Saturday, April 9, 2011

Driving in the fast lane

Do you drive on the left of the road or the right of the road in India ?? Its not as stupid a question as it seems. Most of the British Commonwealth drives on the left of the road. India, being an honourable member of the Commonwealth, ostensibly follows the British tradition and drives on the left. But as with many things about India, its not all that simple.

One of the axioms of Indian roads is that however wide they may be and however many lanes may be designed, traffic flows only in one lane on either side. This is the right hand most lane. The other lanes to the left, if they exist, are used in a multitude of creative ways. So you basically drive on the right and try and find an opening on the left to overtake. That makes you a right hand drive country, right ? Confusing ??

You see, the problem is that only the righthand most lane is open for driving continuously. That is where the truck laden with 24 tons of precariously balanced stuff, the autorickshaw (tuk tuk to some) and the bullock cart , all ambling at a stately 20 kmph admiring the scenery, monopolise. So if you want to drive in the fast lane, you keep darting to the left.

The left has its own story to tell. Firstly, about 30% of the space is encroached by street vendors, who are hawking every imaginable type of stuff. A further 20% is encroached by the Rajalakshmi who is buying the stuff (if she waves her arms as she is wont to do, then an additional 10% goes). Then there is the Ramamritham, who has brought the aforesaid female in his car and who has parked it right in front of the street vendor (Parking is my birthright and I shall have it - with due apologies to Tilak). In any case parking even 50 mtrs further on and walking is anathema to Rajalakshmi - regular readers of this blog are familiar with her dimensions which make this act a physical impossibility)

Further on, occupying  the next 30% of the road are the7000 people waiting to catch a bus. Now anybody who has ever caught a bus knows that you better your chances by standing right in front of competition (queuing is a peculiarly British trait that was not bequeathed to the colonies). Therefore you get the picture of 7000 people each trying to be in front of the other. Ahead of them is the bus itself parked at an angle of 90 degrees to the road, so that he can make a quick getaway and overtake his buddy in front,

The next 30 % of the fast lane is blocked by a big SUV coming on the wrong side of the road with his headlights full beam on. It is accepted wisdom that if you drive on the wrong side of the road with your headlights on, you are OK , whereas if your lights are off, you are committing a cardinal sin. What he is trying to do is save an additional 2 yards to the next U turn - our SUV drivers are very conscious about petrol conservation.

A further 25% is commando territory. That is the domain of the 2 wheelers, who insist that driving in a straight line is an insult to their manhood (or increasingly to their womanhood). This is the fat mama, with even fatter mami behind, a kid in front, a kid wedged between the two, helmet hooked in his hand (he wouldn't wear it in case it messed up his hairdo),  and doing spurts and bends which would make Valentino Rossi proud. No sane driver with aspirations to the fast lane would mess with this crowd.

A futher 15% is at the mercy of the big car who wants to turn right, but can't be bothered to wait in the right lane. So he waltzes up the left in order to pass the idiots who are waiting on the right. Of course he is not the only one with the idea, so the next guy passes even more to the left. And so on and so on.

Discerning readers would have noticed by now that it all adds up to more than 100%. That's because, both space and time, are rather flexible in India.

It is also important to remove misconceptions about Indian roads that exist in foreign lands. No, elephants do not roam the streets ( as long as you are not uncharitable to Rajalakshmi). There are no monkeys either (be kind to the two wheeler hero). Neither are there buffaloes (the lumbering truck is not a buffalo).  Its all a question of right or left. 

Now tell me, do Indians drive on the left of the road ? Or the right ?