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The Prodigal Son Returns: Part 2

The Prodigal Son Returns: Part 2

November 28, 2012

To integrate myself back into the Indian scene, I realized that I needed to relearn the language of the Indian roads.

I had forgotten how mad the driving scene is in India. Having been spoiled rotten in the Sand City with its 6 lane roads, one way traffic and those voyeuristic cameras that flash when you least expect it, I was not prepared for the utter chaos that passes here for traffic.

I love it.

Last week I stood by the corner of Madiwala watching the road, while a bicycle repair guy brought to life my cycle that had been lying neglected in the building parking area. The seat had been stolen and in the process, the perpetrator, possibly one of the kids in the building, had managed to break the back brake. I figured that I will repair the bike and give it to my son, who was celebrating his 9th birthday.

What can I say? I am a cheap father.

The shack that advertised its service as Bycycle Repare and Spair Parts, was a neat, clean, wooden cabin - the size of a Porta toilet. Inside the walls were adorned with various cycle parts and in the corner was a neat stack of tyres of various sizes. The mechanic worked outside with his tools, that were kept in an evidently organized mess, within a tin box. His other implements included a large plastic bowl with water in it, to check for punctures and a air filling set up.

I had explained to him, largely in mime, what I wanted done, since my language skills do not exceed beyond Malayalam and English and that too is saying too much. Since it didn’t take a high IQ to figure out what was wrong with the bike, the man set to his task with a focused intensity.

So while he worked, I watched the traffic.

India is a celebration of contrasts. It also exhibits a patience and tolerance on the roads that one rarely finds in the Sand City. There was a family of bulls in the intersection where four roads meet and kept in control by a traffic light and a traffic cop, who was now more interested in how my cycle was coming along. Ramiyah, the traffic cop, in his white starched shirt and customary walkie talkie was busy fining vehicles on a random basis, when he could tear himself away from the gripping scene of my cycle getting a seat.

The bulls lazed in the middle of the intersection, while the vehicles swerved around them to their destination. There were buses filled with beautiful people, autorickshaws carrying people and in some cases, things one normally does not see being carried in an auto. One I saw had a man with building scaffolding in it. Obviously a painter, with his washed to oblivion shirt which in some past life had a color but was now a greyish shade. He was getting down with the tools of his trade, when the large metal scaffolding collided with a parked scooter, causing it to fall down.

Ramiyah, was not amused. He said something in Kannada, which must have been directed at the painters eyesight. The scooter owner who was sitting at another shack, which seemed to be an eating joint, near the Cycle Repair shop, casually got up and lifted his scooter with one hand, while he held a piece of dosa in the other. He then moved the scooter away from the parked auto so that the painter had enough space to unload. After which he went back to his seat by the shack and resumed his breakfast.

Ramiyah, by now had realized that the battery of his walkie talkie needed to be recharged and handed it to the cycle repair guy, who took it and plugged it into a socket somewhere inside that small cabin.

The horn
seems to be the most integral part of a vehicle on Indian roads. I must have heard more horns in the 1.5 hour drive from the airport to my apartment, than in the 15 years I had spent in the Sand City. In India, the vehicles talk.

There seems to be a language of horns here. As I stood and watched, I realized that it was not just a cacophony of noise, but a pattern of established sounds, much like the singing of the blue whales. They were communicating!

There are the short blasts which stand for, I am here.

There are the long ones, which stand for, I am behind you and I am in a hurry.

There are those medium blasts, which say, ‘what the fuck!’

Then there are those, continuous beep beep beeps, while the vehicle weaves its way through traffic, much like the 'make way, make way' chants of the tamil pilgrims to Sabrimala.

To integrate myself back into the Indian scene, I realized that, I needed to relearn the language of the Indian roads. I decided to join a driving school and get myself an Indian licence. Mainly I wanted to get over my fear of the perceived aggression of the Indian roads. This was brought home to me while I walked back to my apartment pushing my repaired cycle. I saw in front of me a gang of children, dressed in red checked shirts and khaki shorts, with a knapsack on their backs, weaving their way through the onslaught of Indian traffic. They were all around 9 years old. I do not know if the traffic made way for them or they found a way through it. Either way, there is only one way to learn how to swim:

Be ready to get wet.

Click HERE for Part 1 


  • Rajpriya
    30.11.12 10:39 AM

    "you are right…they are so calm..its like they are in a zen zone…iam yet to encounter road rage…surprising"

    Yes! Our fellow Indians know how to accept those things that can never be changed. An unusual calm in chaotic circumstances and stay focussed on their destination. A rare quality the west can learn from us.
  • tys
    30.11.12 10:07 AM
    @harry : i did manage to get that licence..infact i also went and got my bike licence now iam part of that crawling mass of humanity caged inside a metal box pretending we are getting somewhere...that driver of yours was do need good brake, horn and tons of luck..iam beginning to understand why indians are so religious..

    @rajpriya: you are right...they are so calm..its like they are in a zen zone...iam yet to encounter road rage...surprising
  • Rajpriya
    28.11.12 06:27 PM

    I see 8 lanes of vehicles moving in one direction. Indians use every mm of this earth to move around. Maximum utilisation of space available and I can see enough space left in between for hundreds of more new Honda Heroes.

    I tasted this occupation of the earth in Bangalore city roads two years ago. I saw Indians can keep cool too in such road conditions not because of the chilly weather.

    Start your journey early so that you won't be that too late. Good Luck and enjoy the fun you've been missing for 15 years
    28.11.12 03:12 PM
    @ TYS

    When I was in Delhi sitting in a car on a similar looking road in the picture above, I was told by my driver when I asked, how long he's been driving and what is needed to drive here and he smiled and told me, three things, Good brakes, good horn and Good LUCK.

    BTW the third one is more important then anything else. So on that note good Luck, Because you will needed buddy.


    PS Don't forget to install big bumpers and bull dog bars in your car. If you want it in one piece by end of a day. :)

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