Saturday, June 18, 2011

Driving, Indian road and bliss in the same sentence

Indian roads are hell; right ? Well, Yes and No. This blogger has characterised them as the most dangerous place on earth, even more dangerous than Iraq or Afghanistan here. But that's only part of the story. They can also be delightfully brilliant. Really ? Yes.

Some years ago, a wise old man, who was the then Prime Minister of India, conceptualised the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) . The cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai would be linked by world class highways. This is now a reality. Driving on them can be a breeze. Even 5 years ago you could not have dreamt that the words driving, breeze and Indian road could feature in the same sentence.

These four lane highways are truly world class. Not a pot hole in sight. No speed breaker too. Its actually a greater pleasure to drive on them than say in Europe or China, simply because the roads are often empty. These are toll roads, a concept still new to India and trucks haven't got used to the idea that they have to pay a toll. So they avoid the GQ. In any case they prefer to rumble on in the night rather than in the day. Ditto buses - most of them travel in the night too. Indian car owners simply don't do highways (unless you are experts like RamMmm or Kiwibloke, to whom I tip my hat). Cars are strictly to drop munni in school and to take madam shopping. Inter city travel is mostly by train or plane. So the GQ is largely empty in the daytime, except for stretches close to cities. No road works going on, very few diversions ......Driving nirvana.

Of course, the peculiarities of Indian roads won't go away in a giffy. Every kilometer or so, somebody is coming on the wrong side of the road. It is also perfectly acceptable for tractors to come in from a side road blissfully unmindful of the car that is bearing down at it at 130 kmph. And then there is the cow. GQ designers made a grave blunder by trying to have green grass on the median - presumably to sooth the eye. In India, where there is grass, there will be a cow. They want to chew their cud only on the opposite side of the road after a leisurely stroll. Expert GQ drivers know that when they see a cow, they stop - first they let the cow pass and then they know a calf is lurking somewhere which will dart across to follow mum.

Facilities have sprung up on the way. Lots of petrol bunks (gas stations, if you prefer). Restaurants have joined the dhabas; so ensuring that Rajalakshmi will suffer no weight loss during the drive. What is still missing is, of course, the loo. Indians being very conscious of environmental recycling, prefer to return nitrogen to nature.

The GQ is a real pleasure. All those who criticise Indian infrastructure, come take a look. And take a drive. M 25, the world's largest car park, will then feel positively medieval !

The old boiling frog analogy applies in reverse too. When things improve, we don't notice it if we are right in the middle of it. Roads in India are slowly but surely improving.