parking space. All you need is a vehicle and you can park left, right, centre, anywhere and everywhere!
9. Women drivers – this species of drivers needs special mention. ‘Militants on the move’ – that’s what you would describe women drivers on the roads going by their dress. It is partly to protect them from the sun and pollution and partly to guard them against typical Indian double standards. Their numbers have a correlation with the sunlight, lesser the sunlight, the less you will see them on the roads.
10. Band- Baaja and traffic jam – religious processions, marriage parties, election rallies, dharna, there is space for everything on the roads of India. Never mind the serpentine queue of stuck cars, trucks, motorbikes and autorickshaws. Most Indians think that endless honking of the horn will magically clear the traffic and so thats why India is never silent even when it is stuck in a traffic jam.
Seeing the immense perils of navigating Indian roads, I feel it is a miracle everyday that I return home safely without a scratch. I wish people would drive more safely and prevent the tragic loss of lives. More awareness and stricter implementation of traffic rules can go a long way in disciplining the unruly Indian commuter. Till then, we will have to depend on God!