Roads or Deathtraps? Can Courtesy Save Indian Roads?

I’ve always maintained that if someone wants to learn driving, he must come to India. Turns, reverse, brakes, swerving – he’ll learn everything at every moment he is on the roads. While others in the world consider slow driving an irritable habit, in India, it is an art form. The guy in front of you is being maddeningly slow for some reason, or you are stuck in a traffic jam for miles together. What do you do?

Drive slow, of course!

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But the problem does not lie with the traffic jams alone. The crux of the problem is the Indian roads and their condition, the laziness of the officials to correct the deathly condition of them, and the attitude of the drivers. The worst among these is the attitude of Indian drivers, with many thinking they own the roads!

If you have ever driven a vehicle or sat in an autorickshaw on Indian roads, you’ll know the back-breaking pain that accompanies every bump and pothole that comes under the wheels. After the electricity board officials dig up the road to lay a new line, they forget about it for 6 months. And then someone realizes that a new road needs to be laid. Two months of comparative bliss. And then the water department decides to repair the pipes. Gone is the road and gone is the bliss, replaced by a dread every time you think of driving through hell. This cycle repeats over and over again till your last wish on your deathbed is for your great-great-grandchildren to see India with good roads!

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If you though, “Well, that’s just the roads. At least the flyovers are in good condition,” you are sorely mistaken. Every flyover in the city has bumps, potholes, patchy roads, not to forget their brilliant narrowness and sometimes ill-constructed forms. Sometimes, I wonder…

Then there is the absolute dedication to making the city’s roads neat and clean, courtesy the authorities. [Sarcasm fully intended!] Roads lying neglected in a barren condition are common to see, but what is most disheartening is the callousness with which the people responsible for road maintenance treat their duties.

And finally – the drivers. Right from those who drive two-wheelers to bus drivers – everyone thinks they own the road. Swerving across from extreme left to extreme right, or vice versa, or cutting across paths of unsuspecting vehicles, two motorists talking to each other in the thick of traffic – they do it all. They spit on the roads – large quantities of it (how do they collect so much anyway?) – and drive away, watch a vehicle coming onward and turn into the lane anyway, glare at anyone who tries to question them, and begin hurling the choicest of abuses at those who have the guts to question their skills. These people are heavily misguided by their pride of I don’t know what – maybe of their feeling of ownership of a vehicle.

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Many drivers on Indian roads are full of an ego that I didn’t think I’d find here. But who am I kidding? Ego is universal. And technically, I shouldn’t be surprised but I am. Here’s an example:

I was driving home from work one fine evening when I happened to overtake an SUV cruising along at a low speed. Bristled, the driver of the car sped up, brought the car close so that I noticed, looked me square in the eye, and overtook me. I watched as a few other guys on bike overtook him; he did not react. When it so happened that I unintentionally overtook him again, he sped up yet again. I frowned and rationalized it as a mere coincidence, but I can’t help but think: Is it because I wounded his male ego? [This is about a few people only on the roads and not to be generalized.] Since I am not inclined to race (like, ever), I let the matter go.

All in all, the combination of all these factors is a potent deathtrap and might contribute to taking lives – and the thought itself is unpleasant.

Since the condition of the roads is not in our hands – not even after the countless petitions, dharnas, and hunger strikes – it is the least we can do to keep one’s courtesy towards the rules and towards co-drivers intact as we navigate the roads. Think of the roads as your home – would you spit on them, then? The next time someone does, I have half a mind to stop them and ask them to clean it up with their clothes. Maybe then, some sense will prevail!

Maybe then, our little world will become more civilized and cleaner than what we have brought it to be. Maybe then, automobile technology will not just be something to show off, but instead, be used for intelligent navigation as originally intended!

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GIF Courtesy: giphy.com

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