While in the US, it was a treat to be on the road. Almost everybody observed traffic signals. Their economy may be growing at 2-4% but the traffic signals work. In true American style the minimum gap between vehicles in the USA, would seem like the distance between Sun and Saturn for the average Mumbai motorist.
Although I was there in American soil for only a few weeks, I can hold court like a well entrenched native with impunity, especially if the topic was a comparative narrative on the difference between driving in Mumbai and driving over there.
So, this friend from the USA, sat next to me as I drove, on roads that sported less than normal traffic on that particular day. Within five minutes of her first ride on Indian roads, I saw her hands shiver. In the seventh minute beads of sweat began to appear. In the eight minute, from the corner of my eye, I saw her hold on to the inside of the door handle. In eight and a half, her face was buried in her palms.
It was obvious it was about the road. For my hands were firmly on the wheel and I hadn’t spoken a word, other than professional conversation. My mind was racing at a faster speed than the motorbike that held an aunty, uncle and two kids that hung out of the bike rather precariously, and were looking into the window.
Obviously a ‘phoren’ woman, face buried in her hands with a chap that sported furtive looks can be fertile feeding ground even for the dull variety. All four of them were peering into the car, waiting for action.
In a brief while, it was but obvious, that every eye atop any moving object on Western Express Highway was trained on our car. Not wanting to run the risk of being featured on some news starved news channel with a silly ‘breaking news’, I pulled over. And hesitatingly asked my friend if everything was ok?!?
‘The cars are coming too close here’. She said. In some sense, I was relieved that she didn’t get to see the aunty+Uncle + one kid + another kid precariously hanging, all peering into the car. I was certain she wouldn’t have seen a circus act of that order!
We struck a deal. I would keep the car to the extreme left, that would come close to eliminate the possibility of a Ferrari hopeful overtaking on the left. Where she was sitting. After all of this, she offered “I’ll keep my eyes closed”. An offer, that was readily and graciously accepted.
After some agnonising moments, we discovered the root cause. A broken down truck, laden with steel rods. Sprouting a few twigs amidst all the steel. The twigs, any average Indian motorist would know, is a sign that warns other motorists of a broken down vehicle!
She went from ‘awe’ to ‘open-mouthed awe’ to ‘insanely open mouthed awe’ to ‘shaking heads in disbelief insanely open mouthed awe’.
Where in the world did we think of tying up a twig and a clutch of leaves onto a vehicle that had a breakdown ! Whatever happened to ‘hazard lights’ and the ‘hazard triangle’ to warn other motorist. Questions fired in quick succession.
I replied calmly. It was simple. Common sensical. Isnt it. I wouldn’t expect twigs to sprout from a lorry loaded with steel rods. That is abnormal. An obvious implication that something is amiss here and therefore the vehicle is stationary.
So, the minute your car breaks down, you don’t run you battery down with hazard lights and such else. You just reach for the nearest twig or a clutch of leaves and append it to some part of your car that is visible to others.
Which left her in a state of mild sedation, occasionally mumbling about Indian innovation and such else. I presume its going to take her a while to recover.
Until then, ofcourse, if you are travelling to India, a vehicle sprouting twigs is not a symbolic protest about global warming or something. This is a different kind of a breakdown. Ok ?