MD 16 : The Indian Signal Spectacle


It was Sunday afternoon. Lazy… lazy Sunday afternoon. The ones in which you do not even want to get up and do any work – any work!

Unfortunately for me, I was tasked with receiving Steve – our new client – from the airport. He was arriving from Chicago, US. We had loaded the luggage in the car trunk, and got into the Toyota Innova and I directed the driver to take us to “The Leela Palace” hotel, where Steve was to stay.

 We had driven through the outskirts of Bangalore, and just entered the heavy traffic area within the city. Steve and I were discussing about Bangalore weather, Indian food, Indian names and other sundry topics.

 The car stopped at one of the traffic signals…..

 The signal was RED – the timer showed 120 seconds left for signal to change to GREEN

 The car from behind us honked couple of times. Duly, another car to the right of us honked too. There was absolutely no place to move, and all the vehicles were waiting for the signal to turn green.. Yet, the honking.

Steve: Why are they honking?

ME: Well.. . We use honking for much more than just “Get out of the way” – these guys are honking to make their presence felt.. (I am here). There are many reasons for people to honk in India..

 The “I am here” honk

The “Get your ass out of the way” honk

The “Why the hell this traffic light is taking so long” honk

The “I am irritated for reason I don’t know” honk

The “I am going to overtake you now” honk

The “I will turn left or right honk

The “Beware, I am a novice driver – get close to me at your own risk” honk

The “I honked because someone else in the traffic light honked” honk

Well, some of our vehicles even have “BLOW HORN” written on their rears!!

 Steve: Hmm… interesting!

 The signal was still RED – the timer showed 60 seconds left.

 Steve looked out to the right, pointed at an overloaded auto rickshaw. (An auto rickshaw is a three wheeler that is usually supposed to carry about 3-4 people – well.. Usually..) I turned my head to find an overstuffed one – the front seat loaded with two people in addition to the driver, and the back seat had, in my estimates at least 7- well 5.5 actually – since one guy was somehow holding on to the side bar, and another fellow had half of his body hanging in thin air.  How do we manage to stuff ourselves into small spaces – I do not know.

 While I was trying to figure out what reason to give for this overburdened auto rickshaw, a bike squeezed past us. There was only little space left, and it hit our car’s left mirror as the driver tried to sneak through. Such morons are invariably on a cell phone, too, and avoid eye contact because they know they’re being a silly ass!

 Steve had come in from a culture where people are accustomed to follow lane discipline. Roads are wide, people owned large cars or SUVs, and squeezing into to small little space between two cars was probably unheard of.

 Steve: Wow! How did he get that bike through?

ME: You see, we try to get through the smallest of places… (smiling) We tend to figure out ways to squeeze through…

 The bike guy, now at the front of the pack of vehicles at the signal, surveyed the surroundings, realized that there were no cops around, and zoomed past the RED light.

 Steve: Will that guy not get a ticket for jumping the signal?

ME: Maybe, if they get to him… (I wanted the traffic signal to turn GREEN.. Why was this signal still RED?)

 The signal was STILL RED – timer showed 15 seconds left.

 Just then, in front of us a herd of buffalos decided to cross the road. They came across non-chalantly from the side – looked around as if to inspect the surroundings, and then lazily started crossing the road. I looked at Steve. His jaw had dropped.

Steve was witnessing the Indian Signal Spectacle.. and from the look of it, it seemed to be a once in a lifetime experience for him!

 The signal turned GREEN.

 Hell broke loose! Well almost… The poor confused animals stood at the center of the road. Bikes tried to squeeze through, as a mad honking exercise started with every car honking for reason they did not know. I presume. Someone got off a car and tried to shoo away the animals.

 The honking was now accompanied with people shouting from all different directions.

 The chaos lasted about a minute, I think. It seemed much more than that. The animals moved away, and the traffic moved forward.. Thankfully, we had got past the traffic signal!

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22 thoughts on “MD 16 : The Indian Signal Spectacle

  1. Hey Ari,

    I want to do a link back to this post and write a post on my blog giving you the 411 (information) on the real situation here in the US. Your corporate ass clown client is an idiot. Ass clown is a rude and derogatory term we often used when referring to people who operate under the delusion they are better than other people. I would do it here, but it would be far too long for a comment. Besides, I think it will make a great post for my blog. We are not so different. I hope you are willing because I’m going to start working on it.

  2. Pingback: Driving in America « Miss Demure Restraint

  3. lol its damn funny and well irritating when one is driving but Ari if you have not seen the driving on Delhi roads you havent seen anything..people here dont Drive they Grrrrrive
    and Grrrive my dear friend is a package deal, in includes cussing,middle finger,cold stares,dirty looks,honking,kicking someones vehicles(yes it happens) if its a bigger vehicle that just overtook yours then that man asked for a free coaching in driving, and if it was some smaller car which according to Delhites is a scooter with two more tyres and a hood then go home you smaller every thing and last but not the least if it was a woman driving than you will get to hear something like hey lady go home wear something more and die of woman dieases..gawd these woman they have taken heart attack from us too…
    loved you article specially the pics awesome

    • Thanks Somkritya for visiting… yes, I lived in Delhi in the 1990s for about 10 years.. and you are right… I think the traffic accompanied with the cussing, stares, fingers.. makes for a very interesting scene altogether..

  4. This was pretty funny. I love the buffaloes crossing! It is not too different from where I live in America…country side that is. No lights just critters. I am so happy Miss Demure Restraint linked back to you. She is right you are funny.

  5. good one. the few developed countries i have experienced (including USA, australia, and singapore) has a much more refined and orderly road rules and people usually seem to follow them. contrary to that colombo is a well known place for honking – so is india. the honking sound stays with you for a few days even after leaving the place.
    and to my dismay honking is becoming common even in maldives. it irritates the heck out of me. but mind you – nobody honks at traffic lights – at least not yet 🙂
    and by the way i like the photo of the loaded auto rickshaw 😀 once in trivandrum i was in an auto with 5 other passengers (not much compared to the photo) – it was tight but we blended in well 😀

  6. OMG!!!!! LMAO!!!!!!! This reminds me so much of my trip to India for about three weeks after being an exchange student to Japan back in the late ’80’s. I witnessed this same sort of traffic signal spectacle many times, and still have a picture of one of those “No Horn Honking” signs somewhere 🙂

    I want to go to India again one of these days…..

  7. I think that bike feller is sure to get a ticket from the cameras tht are popping up throughout. and then repeat offence – yay he’ll be broke (if not jailed before that for not paying his fines). It’s not an ideal solution, but then hey, if you want to line the pocket of the Bangalore traffic police, be my guest.
    I’ve heard that we’re better than some countries – we stop at the lights, don’t we? It’s worse in other countries where junctions are akin to bumpcar zones.
    We’re civilized, for the huge population our country has. Now, if only we could get rid of those traffic cops without an ounce of common sense, causing many traffic jams when signals become manual!

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