Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Traffic One

I bet you thought my Calcutta One was the last of my reminiscing posts about our trip to India over Diwali. Not so. After all I have yet to tell you about my near death experiences.

But I’ll be quick and neat and precise. Promise.

Let me start this tale of woe by saying that I am now petrified of traffic in Delhi – this after living my entire ‘younghood’ in Delhi and maneuvering around the city between trucks, buses, autos and cars. The number of vehicles on the road has just exploded and my only defense is to sit in the middle of the back seat with my eyes shut and my hands balled into tight fists. I thought Calcutta would be a better. Wrong. Calcutta is a whole different ballgame - its black & yellow taxis and trams that rule the roads. Day before Diwali we have a hired Indica taxi from the local stand to transport us around Calcutta.

And here are three ways to possibly perish in a car:
1. Left Orly after buying kurta’s for the boys and almost immediately got stuck in front of Loretto House. Our smart* Indica driver first climbed onto the pavement, and nearly drove into a bunch of small kids. Then off the pavement and stuck between a mass of cars who were all mad at the driver for even trying to get ahead. With less than an inch between us and any of the surrounding cars one of the cars on our side decided he was not going to let us through. So he scraped past us and the loud metal on metal noise was deafening and our car tilted threatening to roll over. Our driver let forth a stream of abuse, stopped the car, climbed out of the window and went around to examine the damage to the passenger car. No apology for anything that might have happened to any of us on the passenger side.
2. In the evening, traveling from A to B, our driver decided that he was faster and more able and more needy of the road than a tram. Yes you read that right – A TRAM – big bulky thing that transports its millions across the city on tracks built into the road. A TRAM. So we jostled for space on the tram line and what happened? The obvious. Our car was side scrapped by the tram and carried some distance further by that momentum. With me and my sis-in-law screaming at the top of our lungs for “the madness to stop” (those were not our words, just a politer version of the verbal yelling). The driver was well protected on the right while those of us on the left of the car were in fear of the windows bursting inwards and scarring us for life. The tram was tooting its horn as was our driver. And crowds of people were yelling and pointing on the outside. Deafening noise was over in a few traumatic minutes while we disengaged from the side of the tram. And once again what does our driver do? Goes to check the damage to his precious car. Not a word of apology for the bad driving, complete lack of sense and trauma to his passengers. How many times can I say this to make my point – A TRAM.
3. Next morning we had a new driver with a new (read unscratched/ unscathed) Indica from the same stand (when will we ever learn?). Under a famous Calcutta flyover he decides to take a U-turn. In the middle of full flow traffic on Diwali/ Kali pooja day. Scaped a few taxis and other cars, none of whom seemed to mind or stop. One car hit us from behind, rocking the car akin to a boat on high seas. And still we kept going. Even the Calcutta black and yellow cabs are safer.

Maybe all this time in London has made me soft but I couldn’t help thinking we were lucky to come out of these ‘episodes’ physically unscathed. Mentally I am still a reeling a tad bit.

Here in London all my traffic troubles seem so far away. This morning some guy in his jazzy sports car careened through a red light and just missed me. Moral of the story: It does not matter where you live, traffic is crazy. And whether you are in a car or anywhere near one, bad things can and do happen. So watch the road while you cross and avoid hiring an Indica in Calcutta!!

The fingernail marks on the palms of my hand have deepened becoming permanent symbols of our car journeys in Calcutta.

The end. Of my India trip reminiscing. Finally.

Notes: * When I say smart I really unequivocally mean asinine


  1. I wrote up a comment and I think something happened to it while submitting! :(

    Bottomline, glad you are ok!

  2. My God. You seemed to have really bad luck with the drivers! But there are a lot of these idiots on the road, making it virtually impossible to keep your car scratch-free

  3. Anonymous2:41 AM

    Same things happen to me every time I go back. My heart just flies out of my mouth. Did you get my email?

  4. I remember a friend mentioning how he showed a video of traffic in India to an American colleague, who was absolutely shocked :-) I think we are so used to chaos when in India and lose a bit of that perspective when abroad that it comes as a milder shock to us too.

  5. Sonal: Thanks

    Rohini: Yeah. Bad luck that all the idiots got licences to kill!!!

    MumbaiGirl: Got your email and replied too!

    Parth: Yeah, I never noticed it as much when I lived there. But its such a contrast to what I am used to now that it's hard to stay calm! Also the number of insane drivers jostling for road space in ever bigger cars has increased beyond belief.

  6. Hi 30-in-2005,
    Dropped in to say Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year.

  7. I do think it was your chauffeur who was at fault, more than my city's chaotic traffic. Have you seen Bangalore recently?! Or Hyderabad?

    Have you got around to "Long Way Down" yet? I think Hornby's surpassed himself there.


  8. I do get the stories! I drove a fair bit this holiday ... and traffic was chaotic as ever.. and lots of mad drivers trying to overtake in half inch space.

  9. visitor: to you too!!

    JAP: I won't agree with it being only the drivers fault. And I don't think I shall ever reach Hy/ b'lore if I have many more journeys like these!!
    Not got to NH's new one yet - have too many books from my India trip to get through first. Glad for the recommendation though!!

    Pea: I am not as brave so cannot even think of driving.