Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Synonym of Randomness - Traffic Calcutta!

Driving in Calcutta is like going to War! No I am not exaggerating, it is literally so.
You have to not just fight the traffic, you have to fight the pedestrians, you have to fight the potholes, you have to fight the signals and you have to fight the police. If I am misleading anyone, please don't be misled.

Traffic includes all the different kinds of vehicles you can or cannot imagine - normal vehicles like cars, buses, motorcycles. Other vehicles like trams, bikes, cycles, rickety vehicles like rickshaws, manually pulled rickshaws with things poking out, then some weird kinds of pushcarts, then vehicles with 8 wheels, 10 wheels, 12 wheels, 3 wheels, 1 and half wheels, no wheels, and a special category of vehicles called Auto rickshaws.
I know some of you may not have heard of a few vehicles mentioned here. Look at the innovations of the people here -amazing isn't it?
And drivers of all these kinds of vehicles have their own way of driving (call it driving, floating, flying, zig zagging, or whatever you like).
Yes, each and every driver thinks that the more hap hazard his motion is the more money they are going to earn and their life depends on making the best zig zag line possible or impossible. Anybody doing Lane driving is not normal. "Lane driving is not Sane driving"! So the more number of times you can switch your lanes, more chances you have of being awarded the "Driver of the Day"!

Let me put it this way, driving here is like playing a modern PC game. Your objective is to get from Point A to Point B and score the maximum points without dying. One of the ways of earning points is to switch lanes without indicators like a person in a fit. But there is actually a good reason for drivers changing lanes like madmen. Welcome to driving in a metro city without roads. Well, actually they are roads, but you will find something in them called potholes, in the layman's language. But from technical terms they don't deserve being called potholes. Potholes are one or two holes or breaks in the tarmac. But these are actually hills and valleys and some of them look like deep wells. I think you can actually start digging them for oil. If you don't believe me, drive down the EM Bypass, drive from Ruby to Gariahat, drive from Hooghly bridge towards Kona Expressway and you will see a spectacle on the roads. Cars and buses bobbing up and down on roads and drivers looking for the best possible motorable way amongst those hills and valleys. If you hit the potholes, you loose score in the game. Hence drivers are forced to switch lanes and score more and give the adjacent vehicle's driver in the next lane a heart attack. By the way, these were just a few examples of the roads. Please ask the roads department for the full list of roads with hills and valleys.

Now I come to the most difficult obstacle in this Game. Should we call this game "Hit pit - drive in a fit”? I let you come up with the best names possible for this game so I can suggest this to EA Games to release this new product. Its sure going to be a hit and driving schools can use the game as simulators to teach their students.
Anyway, the most difficult obstacle in this game, which has the highest IQ and is lethal, is pedestrians. They have their own mind, will, needs, and wishes; actually they really do. Since they are humans. Some of them are dogs and cows too. But they are pedestrians too. They need to cross roads or sleep on the roads too. So they are the differently-abled pedestrians.
The main objective of these pedestrians is to jump in front of a vehicle when the driver least expects it. If the driver can dodge the pedestrian, stop the vehicle or use any other evasive measure without harming his own vehicle in any way, he gets bonus points.
Sounds easy? Try it when 10 cars, 20 auto rickshaws, 3 cycles, try shooting out at the turn of the signal to green honking like vikings, and at the same moment, all the pedestrians who were waiting beside the road, plan to cross to the other side, at the slightest hint of a slowdown on the part of any vehicle, and at the same moment you find that unavoidable pothole right ahead. And in case you brush against any of the pedestrians, doesn't matter if it was the pedestrians fault, you are in for a treat. Be ready for guerrilla warfare. You will instantly find around 100 men in lungis* surrounding you. Where did they come from? All the bunch of unemployed people hiding beside the streets, just waiting for some kind of action, emanates from the ground to give their judgment. This judgment is from the downtrodden for the people who are capable enough to buy cars. How dare they drive around in cars while they ride around in their lungis? If you can escape the capital punishment of being lynched, then you have just been reborn. And did I mention while the driver is being lynched and his car is being broken to pieces, what the police were doing? They were chewing the Pan masala* and taking bribes from the truck drivers and feeling happy about how everything is running normally.
Let us also study this intriguing obstacle in this game, called the police. They are handsome men in white uniform with stars on their shoulders, who protect the people and maintain law and order on the roads. (Kindly read “handsome” as "short, potbellied, pan masala chewing police officers with uniform which hasn't been washed with Rin ki Safedi*"). It doesn't matter whether you have a driving license or not, whether you have flouted traffic rules or not, if they catch you the only way to go back home with your license and in some cases your vehicle, is to have moolah in your pocket.

Potbellied police officer: "Rs. 600/- for jumping the signal."
Driver: "But the fine for jumping a signal is only Rs 150/-."
Potbellied police officer: "Are you going to teach me the law? Ok then come to the XYZ Police station and take your license."
Note: Chances are you won't be sure where XYZ police station is and to search for your license there, is taking leave from your office, and using public transport to go to the police station, since its risky to drive without a license. But who said it isn't risky driving with a license?

Did I talk about the so called Auto rickshaws? They should be added to the list of wonders of the world. Actually the habits of Auto rickshaws all over India are the same. Its one big national union. There is no road, no pass, nowhere on heaven, hell or earth
which is not passable by the Auto rickshaw. They are little green goblins, which make their own rules on the road - from driving down the wrong side, taking U-turns in the middle of the road, making the best zig zag possible, overtaking huge cars due to the sheer power of fear created by the various steel junks poking out of their sides, like the gladiators' chariots from Rome - they are the super powers of the roads.
You don't mess with the Auto rickshaw. Do you think that alley is too small for your motorcycle? Wait for the Auto rickshaw, and its going to take you to the other side. The gap between the 2 vehicles is too small. Who said? The Auto rickshaw is going to
squeeze through. If in case it scratches your car, do not think about asking the Auto rickshaw driver to pay up. If you do so, you will find a hundred Auto rickshaw drivers emanating out of nowhere to give your their judgment. Even God can't save you from the judgment.

You even have the chance to solve riddles in this game. Often you come to a junction where you find a varied array of signals which are more in number than there are roads.
Your problem is to find out which signal is intended for you. Chances are that you didn’t notice the alleys which are also meeting the junction, and for which a few of the signals are intended. But then again the signals are pointed as if every driver is cock eyed.
So if you flout a traffic rule here, you win another date with the traffic police, who are lovingly called “mamas” and you loose score. You need to practice harder.

I heard some people say, traffic in Mumbai, Pune and few other metro cities is horrible. Well, smart guys, you have seen none of it. I have seen both sides so I can compare.

So then, I guess the rules of the game are clear. I recommend everyone to try this game out once. The real war game, where the only way to survive is to drive tanks. Did you just buy a new car? I suggest you keep it in your showcase or stop bothering about any scratches or dents that your car may get soon.

I hope we soon get a new showroom for military tanks beside the OSL Prestige BMW showroom. Because driving here is going to War!

Drive safe, drive sane, drink water, not alcohol!

Lungis: A very airy bottom half worn by some Indian males
Pan masala: Chewing tobacco
Rin ki Safedi: A popular tagline for an advertisement for a washing powder