Monday, December 31, 2007

Road Rage

Warning: This is a long post. A very long post. I started typing it out and didn't seem to be able to stop. If you are reading this at work, as I strongly suspect you are, this could seriously impact your productivity. As it has mine.

Driving in Gurgaon can be an incredibly frustrating experience. The sheer lawlessness, chaos and the perpetual sense of death and destruction makes for a very emotionally draining experience. There are two ways one could look at it.
1. Positive view: It gives you a renewed appreciation of how good it is to be alive. It makes you feel like a man again (engaging in all those testosterone-driven duels). And when you begin to celebrate reaching home safely each night, you know you've learnt to value life's small victories.
2. Negative view: It's a pain in the ass. It's life threatening and rage-inducing. The world appears to be full of maniacs and idiots with no concern for either their own lives or that of others.
As can be expected from a naturally cynical and angry guy like me, this post deals exclusively with the latter. So here's a guide to some of the phenomena you are likely to encounter on the roads of Gurgaon.

All over the bloody place. And they aren't just the normal kind of cows one finds all over the country. These are very large cows and bulls. Huge bulls with massive humps and dangerously long and sharp horns. Much like the ones depicted on Harappan seals

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It's clear they have been terrorizing travellers in these parts for years but nothing whatsoever has been done about them. They lie around on the roads, protected by the irrational Indian belief in their touch-them-on-pain-of-your-life holiness. They stand in front of your car in the middle of the roads, gazing at you unflinchingly, daring you to use force against them. And, occasionally, their luck runs out and they die on the roads, their deep dark blood seeping across the asphalt as we shake our heads sagely and continue driving.

If there's one thing the Haryana police have learnt, it's that there is no point putting up speed limits on any roads. Simply because the limit is merely a number. Most drivers see it not as a restriction but as a challenge. Not just a 'Can you reach this speed?' challenge but a 'Can you reach twice this speed?' challenge. And, almost invariably, the drivers win. With the result that you have huge masses of people roaring down the roads of Gurgaon with scant control over their movements and scant respect for those of others.

The motorcyclists are worse; young blood pumping ill-advisedly in their hyperactive veins, they zoom in and out of traffic, executing death defying stunts, sharp swerves and risky cross-signal tactics. Thankfully, there aren't very many of them - Gurgaon seems to be extremely unsafe for anyone not protected by something with an airbag or, at the very least, a seat belt.

All these rash drivers (two, three and four wheelers) will cut across lanes, insist on overtaking you on the wrong side, believe it is their god given right to not have to stop at traffic signals, cut wildly into traffic travelling at 100 kmph, drive on the wrong side of the road, ram into the occasional cow and, in general, make life a living hell for everyone else on the roads.

They count among their brethren truck drivers, tanker drivers, motorcyclists, tractor drivers, half the car-owning population of the city and even the occasional daring bullock cart driver. But the king, the absolute baap of them all is...

Not to be confused with Spiderman, Superman, Batman and the like, even though he does perform death defying stunts. He would be a crime fighter, except that he's almost always on the wrong side of the law. And no, he's not an anti-hero, he's pure evil villain.

I refer to those who drive cabs, particularly those employed by BPO companies to ferry their hapless employees. These are all private operators (Gurgaon has little or no reliable and safe public transport) and are, I think, paid on the basis of how quickly they get from point A to point B. Which results in them zooming in and out of traffic, muscling in on the flow of traffic in any and every direction and generally making one hell of a nuisance of themselves. Apart from, of course, being a serious safety hazard on the roads. Not a week goes by without news of someone being mowed down by one of these cabs (or mooed down, if attacked by one of the aforementioned bulls).

They are not averse to giving you a little nudge from the back if they feel you're travelling too slowly. Or, what's worse, socialise from the side by bringing their cabs within a couple of nanometres of one's doors. This is, as you can expect, an extremely frightening and heartwrenching thing for someone with a relatively new car that he would like to see survive for as long as possible without scratches. But where there are mad cab drivers, there are scratches galore. The Viking raiders of old left smoking ruins after every plunder. The villainous robbers in Home Alone left the water running after every robbery. Gurgaon's cabmen leave a wide range of scratches after every interaction.

And nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop them.

Have you, dear reader, driven on city roads? If you have, you might have noticed little white lines on the roads, usually dividing them into roughly equal fractions. These fractions of the road, referred to as lanes, are meant to facilitate orderly flow of traffic in neat lines. Queues, if you will.

Gurgaon, apparently, finds lane driving an alien concept. No one EVER EVER follows them. Which is extremely frustrating for someone who was brought up (in driving terms) in an environment which taught him to respect lane flow.

The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA, which sounds surprisingly like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman - and some believe is just as blind)... where was I? Oh yes. HUDA, in all earnestness, paints lines all over the roads, only to have them completely and utterly ignored by practically every single member of the driving populace.

Two lanes of traffic are often converted into three, with the ones in the middle not seeming the least bit remorseful about breaking driving etiquette (is it a law?). They merely nudge, cajole and threaten (ever had a tall bearded Jat brandish a heavy stick at you?) their way into any open space to create a lane of their own. The road I take to office morphs from 3 lanes to 5 (sometimes 6!) during rush hour. The National Highway to Delhi miraculously transforms from 8 to 14 lanes, all choc-a-bloc with irate drivers and peaceful cows.

What's more, they often do not stay in their lanes (imaginary or official). Everyone glides, slides and pirouettes across lanes, in and out of traffic with absolutely ZERO regard for the situation of traffic in the lanes they are cutting into. As one who has often been cut off by such insane lane-switchers, I have learnt to control my anger ("I'll kill you, b#$%&@*d!") and become more philosophical about it. ("The way you're driving, you're going to die sooner or later. B#$%&@*d.")

Lanes are a thing of the past, a needless imposition of order and discipline in an environment where order and discipline can get one abused, scratched, beaten up or killed.

I do not know which city/state reports the largest number of suicides (for non-agricultural reasons) and/or accidental deaths each year, but I would be very surprised if Gurgaon is not near the top of the list. The local people seem to be blessed with an innate propensity to take risks, some of which take the form of walking in the middle of a busy road or sprinting across a eight-lane highway, even as rash drivers (especially cabmen) bear down upon them with unflinching bloodlust.

Trust me, driving here is not an exercise for the faint-hearted, given the nature of these pedestrians. They jump onto the roads when you least expect them (you are, of course barrelling down a 80kmph highway at 120 kmph). They play peekaboo with you from behind telephone poles and/or cows, a now-you-see-them-now-you-don't cat-and-mouse game that usually goes "accelerate, turn up the volume, accelerate, press the pedal all the way down, glance up at the man doing a jig in the middle of the road, slam down hard on the brakes, skid on the road, screech to a halt". It wouldn't be out of place in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

What irks me is not so much the fact that they cross the road at all - they can't help it, even chickens have been known to do it - but that they
a. Seem to have no idea that walking at 0.2 kmph across a busy highway puts them at significant risk of dying a gory death; there is NO move on their path to hurry across, even with crazy drivers zooming down on them.
b. Seem to wait for a car to come on the horizon before stepping onto the road, almost flaunting the fact that they, being human, have greater right to be on the road than the machine thundering on it day and night; said machine must necessarily stop before the frail 90 year old, grinning in the middle of the road. It's a power game, I tell you.

The safest thing to do is to never drive on the innermost or outermost lanes. Stick to the middle. Or if there isn't a middle, create one (as described earlier). At least you'll have a little more time to react to your opponent/victim.

It's hard to crib about these guys. Unfair, almost. After all, they do have to make a living. But if there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my ability to rant about anything and everything without conscience.

Rickshaw drivers (RDs, in the interests of time, energy and my not getting Carpel Tunnel Syndrome) are a law unto themselves. They know they're onto a good thing. In the absence of credible public transport, they are the average person's best mode of transport. When the average person's car is at the mechanic's, of course - the average rickshaw-using person, as defined by Gurgaon standards, owns a car. Two, sometimes.

RDs think nothing of driving in exactly the opposite direction to the rest of traffic flow. Perhaps they feel the same sense of power pedestrians do. Perhaps they feel they're giving their customers their money's worth by taking them from Point A to Point B with death-defying thrills thrown in. The same applies to when they randomly cut across four lanes of traffic (officially two) just to get to a nearby U-turn or chat with a fellow RD on the other side of the road. Also, in what infuriates me more than anything else, they ALWAYS occupy the fastest lane. Which is fine in Gurgaon where no one gives a damn which side you overtake on, but it still affects what's left of my road sense.

The best way to avoid hitting a rickshaw is to stick to the National Highways. Or else ride in a rickshaw oneself.

It's ironic that for a city that moves so insanely fast, there are speedbreakers all over the place, seemingly laid out at random. There are several stretches where one would encounter four or five of them within a kilometre. Which is all for the best, I guess - I'm sure they help save lives - but what gets my goat is that many of these are a. horribly formed, making a single hump a bloody roller coaster ride, and b. not marked or coloured in any way. Which means that I often get jolted horribly and have my insides shaken up irrecoverably, with absolutely no warning whatsoever. And this results in me being reduced to a nervous wreck whenever I'm driving in any remotely residential area...

What the HELL is wrong with everyone? WHYOWHYOWHY do people have to travel with headlights at full beam all the time? I have enough things to give me a headache without the random guy ehind me shining full force into my car and my rear view mirror. Does he not realise it is blindingly painful? How would he like it if I was to flash a bright light straight into his pupils, huh?

I can fully understand the use of high beam on the dark highways, but NOT within the city where you have enough glitz and neon to light one's way. Do you really need 500m worth of visibility when there's a car 2m in front of you? Huh? Huh? I spend a significant portion of my night-time driving making flashing symbols at the guys behind me, a desperate plea for him to dip his bloody lights.

Unfortunately, it hardly works. And what I hate most about idiots who drive on full beam all the time are those who drive on full beam all the time with...

This paragraph is addressed directly to the user of halogen lamps, not you, most dear and respected reader.

What the fish is wrong with you? Is the normal headlight that insufficient that you must get yourself this insanely bright, piercing, obscenely white light? If you were in a coastal city, you'd be mistaken for a bloody lighthouse. What madness possessed you to feel that the standard lights are not enough, especially when the car in front of you is never more than 10m ahead (and that's on a good night!)? Do you see the pure white light as some symbol of your purity, or a literal reflection of your mental brightness? Do you think people will be impressed and mentally say, "Damn, I wish I was him!". No, idiot, no. People will be pissed and say "Damn, I wish I could kill him!"

So there you go, ladies and gentlemen. Everything on the roads that irritates me. I've left out a few of the minor irritants - undercar lighting, slow tractors and somewhat incompetent policemen come to mind - but these are the biggies. Do keep a watch out for them. Steer clear of them, and you'll live longer.


Nandini Vishwanath said...

Boy! Don't I know how you drive in GGN as compared to namma naadu? :) Kanna, drive safely, please.

AC said...

What is it A says about mothering...? :)

Anonymous said...

Hey you could have included some "Jaat" gentlemen and their antics.....i remember one.....a guy was driving on the road on his Maruti Esteem. He sees the state animal of Haryana ....a buffalo (Jhotta in Haryaanwi :) )
its sitting smack in the middl of the road.....the guy gets down and looks for the owner (he actually assumes it has one !) ......he tries to shoo off the behemoth but its of no use....suddenly, there is this guy who has amber hair, a BIG "Lathi" in his hand...he approaches the gentleman and asks him "Ara bhai ke phroblem se ?" in his haryanwi accent....the guy says "kya aap is bhais ke maalik hain"...the jaat agrees. the gentleman politely asks him to take the buffalo out of his way.....the jaat replies..."bhais to yahi rahegi......aapko gaadi doosri sadak par se lekar jaani padegi"......the gentleman gets frustrated and starts to move the bhais on his own when he hears a thud...he looks back to see one of his windows smashed into bits....such was the power of the Lathi (the state weapon of Haryana :) )....the gentleman gets scared and decides to run away....i think thats pretty much it ! Poor soul !

Patchez said...

Ah! was worth reading tha post :)
Mainly cuz i identified with most of it.. ;)


Arjun/Srikrishnan Ganesan said...

thambi. don't tell me you ran home that day to complete one section of this slisha-too-long-to-put-enthu-and-read post

Lizzy said...

LOL! Hilarious post. But nevertheless, all my sympathies with you. Hope that your car doesn't have too many scratches.

Vikram said...

Dude... given that you don't post too often nowadays, I have a suggestion. Why not put up some thing like a '2007 Top 10' of your post, so that there is some different reading material?

AC said...

@anonymous: Yeah, I've heard many horror stories about hyperaggressive Jats!

@patchez: Ah, a fellow sufferer :)

AC said...

@GB: Oh no no... not at all!

@Lizzy: Thank you :) Scratches, unfortuantely, are a way of life here :( So there are a couple but thankfully nothing major yet.

AC said...

@Vikram: Hmmm... I might just do that!

Paresh Y Murudkar said...

The public transport buses, although largely absent, do make their presence felt once in a while. On a busy, fast lane they stop suddenly at a bus stop visible only to the driver of those buses! Once I saw an indica banged into the state transport bus from behind because of the sudden stop the bus driver wished to have, and the bus driver was beating up the indica driver for rash driving!!

sheks said...

I experience similar troubles in Bangalore,everyday.There is this elevated road coming up on Hosur Road.This has reduced the number of lanes on the NH to two!And the second lane happens to be the service lane.Impatient to put up with the slow moving auto in the front,buses,most of the time,make a sudden switch from the main lane to the service lane in the process of which the vehicle experiences a sudden jerk that puts the people sitting at the rear of the bus(one of whom,in 90% of the cases,happens to be me)to discomfort.

A G said...

Where have you disappeared?

I have no entertainment at office anymore....seems like all the bloggers (' blogs) i read have gone on strike or something like that!!!

blog blog blog blog blog (me trying e-hypnotise you)


AC said...

@paresh: yeah, those buses are a law unto themselves. They stop wherever they please, without a second's notice. They hold up traffic as they round up more customers, and abuse all and sundry around them...

AC said...

@sheks: Buy yourself a car :)

@AG: Sorry man, been really really busy... I have an idea or two for a post, but translating it from thought to text is what is proving difficult!

Patchez said...

@fellow sufferer?
absolutely! the scenario is same in Ahmedabad! :D