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Friday, March 11, 2011

Scott's traffic tale - and my Sikh driver

I am retailing my nephew Scott’s description of riding a motorbike in India (10 years ago? 15?) after reading my tale of Dhaka traffic. It’s a very good description, and reminded me of a funny story of my first ever (1973) visit to India in the traffic in Delhi, when I was riding in a taxi with a Sikh driver. If you haven’t read what Scott said, here it is - then I’ll tell my tale:

Ahhh, brings back memories of untamed traffic in India. I know downtown Mysore is no match for Dhaka traffic, but I did actually ride a motorbike regularly in that throng, and I remember having to put my feet out to push away the rickshaws to avoid becoming part of the pavement! I think I have a better understanding of what a sardine might feel like, should two schools collide.

That’s what it felt like. I dug through and found this snippet from my journal relating to road rules ... "While I'm on the subject, I have a theory about how Indian roads work. We look at the highway and see two lanes, but for Indians there are five. The left most is for pedestrians, push bikes, motor bikes, autos and cattle drawn carts. The next is for cars, trucks and busses (kings of the road). The middle of the road is the overtaking lane, sometime in both directions at once. The 4th lane is for oncoming cars, buses and trucks, or sometimes the really impatient. The right most lane is for pedestrians, bikes, etc going the other way.

Road rules are based on size and speed. Motor bikes can often zip around most traffic, though on the better roads they are limited by their small engine size (175c is the largest bike you can buy unless you import it!) Buses and trucks are the masters of the highway, giving way to no-one, occasionally not even each other. This usually results in horrendous accidents. Overtaking involves one game of chicken after the next.

It can be pretty hair raising at times. Being run off of the road is always an option." I'm looking out the window now at the freeway in Brisbane, three very neat rows each side of evenly spaced cars and a few trucks, no cattle, push bikes, autos, ox-carts or foot traffic, all driving in the same direction, obediently contained within neatly marked out lines, an empty emergency lane to the side --- what a contrast! :-)

Now my story: 

I was riding in this yellow and black taxi with a very typical Sikh driver of the early 70s. Fortunately in New Delhi, a system had been devised for traffic control using many large roundabouts, which meant that if traffic collided, it usually was at least going in more or less the same direction instead of vehicles coming head-on at each other, so accidents were not quite so serious as they might have been.

On one of these roundabouts there were about three lanes (unofficially!) of traffic of all sorts as Scott described, and we were careering round the roundabout at great speed, and a taxi on our right wanted to cross our path to turn left. It got closer and closer, and there was no way my driver was yielding an inch of hard won space.

At the very last possible moment, a microsecond away from disaster, the other driver hit the anchors with a terrible squeal of brake pad steel on steel, and barged in just behind us.

I turned to my driver and said, ‘Wow! That driver – he had a nerve, didn’t he?’

My turbaned Sikh driver turned briefly to me as we continued at the same breakneck pace, and smiled hugely.

‘Not enough, Sahib. Not quite enough!’

1 comment:

  1. Yes..takes plenty of nerve! These days apparently there are a lot of road rage incidents (even murders) in Delhi, now many more people have cars.

    Love that decription of traffic lanes in India. On a bus journey several years ago when the big new highways that will cross the country and link the four main cities were still under construction, we were not surprised to see that despite the 3 lanes each side of a divided road, people still were driving into the oncoming traffic. We passed a horrible truck accident. This giant highway cut straight through the centre of little villages so that people were sitting drinking tea, or sleeping on their charpoys, right on the verge (looking merely interested or just sleeping!)

    I loved William Dalrymple's tales of his Sikh taxi driver in Delhi, in his book 'City of Djinns'.


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