chalakanth

Update on the driving, in India

In the past couple of weeks, I have continued to drive on and off. Daytime driving has become significantly easier, while driving at night remains a lost cause.

Don’t think, just drive

During the day, driving has become almost instinctive. Naturally, the traffic has not changed, but it seems to bother me less. I am noticing more. If there are 10 vehicles in front of me, I am now able to, almost unconsciously, plot a way through them.  You can guess the relative speeds of the various types of vehicles, judge who is about to make what move, and in turn make a decision yourself.   The blind spots exist, but I don’t seem to worry about them.

How all this happened is not clear.  I don’t consciously understand what it is I am seeing, and what I am not seeing.  Now and then deliberate thought suddenly intrudes, which, to little surprise, kills the fluency.   Do you remember that advice Kevin Costner’s catcher gives Tim Robbins’ talented but green pitcher, in Bull Durham?  Don’t think, just throw, or something to that effect.   That is where I am with the driving, I think.

Remember, one of the two simple rules that govern driving here – if you see a space in front of you that will fit your vehicle, you must fill it.  There is a little bit more to it.  You must fill that space fast.   You see a hole, gun the motor, rush into that hole, and slam the brakes. This is how our driver does it, which I found puzzling, until now.   If you don’t fill that space when you have the opportunity, somebody else will, which slows you down.   Moreover, being decisive in that manner provides clarity to the vehicles around you. Remember, you are constantly surrounded by other vehicles, each confronting the same problems you are.   Several times, I could clearly see my hesitation cause confusion in the other guy – he is forced to slow down and wonder what the heck is going on with me.  When this spreads to several vehicles, you have gummed up the works.

3 …. 2 …. same difference

I’ve driven on the Chennai Bypass a few times now.   This is a 6 lane highway, 3 in each direction, with a divider in between.   As you can imagine driving on this road is a little less challenging, but not entirely without the Indian touch.    I noticed that the larger vehicles rarely used the far left lane.  It would be largely empty, save for a few slower, smaller vehicles, like the two and the three wheelers.   It is not like folks maintain any kind of lane discipline; they usually drift into whatever space is available, so that almost free lane was incongruous.   I realized what the answer was this morning (we are on the road again this weekend).

Some sons of India drive down your side of the highway, in the opposite direction.  That far left lane is the one they use.  You don’t mind that; you must leave room for bending the rules, because someday you will need to do that yourself.

Even more interesting, at night, large, cargo carrying trucks simply park themselves on that lane.  We were on the bypass early this morning, and large stretches of the far left lane had become a rest area.   Perfectly reasonable position, if you ask me.   You take two lanes, and we’ll use one, for whatever.  Didn’t your Mom teach you to share?

The problem isn’t the sharing.  The issue is that this is a violation of the promise that a ‘three lane highway’ makes to you.  When they built that highway, a civic contract came into being, which said what you could expect from a ‘three lane highway’.  Such promises are almost never completely kept.  These civic contracts are satisfied only partially.  If you cannot temper your expectations accordingly, God help you, and the people around you.

So it goes.

Done with the night

At night, I am okay as long as I am on one of those roads where opposing traffic is hidden from view by a divider.   When I am forced to deal with the lights of the oncoming traffic, I am toast.   Maybe my eyes have just grown old, or maybe the creeping diabetes has rendered them less effective than they could otherwise be.  I can barely see the road in front of me.  On a drive from Alwar Thirunagar, to Kelambakkam, through rush hour traffic, around 8:00 PM, my eyes became tired by the time we hit Vandalur.   I have never felt that before.   I had to fight the urge to shut my eyes, and lay my head back on the seat.  We still had about 15 kms to go.

I went walking one night, on Vandaur road, which turned out to be exactly like driving at night.   You don’t really have a sidewalk, and hence you are virtually part of the traffic on the road.   I could barely see 5 feet in front of me sometimes.   It was unsafe.

I will drive at night only if I absolutely have to.

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