Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Delhi drivers' manual

It's now been sometime since I have been driving in Delhi. But scenes on the roads never cease to amaze me; make me gape in fantastic astonishment (or make me dig out the choicest profanities, as the case might be).

Like this morning, when in the middle of a seriously crowded stretch around Ashoka Road, I suddenly found a long wide stretch totally empty. Not really believing my luck, I turned around to check, and there it was: A motorcyclist lying on the ground hit by a car, and the entire convoy of a 100 cars-busses-autos-bikes stopping to watch. Wow!

This, of course, caused me to gape in fantastic astonishment and dig out the choicest profanities - and then race away, determined to cover as much distance as possible before the motorcyclist gets up and the show's over.

Anyway - through all the driving around Delhi, there are a number of patterns, trends that I have picked up. A lot of pointers as well.

1. Busses are the most dangerous vehicles on Delhi roads. Much more than trucks. Never try to overtake a bus - from either side - if you can't keep a minimum of a car's distance between yourself and the bus. They stop, swerve, speed entirely at the whim of the driver, which usually doesn't have any connection whatsoever with the traffic situation at the time. I have had friends mowed down by busses, knocked off the road, being banged from behind at traffic lights, and have had a few near misses myself.

2. On the subject of trucks - yes, they are dangerous. But firstly, they operate at night, and if you are not drunk, chances are you can avoid them easily enough. Secondly, they don't speed much. Thirdly, the drivers - by and large - are nicer and will always signal you to wait or overtake.

3. In terms of presenting danger, cycles are second only to busses. I would put them at first, except that they can't hurt you as much as busses potentially can. Whatever the traffic situation, whatever the speed of the traffic, cyclists ride along a lane that's plotted in their minds. It has nothing to do with the actual lanes on the road, the high-speed lanes or the slow lanes...it seriously is as though they - 99.9 per cent of them - get on to the road after a long session in front of their respective gods in the morning, confident that nothing can harm them.

The logic, I suppose, is that cars won't hit them because even if the cyclist dies in the process, the car-wallah will have hell to pay with the fuzz afterwards, and therefore... I have had some of the closest brushes with cyclists. None moreso than a couple of days back, when I was speeding along the high-speed lane on a flyover, there was a bit of a blind curve - as much as is possible on a Delhi flyover - and as I turned the curve, there were these two cyclists - moving so slow they would be moving backwards if they went any slower - parallel to each other, with their arms around each other's shoulders. Completely oblivious to everything that was going around them, the flying traffic, the general buzz. Love doesn't hurt, see...

What would have happened if I had hit them? I obviously couldn't, see, because I would have had to deal with the fuzz afterwards, which vindicates their stance.

4. The other thing you need to watch out for while speeding down the high-speed lane, is general pedestrians. Practically everyone of them have this amazing propensity to cross one lane, clamber on to the divider, and immediately step over it to get on to the other road, and then look around to see if they can cross. It reminds me a lot of Javagal Srinath's running between the wickets - dash off immediately after he or his partner has hit the ball, reach mid-pitch, and then start thinking. Daft! But on Delhi roads, the Srinath Syndrome is a lot more dangerous. I have succeeded in hitting the front tyres of a bicycle once, and have almost succeeded in hitting 12 Punjabi aunties and myriad other people.

5. Now, this one's funny. I love this actually. Get on to pole position at a traffic light. If it's a big enough one, you will be one of around five cars waiting with your ignition on for the light to turn green. Notice this - it happens without fail. All the cars - all of them - will start inching forward after waiting for a while, or when the counter suggests it's just another five-ten seconds. They will start inching forward, stop - because they have inched forward too much before the light has changed, and then brake (softly, but brake) just as the light turns green. I get massive kicks waiting quietly while all my co-pole positioners inch forward, and then speed off the moment the light turns green when everyone else has just braked. I swear to you, I have done this successfully 9 out of the 10 times that I have tried it. It's superb.

6. And, obviously, women still can't drive.