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
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!