Traffic

There is probably a Latin name for it, kerasophobia, perhaps. The constant honking of car horns here in Delhi drives me crazy. Some drivers blast their horns to signal their approach, so that everything in their path will move aside to let them pass, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Of course, it makes no difference at all. If I am walking down the roadside and a motorist or scooter driver behind me presses on their horn, I can’t really do anything about it. There is no place for me to go to escape. Perhaps the driver wants me to be aware of his presence, so I don’t randomly decide to step further out into the road. Other drivers join a main road from a side street without stopping or slowing down, just blowing their horn. The worst offence is when there is a traffic jam, so everyone gets impatient and starts leaning on their horns. This accomplishes nothing apart from raising my blood pressure.

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Every truck has “Horn Please” painted on the back, together with “Use Dipper at Night” – which means flash your lights when you are about to overtake. Sometimes the spelling goes awry.

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A few months ago, the Times of India organised a campaign to stop needless honking. A few cars now sport bumper stickers saying “Don’t use your horn”. I don’t think it made a hoot of difference. There are places, such as hospitals, which have road side signs warning against sounding horns, but people ignore them, despite the risk of prosecution.

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Yesterday, I was the passenger in a car on my way to the clinic and we were caught up in a traffic jam. It was a very narrow street, with cars and food carts parked on either side. Someone had double parked their car, so there was a bottle-neck. Everyone was vying for position, the cyclo riders, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, scooters, cars and trucks. Pedestrians didn’t have a look in.

Now normally in India, even though drivers often flout the rules brazenly, everyone does this at some time, so people don’t get too upset about it. Patience is a rarity. Everyone wants to get some advantage, everyone wants to squeeze through a small gap or block someone from getting in front of them. Never is there any sense (like in UK) when a driver will say to himself (because it usually is a “he”), “I am in the right, the other person will just have to move/back up/stop.” Everyone just accepts crazy, erratic driving and tries to avoid an accident, usually with inches to spare.

But it was different yesterday. A white car without any special markings was blocked in. A large bearded gentleman got out of the passenger seat cradling a double-barrelled shotgun in his arms. He did have the logo of a security firm on his shirt, but it was the weapon which concentrated everyone’s minds. The cyclo rider reversed a bit, the auto-rickshaw driver pulled over to the side. The security guard beckoned with the barrels of his gun, indicating that his driver should move the car forward. When the car was clear, the guard got back in, and they drove off. Immediately, everyone surged forward and gridlock ensued.

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We had just done a legal U turn on the Grand Trunk Road, heading north out of Delhi, when I saw a man pushing a “tempo”. This is a four-wheeled, open-sided taxi with bench seats facing each other. He managed to get up a head of steam, then he ran around into the road and clambered into the driver seat. He was bump starting a vehicle on one of the busiest roads in the capital. His passengers didn’t get out to help him, either.

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I was riding with two colleagues in an auto-rickshaw in downtown New Delhi. Our macho Sikh driver was gunning the engine as we came up to a roundabout. We needed the third exit. Instead of following the traffic clockwise around the central circle, the driver turned right, dodged a few vehicles coming at us head on, avoided the cars joining the roundabout legitimately on our right, and screeched onto the correct exit road. Hair-raising (for a Sikh?) but very impressive driving in a three-wheeler. Luckily it has a lower centre of gravity than a Reliant Robin.

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