The Indian Driver’s Handbook

Making (non)sense of the chaos on Indian roads

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published:April 5, 2015 1:00 am
driver-main A few guidelines now, to familiarise you with the traditions and culture of Indian roads.

It is often erroneously believed that we do not obey traffic rules while driving — indeed, that most drivers in India are unaware of the rules of the road. This is arrant nonsense: every driver drives by a set of iron-clad rules, that (like Calvin) he makes up as he drives along. Thus, if he (or she) needs to drive the “wrong” way on a one-way street, his rulebook automatically corrects the rule (“adjusts”, as we like to say) and makes his way the right way. Anyone coming down the other way is, thus, breaking the law and deservedly needs to have his head caved in with a tire-lever. And no, this is not road rage — they have caning once a week in civilised prisons, like Changi in Singapore, for silly things like sticking your chewing gum in the Metro doors — what would you call that? A few guidelines now, to familiarise you with the traditions and culture of Indian roads. And please remember, we’ve done inter-planetary travel, so we know a thing or two about how to get around.

Parking: Because we have travelled in space, where there is a lot of, well, space, this concept is alien to us. You do not park in India: you just stop driving when you feel like it. This may be in front of a hospital’s emergency entrance, the main runway of Indira Gandhi International (if you have to go pee, you have to go pee), in your neighbour’s drawing room or on top of their Labrador, it does not matter. And, of course, as per tradition, if you have a Nano, you will park it in the manner of a Cadillac manufactured in the 1970s. Otherwise, your sentiments will be hurt.

Honking: Foreigners, poor idiots, are appalled at the “excessive” use of the horn in India. They have still not realised that for the Indian driver this is the highest form of intellectual and philosophical exchange possible — and again, we have 5,000 years of literary culture to back this up, so shut up and listen, or I’ll set your car on fire. It is also firmly believed that the stalled vehicle in front of you will fix its broken driveshaft itself, and move aside if you blow your horn hard and long enough behind it. If someone behind you is doing this to you, get out, stuff his head into his engine compartment and blow his horn till the battery goes flat. Watch him levitate. Baat khatam!

Speeding: Speed kills, misguided people tell us. Rubbish! It’s the smooth, silent new cars with multi-media gizmos that do; because now, at 190 kmph, you feel as though you’re doing 40 kmph, and lest you go to sleep, you need to press the accelerator harder or start surfing the net.

Policing: From time to time the traffic police acquire new toys, like radar speed guns, and get very excited and swarm out on the roads to play with them. In a short while, the toys break (as toys are wont to), and they lose interest and you can go back to doing what you like. But now, they may have got new parking clamp thingamajigs, so watch out for those. Like children, they too like going on “drives” from time to time, but can only focus on one drive at a time — either “no parking” or “lane driving” or whatever is the flavour of the day. But then even Lewis Hamilton can’t drive two cars at the same time (one coming, the other going), can he?

Drunken driving: A matter of time before some major study (sponsored by a liquor giant) will reveal that Indians drive better when drunk rather than when sober.

Biking: Anyone who gets on to a motorbike or scooter in India has a defined vision about life: In a head-on collision at 80 kmph with a 20 ton truck, it will be the truck which is flung over the trees to land upside down 200 metres away in the ditch. So, ride accordingly. While both papa and mama now have to wear helmets, the baba and baby perched up front and squashed in-between don’t have to because they can be re-manufactured and, (but don’t tell anyone), mama and papa can have fun doing that.

Crossing an intersection: While at a crossing, we are told to stop, look right, look left, look right again and then drive across if clear. Indian logic says, if the road is clear (or not), why look right, why look left, why look at all — just cross. If you do all that looking, someone might cross before you.

Chewing the cud: Most outsiders are stunned when they see cows and bulls sitting in the middle of our roads chewing the cud. Bovines have a vital role to play in traffic management: they have been put there as blood-pressure controllers, with everyone driving according to their own set of (ever-changing) rules, blood pressure tends to rise alarmingly. The sight of a giant bull sitting calmly, so beatifically in the middle of all the mayhem soothes nerves. What is there to be so hot and bothered about? Om shanti…

For all the latest Lifestyle News, download Indian Express App

  1. P
    prv raghavan
    Apr 5, 2015 at 9:33 am
    Excellent article and very humorous. I am printing a copy to post to Mumbai Traffic Police (whose website I think has a redirect bug to a fake Traffic Police site). Cartoon absolutely great. See the acrobatic capability of the Motor Bike rier - truly a menace on the roads.
    Reply