We’ve mentioned the traffic, inserting little “local interest” bits and pieces into other stories. I’m not sure that I’ve sufficiently expressed, however, my true admiration for the art form which is motion in India. It’s not just the cabs. In New York, people say that those cabbies are crazy – they’ll kill you rather than stop for you! But those cabbies are probably Indian, Pakistani, Bangledeshi…someone from around here.
Here, it is your job to be careful. It is your job to get across the street. It is also your job to put your vehicle in the way of harm, knowing that it is also the other guy’s job to be careful.
Careful means a different thing here. Rather like the way you will be leaned into by the person behind you in line, you might – really, honestly might, with no ill will or rancor – be gently pushed by the bumper of the person behind you if you don’t take advantage of an opening in traffic that any ant would see as tiny.
Each driver assesses the traffic. There is no zoning out while driving. You just can’t get away with it. Driving is active, participatory. It is not rude, exactly. It is matter of fact. If the fact is that I can fit between you and the bus and therefore get to the next road before you – I will. Even if “fitting” consists of pulling in my sideview mirror and slowing so that I don’t bounce in the pothole.
And really, I like it. This is traffic in a country not run by insurance companies. This is traffic in a place where people have places to go, single car lanes to drive down, and cars small enough to allow it all to work. I love being driven through small streets, warrens of lanes full of walkers, motorcycles, scooters, autorickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, taxis, assorted small autos, and assorted small (but big in comparison to the rest) delivery vans and stakebeds. It is non-stop fun, watching the reactions. Not mindless action, not stop-then-go, not rule-bound boring turn-taking. Real reactions to the real knowledge that the motorcyclist ahead will swerve into your lane to pass the delivery van, knowing that you will slow enough for him to duck back onto his side.
Only a few times have I witnessed a real annoyed driver – one who thought that the other person had done something reckless. And okay, maybe my driver didn’t need the extra two feet that he got by driving up the side of a building and tipping us close enough to rub rickshaw-tops with the other guy as he passed. But you had to admire him for trying…and it’s the only time I’ve seen two travelers actually touch at all.
Yep – with all this lawless abandon, I have yet to see an accident. In the Bay Area, I saw accidents all the time. Or the broken glass that attested to the near-past happenstance. Or the headlines about a death a day in the Great Oakland Maze.
As strict numbers, India has twice as many traffic fatalities as the US, but percentage-wise, you’re less likely to die by traffic here in India. Twice as many traffic fatalities and more than three times as many people…
What does that prove? That realistic driving is good driving. Bored rule following is not. I was a careful driver in the US, but I was careful in stupid ways because I was more concerned with avoiding expensive tickets than accidents. I think I’d be a better driver here. Not that I plan to get back into a car – oh no.
Well, maybe a scooter. Or a motorcycle.