Thursday, October 1, 2009

India: Days 3-5, Part 1

One of the most peculiar (I don't think I've ever typed that word before, but I kinda like it) aspects of Indian culture is the family dynamic. I'm not talking about the nuclear family, but the extended family. It's very important to make social visits and inquire as to the well-being of other people in the family.

(Photo caption: a 3 lane road in Delhi)

I suppose that in and of itself is not all the peculiar. What I find so funny, however, is the unannounced drop in. I think there was a Seinfeld episode along these lines.

Anyway, today, before lunch, we were hanging out and talking. The phone rang and my mom went to answer it. As the TV was on, she stepped out into the hallway to talk. And, before you knew it, some lady appeared in the door way. The unannounced visitor.

She came in, greeted my grandmother and said "Hello, Vikram. How are you?" Now, I had stood up so as to not be rude and greeted this woman in the common fashion. I said "Hello Aunty(every other woman, basically, is called aunty if she's not related to you directly or at all). I had no effing clue who this lady was. We went on, chit chatting about this and that for about 10 minutes. All the while, I still had no idea who the devil this woman was.

Finally, my mom came in and greeted this woman by name. Finally, I figured out who the hell this was. It was my mom's brother's wife's brother's wife. (I suppose it would be easier to say it was my uncle's sister in law, but I don't care to do so at this time).

Now, if we can all shift gears for a second, let's discuss traffic. I earlier said traffic was horrible here, and if a Houstonian says traffic is bad, you know it's out of control.

As I see it, trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, bikes, people and carts of all shapes and sizes share the roads. At all times. Since traffic flows the British way, you drive on the left side of the road and the right lane is the "fast lane." Also, as more background, the bigger your vehicle is, the more "right" you have for space on the road.

If a road is 3 lanes, there will be at least 5 actual lanes of traffic. The painted lines on the road are only suggestions, and largely ignored suggestions at that. Turning is also quite an ordeal. Rather than form a line, all types of vehicles cluster in as narrow a space as possible near the intersection as cars in the opposite direction run lights and swerve to avoid objects in the road.

As soon as there is enough time for one car to inch forward enough to possibly go across the intersection, 10 to 15 vehicles flood the intersection. Collisions be damned. It's a giant game of chicken. It's not alarming to drivers for a crowded bus to be inches away from the side of your car on one side and 3 scooters trying to pass you on the other, even if you're up against the median. Well, let me tell you it is damned alarming for the passenger, IE, me.

In addition, bikes and scooters and motorcycles ignore the lanes and squeeze between 4 wheeled vehicles to inch towards the front of the line. Red lights apparently mean nothing to people on 2 wheelers, as they skid and fly through intersections as they please. Even if the bike is made entirely of rust and held together by bits of string and tape, it's not stopping for anything. It's got other cars to squeeze between at the next light.

Now, if you can imagine all of that, let me add pedestrians to the mix. Essentially, what you or I would call jay-walking is readily accepted, and even encouraged here. People put their hand out when they cross a street or highway, essentially daring motorists to hit them. It's unbelievable. Just because you put your hand up does not mean a car will stop in America. Unless you're in Rhode Island, where by law motorists must stop to allow pedestrians to cross the street. Here, however, it's actually effective. People will not exactly stop, but they will slow down enough for jay-walkers to get to the next lane of traffic. It truly is Frogger (sorry for the second Seinfeld joke, but you'll live) on a hugely dangerous level.

Part 2 to come later. Enjoy.


Colin said...

For people like me that have no imagination.

Vik Vij said...

Colin, that's exactly right. One comment tho, that's on a smaller street. Imagine (if you can) that going on a much higher scale. It's nuts.