Driving in Bangalore

I don’t know whether two visits is scientifically sufficient to induce that jaded feeling, but having now been to Bangalore, India twice, I have to confess that I’m not. I’m still utterly fascinated by traffic there. I mentioned as much in a post I wrote during my first visit, but it continues to…impress? Astound? Frighten? Probably all of those. And more. So much more.

flu·id (floo-id)

Adjective. Pertaining to a substance that easily changes its shape; capable of flowing.

Seemingly defying the laws of science, traffic in Bangalore takes on an absolutely liquid state. At rush hour, which lasts from approximately 8am until the end of recorded time, traffic is confined only by the shape of its container, and just barely.

On the roads of Bangalore, lane lines are invisible (except to the eyes of a westerner, evidently) and median lines – the lines that separate us from, you know, the imminent death that is oncoming traffic – are merely suggestions. If and when it’s convenient or expedient, Bangalore drivers show no hesitation at all to break the this-side-is-mine-and-that-side-is-yours convention. I’ll paraphrase a colleague in the Bangalore office who once said that in India, they drive on the left side of the road. And on the right.

When stuck in traffic and sitting for any period of time, look around. Every available nook and cranny will be filled. Some part of the car next to yours will be within about 3 millimeters of some part of yours. You can exchange Grey Poupon with its occupant without stretching.

That pressure you feel on your forehead is just the license plate of the car in front of you. It’s that close. Don’t worry, though, because the legible impression wears off in a couple of hours. Everyone else has one too, so you won’t even stand out around the office.

In the rear-view mirror, you’ll be able to determine the eye color of the driver behind you and count his (or her) freckles; it’s scientifically impossible for objects in the mirror to be closer than they appear. I suspect, but didn’t confirm, that vehicles sold in Bangalore don’t bother to ship with that particular warning printed on their mirrors. If they do, then it’s just for show.

If the hint of space does present itself, it’s quickly filled by one of the motorcycles that are so prevalent in Bangalore (I believe I was told that the number of motorbikes, per capita, is higher there than anywhere else in the world). That is, unless it’s first filled by a pedestrian from the throng of people trying to simply cross the road and that, my friends, is something that should not be tried at home. This is an endeavor not for the faint of heart and best left to professionals.

When moving, traffic patterns actually meander. This is not the influence of alcohol, but rather a natural part of the progression from point A to point B. Perhaps drivers are so used to having no room to maneuver that when any room exists at all, they feel compelled to use every single bit of it. Perhaps to do anything less feels wasteful and violates their sense of thrift.

ca·coph·o·ny (kuh-kof-uh-nee)

Noun. Harsh discordance of sound; dissonance.

I live in a big(-ish) city and spend a fair amount of time in other, bigger cities and I’ve never heard horns like this. New York and Boston drivers got nothing on Bangalore drivers. It’s like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on the Bangalore roads.

What’s interesting is that horns do not appear to be emotive in any way. In the states, horns are often accompanied by the extension of a carefully selected digit of the hand in an expression of, let’s just call it ire. Not so in Bangalore. In Bangalore, drivers use horns the way cats use whiskers. They’re simply a way of expressing location. There’s no stigma.

What’s more, there seems to be some sort of subtle language that has evolved from the use of the horn. Sort of a Morse code of the road (apologies for the unfortunate rhyme), if you will. I can’t recall ever seeing my driver react to a horn – even one being emitted from a frighteningly proximate source. My theory is that the driver has learned to intuitively recognize position based on the nature, length and volume of the blast. No need to avert they eyes, they need to be alert for the next full stop.

di·ver·si·ty (di-vur-si-tee)

Noun. Variety; multiformity.

The roads in Bangalore are their own special kind of melting pot. They’re very inclusive; an engine isn’t even required. Roads are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, beggars, bipedal produce carts, dogs and cows.

Yeah, you heard me, cows. I’m not making this stuff up, people. It’s not at all unusual to look out the window and see a cow or ox resting its eyes in the median. What’s interesting to me is that with all of this, I’ve seen exactly zero roadkill. In the states, animals in, on or around the road would probably be considered sport.

The first time I was there, I joked that I’d be dead many times over if I were to try to drive myself. That holds true after my second visit. Fortunately, we’re supplied a driver so I’m free to observe and quietly register my amazement.

Subscribe2 Comments on Driving in Bangalore

  1. Bill Mill said...

    Here is a map, with countries of the world scaled to moped and motercycle ownership per capita. India is indeed pretty large.

  2. Fuck yeah, Chyrp! said...

    And thank you for the reminder that God is good!