The sound of bus horns invades your mind to the extent that hearing yourself think becomes a distant memory. The movement of motorbikes weaving in and out of cars with buses in hot pursuit is constant creating the sense that one is in the midst of a hurricane. It is a miracle that any one survives the journey to and from work, yet surprisingly it works. The motorbikes move to the side of the barreling buses in a fluid motion and the cars as if polite neighbors signal to one another as they pass back and forth from their respective lanes.
The scenes that play out on the roads of India are unparalleled in ability to shock a newcomer and often leave individuals paralyzed at the side of the road unwilling to enter the fray. As a foreigner entering the country I had been made aware of the fact that the “traffic regulations” may differ from say Paris or New York, but although it may have seemed like madness when I first entered it there was a method to this madness.
Having worked as a bicycle currier in the past, one learns very quickly that you are at the bottom of the food-chain on the road, and as a result one must become hyper-aware of what is going on around them just to get from point A to B. This is the case in London, in New York, in Paris, and in Pondicherry (the closest city located to where we were staying in India) it seems. This axiom, that carriers across all cultures, forces cyclists from all corners of the world to notice details on the road that are not always clearest to someone that has spent their entire life driving in a car.
Europeans and Americans are always quick to warn you about two places in particular: New York and Paris. Both are major metropolises known for their diverse cultures, incredible architecture, and, among other things, their low quality of drivers. This is a surprising fact seeing as these are some of the most heavily regulated roads in the world—there are cameras on almost every corner, you have street lights on every other street, and during rush-hour you can always count on the appearance of an overzealous traffic warden. It would seem that all you would need to do is follow the intricate guidelines and there would be an avoidance many traffic fatalities, however this is not the case. The majority of drivers in big cities act and drive in a way that says, “I shall be going first as I am the most deserving.” Whether they are on a scooter, a motorcycle, a car, a bus, or a truck. There is no acknowledgement of the hierarchy that naturally exists on the roads.
In India however, there seems to be less of an individualistic mentality when it comes to the rules of the road. It is true that a motorcyclist will always find a way to the front of the queue when it comes to a traffic light and will be quick to overtake you on a corner, but for the most part there is a natural tendency to fall into the natural hierarchy of the roads. A bus or a truck, being one of the larger vehicles, will just continue driving oblivious to what or who may lie in its path, and when this happens there is no panic on any of the smaller vehicles parts they just move. They do not claim a right of way. They do not stand their ground under the assumption that this small win will garner them some pride for the day. They just get on with it. They understand that the truck is bigger than them so they have to move.
This idea of just getting on with it, even with the lack of guidelines, seems to be applicable much more to those on the streets of India than those on the roads of European cities. Europeans, and Americans, have become so caught up in the luxuries and the small details of life that they seem to get hung up on things that really carry little weight. Why does it matter that the barista did not say “your welcome” when you said “thank you”? Why does it matter that that person with the silly black briefcase got served at the bank before you? The truth is it does not. If we could all just shift our mentalities to be a little more like the small vehicles on the roads of India then there might be less crashes and more movement.