Premature ageing on the roads of Bangalore

Posted: February 10, 2011 in India
Tags: , ,

I had intended the usual dissection of life in our latest stop over but came up short. Bangalore is not unwelcoming but for us it was the least intriguing destination in our 6 week schlep around India.  There just isn’t anything exciting about old Bengalaru; it’s hot, noisy, dirty and sweaty but there is little to hold your interest and distract you from the constant traffic. It is the hub of India’s IT industry, boasting the home of global giants such as Infosys yet you wouldn’t guess the wealth of its industry by the state of its streets and public spaces. The most interesting discovery of our 2 day visit was that Bengalaru means “town of boiled beans”. Need I say more about its riveting social dynamic?

I digress. So, instead of the usual diatribe, I’m going to give you insight into the crazy world of maniac drivers and blatant flouting of any traffic laws that might rest in dusty tomes on some lawyer’s bookshelf in Delhi.

Rickshaw rude boys

These boys are unaware of anyone else on the road apart from other rickshaws. It’s like the British White Van Man community; they look out for each other and reciprocate local knowledge. Most rickshaw wallahs won’t listen to where you want to go, especially if you only speak tora tora gora hindi. They want the ride, the money. They see the dollar sign lit up in neon in your eyes.

As you nurse the map on your lap, knowing they aren’t going the most logical route, they stop at every corner, or even randomly in the middle of the road, to ask other rickshaw compadres. The answer is usually entirely vague and rarely accurate. It consists of a wave of the hand and a generic “over there”. When the details are spot on your rickshaw driver will only pay attention to the first few words. After that it’s fluffy clouds and improper thoughts of Ashwarya Rai (Muni thinks she’s smoking hot, I’m more interested in the Deepika/Priyanka triangle). At the next traffic hold-up he will ask the same question again. He will only partially listen. You get the picture.

What adds to the impending sense of doom is the criss-cross driving patterns the rickshaw dudes employ; they don’t see lanes, they don’t even see other traffic, they just head for daylight. This involves bobbing and weaving like a punch-drunk boxer, snaking between fast moving vehicles and often being sandwiched between buses. As a passenger you put your faith in the lap of the gods and hope that at some point you’ll arrive safely at the right destination. To be fair to the wallahs, they always get you there, it’s just rarely a serene experience.

Definitely not driving Miss Daisy

We booked a taxi from our hotel to Bangalore airport on Wednesday 9th. Our flight was at 21.20 so the hotel recommended we leave at 18.30 to arrive in plenty of time at 19.30. Why did we listen? We know that, no matter how good their intentions and desire to help, Indian people are spectacularly bad at doing things on time and estimating distances and time. It drives Muneeza mad and raises my pre-flight stress levels. We got there about 20.15 with little time to check-in, get boarding passes and find some dinner before the flight. In my rush I left my 10 year old, ripe cheese-smelling sandals in the cab. My jani was devastated.

We left bang on the dot at 18.30 but hit traffic that makes the M25 at rush hour seem like a picnic. The non-AC car heated up quicker than a meteor passing through the earth’s atmosphere. My forehead, expansive as it now is, resembled a paddling pool in summer. The driver did what any Indian driver would do when confronted by queues; he performed the manic lane change and under-cut strategy that simply adds to the congestion. Everyone was doing the same, so instead of the traffic clearning it was getting worse. The shocking nature of the rush hour traffic compared only to my rising stress.

Once the traffic started to ease I saw my life flash before my eyes. Taxi driver was haring up the backside of the vehicles in front, swerving in and out of traffic, over taking, under taking, leaning constantly on his horn (no, not that one you children). On several occasions we were only spared a serious crash because other drivers swerved out the way.

Indian driving is as mental as anything I have ever seen. It makes Cairo seem laid back and L’Arc de Triomphe positively serene. There are seemingly no rules. Speed limits are ignored. Lane discipline is passe. Traffic lights don’t always get obeyed. Pedal twitchy drivers edge forward and often speed off before red becomes green. Aggressive driving takes precedence over sanity. Flashing lights and horns shout at other drivers to get out the way when it is clearly your driver who is in the wrong and driving like a devil. All of this is done with a mobile phone glued to their ear and a big, broad smile.

Only Indians could do this smiling. I have to admire their resilience and willingness to put their life in the hands of crazy people every day without breaking down and needing a therapist. I won’t miss the experience, though it has made me yearn for the good old roads of blighty. To drive in India you need balls of steel or a death wish.

love jamer & muneeza x

  1. RadiantlyUrs says:

    haha…. awesome post…
    Btw have you been to Bombay? It too is hot, noisy, dirty and sweaty….. but its very very interesting!!
    Check this out…. It’s an article bout “interesting Bombay”!! 🙂

    • jamerguk says:

      Hey, thanks for the comment.

      Yep we spent a few days in Mumbai but can’t claim to have given it a thorough inspection. We loved Dhobi Ghat though, an intriguing place to visit and see where Mumbai’s washing ends up.

      I prefered Delhi but probably because we spent more time and could get under the skin of the city. Most cities in India create the marmite effect; you love and hate them. The people are exceptionally friendly and helpful and Indian cities are an incredible mix of sounds, sights, smells and experiences. At the same time, the pollution, noise, dirt and inability to really listen to what you are saying can drive you mad.

      Luckily for me, my fiancee’s family is Indian so she can understand Hindi fluently and speaks it pretty well. It makes a huge difference in how well you can get to know a city.


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