The road most taken…

Have you noticed how many have the “chalta hai” attitude when on Indian roads? Till the time I lived in India I did not notice the mayhem around me, mayhem was a part of life. Mayhem was intertwined with normalcy, without mayhem there would be no normalcy for many. We step on the road, the blaring of the horns greets us, the thick smoke from the chugging autos, buses, cars and ashok leyland trucks and lorries hovers over us, the smog is the incense that is lit, our day starts in the midst of earthly wisps.  It is absolutely fine to take in the carbon monoxide. Who said anything about it killing us.Is there anything called traffic regulations in India? I thought there was when I did my RTO test when I was sixteen. That was the first and the last time I remembered those rules being followed by all. Traffic rules are meant to be broken, overtaking from the left or the right is not important, getting ahead of the traffic is. Everybody has their priorities in order on the roads.The auto drivers and the two wheelers cut in front of you, as smoothly as a buttered knife, you have no idea where they suddenly appear from, like PC Sarkar’s magic act. Intersections are busier than the BSE, all kinds of goods are traded on this open air deal room. From Ray Ban sun glasses to Femina magazines, deals are done swiftly and smoothly. You almost think Jhunjhunwala would make an appearance soon to finish a deal.

The sheer determination to take risks in India when passengers stand on the footboard of  buses and trains, clinging on to their dear lives probably makes us the bravest country in the world. Even the Mossad would not train their men this way. The Government gives ample opportunity to well and truly understand and implement the ability to take risks. The pedestrian has no footpaths to walk on, he mingles with the traffic on the road as harmoniously as bees buzzing on bright flowers. He will walk towards the path of your car nonchalantly speaking on his cell phone when the traffic signal turns green, he will walk right in front of your vehicle and just in case you have decided to press ahead, you will get a scowl, a verbal abuse and a banging fist on the bonnet or the window. Best to let him pass. IDEA adverts like ” walk and talk” endorse such men.Else, a boisterous driver may engage in an animated conversation with him and stop a few hundred vehicles behind in pursuit of their ambitions for the day. If one can put up with the one thousand decibel blaring horns, they must not give up arguing with the jay walker.

I actually do not blame the pedestrian not walking on designated footpaths if there are such. It is safer to NOT walk on footpaths as one never knows when one may fall into a death trap or what disease one may contract. A slab may have been removed to lay a new cable or a pipe with no caution signboards or a man-hole is left open just because someone thought it was fun to watch another fall into it. A slab may have been put back in its place but not entirely, it juts out in that peculiar way enough to cause a skip and a trip to break the skull. Then there are hawkers who sell their wares and sleep on the footpaths, a bit of an obstacle race here, why bother going through the trouble of walking on a pavement. Finally, most footpaths in India also serve the dual purpose of acting as urinals. You are likely to spot a ” do not urinate” sign board or a poster pasted on the wall in more than one language and you are just as likely to spot a man urinating on that very same wall.There is something about this part of the world that loves not to follow instructions or maybe he cannot read them? The footpaths are a stairway to hell, bubonic plagues are birthed on these concrete paths.Like fine artwork on the walls of roads, the red stains of paan form modern patterns and they grow bigger and brighter. Lashing rains cannot wash them off, their permanent stain embodied in the walls as the heat from the sun bakes the patterns, as profound as the art work of MF Hussain. Posters and bills are stuck on walls that clearly say ” Do not stick bills”, I am happy that some passing cows and goats graze on the paper and rip them out.

When the pure desi, as pure as desi ghee walks on foreign shores, the rules have to be followed. In fact the NRI probably observes the local rules in a foreign land more than the local himself. Indian’s love to follow authority when not dictated upon by a fellow Indian.The rules are followed so much that when the desi comes back to India, the reigning chaos is unacceptable. The NRI laments about the traffic, laments about the pollution, laments about his digestive system, laments about everything. NRIs find it difficult to drive or even cross a road in India. There is a sense of helplessness about them when they have to tackle the Indian roads and the accompanying goodies. The NRI becomes a big fat crying baby on Indian roads.There are still a lot of merits about our Indian roads though.Getting into trouble on Indian roads is as easy as getting out of trouble. A few hundred rupee notes can be wagged in front of the sooty police officer’s face and he will let you off in a jiffy. Drink and drive, kill a few people on the road if you have a lot of cash and your Dad’s best friend is the commissioner of police, better still if your Daddy is a politician. Having a surname like Nanda counts.There is a cheerful side to all this, Indians do it all with a smile. A few years back I was on a train from Delhi on the Shatabhdhi Express. In the outskirts of Delhi, women were conducting their moring call of duty by the railway tracks. I distinctly recall every woman waving to the passengers on the  express, such is the confidence. This can happen only in India..with a smile.


60 Responses to “The road most taken…”

  1. Sharmila,

    Nice observations. Its touching, its serious with a touch of humor – like my smile of relief after I look in the mirror and recover from the initial shock!

    I spent 21 years in the lanes of Pune & Mumbai and one thing that was always obvious was that the Town Planning Engineers drawings were like the mirror image of what was happening in reality.

    Residential colonies sprouted like wild grass in the outslirts like Dombivili, Virar, Mira Road and office complexes came up in Central Mumbai, Colaba, Walkeshwar. So you had 3 million people traveling each day from the East to the West and back!

    Rules are just so good as can be obeyed. We have a principle in our company. If a rule cannot be obeyed, don’t change the people, change the rule.

    Populations pile up in cities. As compared to Delhi Calcutta or Mumbai I think Bangalore Development Authorities have done a commendable job. The plan allows growth horizontally in concentric circles and infrastructure is integrated with the builders plans.

    It may not be the best in the world but the view from the trains is greener than what we get from the Shatabadi Express. 🙂

    • Lol Sudhir – Thanks. The BDA has it’s pitfalls and I thought it was bad. If you have spent 21yrs in town planning, I take your word and glad I am from BLR then. There was a time when BLR was a lot greener though.

      • I spent 21 years in Pune and Mumbai – not in town planning. But had close link with the departments for about 6 years when I was doing some real estate deals. Besides, maternal Uncle was a dean at IIT Powai.

      • Thanks Sudhir for the clarification.

    • Sudhir – Pretty accurate observation. I was actually sad writing about this and blanketed it with humor.

    • lol….sudhir ! liked your opening statement.full of wit.glad to know one can laugh on oneself which is a very hard thing to do.
      its very sad to know though that in the name of Town Planning officials & builders pockets get Fat at the expense of commoner. who has nothing but to face more inconvenience as the end/by product of such corrupt system.

      • MonaLisa,

        Corruption is our biggest nemesis as a democracy. The root cause lies in our federal structure that was left behind by the Brits.

        All the natural resources are owned by the central government, like metals, minerals, fuel etc. If you notice the place that has the largest stock will also be the poorest. Like Diamonds in Chattisgarh, Coal, Gold, Aluminium, Oil & Gas producing places. The locals are tribals. By law the state gets 10% of the revenue and the centre takes 90%. This has been since the Queen of England designed the system. The state share is now increased to 14%.

        People are left with no real wealth, just paper currency and consumables. The government officers in any department, not only town planning, are the worst parasite that infect our land. They suck the life out of the economy.

        I do not support violence, but I can understand how people get attracted to Maoism.

        Sad, but true!

      • Sudhir – Yes, Maoism attracts people for the right reasons in the wrong way. Maoism is a bit like conversion, again for the right reasons in a wrong way. When the poorest people are offered food and shelter, can they shun it? Very difficult to do so.

      • Sharmila,

        Food, Clothing, Shelter and Weapon training!

        I agree to some extent it is an issue of rich vs poor. but the fundamental issue is good governance. People respect the right to earn more money. People dont respect thieves and looters even if they multi millionaires!

      • Monalisa – Yes, Sudhir’s opening line about the reflection in the mirror did crack me up..:)

  2. Good one, Sharmila.

    I used to love going on long bike rides, but dreaded the traffic signals…people sitting in the buses chose that moment to spit out!

    As for men urinating in public, I think the govt. needs to put Rancho’s idea in 3I to practise.:)

  3. Absolutely true and wonderfully written. i love the touch of humor you’ve given the harsh truth that it is.
    After having lived in India for a number of years, a year of staying in a different country with different rules turned my head around because of the way things are organised and lines drawn for everything outside.
    The funny part is that, you can always so easily identify an nri on a holiday in his hometown, the lost expression, with a touch of panic, trying to be polite to people, offering them his spot in a queue, trying desperatly to drive in one singe lane etc etc!!

    Anyway, you’ve got a fan, keep it up with the awesome blogging.


  4. Sharmila,

    Yenna solrathu… Ange mudhal irundha comfort level ille. Yenakku ippo unga blog thaan romba romba pudichirkku. Neenga alaga ezhuthureenge…:)



    • Aish – Lol, Nandzhi!..Indha visesham AB kaadhile virandha, avaruku kovam varum..

      • Sharmila, lol…right, secret.;)

        For the electricity bills, perhaps charge a fine with the shock?!:)

        As for the mindboggling number of issues you dealt with; bad roads, unfollowed traffic rules, overcrowding, unruly public, plight of pedestrians, pollution, NRIs dilemma, beggary…wish there was a solution…:(

      • Aish – Finding a solution is easy, implementing it is the problem. The biggest issue is we cannot get people to follow rules. I think penalties and punishments for offenders are the only way.

      • Sudhir & Sharmila,

        Completely agree with your views.


        Tumhi kaay mhanta?

        Hmmm…Dil hai ki manta nahin…:P


      • Aish,

        That Marathi Line “Tumhi kaay mhanta?” is

        What are you saying? (Mhanta in Marathi is saying.)

        DIL is Daughter-In-Law, Manta nahin should be manti nahin, Like AB’s DIL… 🙂

      • Lol… Sudhir…:D

        Mala maaf karaa, mala marathi bolatha yeth nahii…

      • And yes the shock plus fine will work..!

      • Aish, Sharmila,

        Yenna solrathu?

        I am going to write in Marathi next.

        Tumhi kaay mhanta?


  5. AAH ! this one is like Sugar coated QUININE. Tragedy disguised in Humour. This must be going on since ages and no one is trying to correct it is pretty pathetic. Govt. & ppl should work hand in hand. if not such laws should be made & implemented to induce civic sense in ppl. Here it seems both Govt. as well as ppl have taken everything for granted. whoa !! those kind of ppl have capacity to turn entire India into THE Slum or A Garbage dumpster.
    lol….that NRI portrayal is quite funny. My read between the lines is “if you want to punish someone (NRI) send him/her/them to India for a while.” ha ha ha………

    • MonaLisa – Yes, this is indeed tragedy coated with humor. To be honest, I fit the NRI description. I used to lament about everything, I have stopped doing so as I have begun to accept things the way they are in India. But, there are times when things can get frustrating. Spending time in a traffic jam for two hours needs a lot of patience. Meditative music works well.

  6. MonaLisa,

    Where is your logic?
    If someone does acquire the civic sense you are asking for, and tries to act on it in India, she/he is the butt of your jokes?

    • Renate,
      where is your commonsense!? you are implying the things other way around. if you don’t get it shouldn’t be commenting on it.
      it’s not a joke but its a fact & it certainly is a punishment to those who acquire The Civic sense in one well organized country, spend many yrs. into that system and then left in such unorganized environment.then it’s indeed a punishment to them.they certainly do find it very difficult to fit in though try very hard. they try to be courteous and ppl make fun of them. lack of cleanliness is another problem apart from this commotion on roads,food and all.
      have you ever heard ppl saying that they would not like to visit there again unless its compulsory/mandatory in unavoidable circumstances!? even though it’s there own country and they spent many good years and grew up there!
      here NRI is not the target, its the system in India everyone (including ME)is discussing.

    • Renate – Do you travel to India much? I would love to hear what your observations are. From what I know, you live in Germany right?

      • Sharmila
        No, I am German living in California. I have never been to India and so my opinion probably does not count for much. I had no intention of being personal. My comment was triggered by the logical flaw in MonaLisa’s reasoning and dislike of the fun made of NRIs. I have wonderful NRI friends who for exactly the reasons mentioned, do not feel comfortable moving back to India. They feel they would not be able to live a safe life free of harassment.

  7. MonaLisa,

    I get it and if not being abusive, do reserve my right to comment on a public platform.

    I have NRI friends that exactly fit your profile. If you really are serious about changing attitudes in India, making fun of them does not seem the way to go. Consider learning from them.

    • Renate – There are parts of India which are relatively safe and NRIs do not face any problems. Infact there is no difference between the NRI and the I. Bangalore ( my hometown ) is one of the most cosmopolitan places in India like Mumbai. Yes, certain places like Delhi despite being the capital is relatively unsafe even today for women. I would not travel alone in the night in Delhi under any circumstance, I could easily do so in Mumbai and Bangalore. The traffic woos persist in every nook and corner in the country, a lot more bearable than actual security.

  8. Renate,
    when you like to expedite your right,you should respect others rights too and shall refrain using abusive language and passing on unwanted advices. Better talk sane,watch your tone and mind your pwn business if you don’t like my comments. just ignore it and stop butting in instead. as such its addressed to the writer to the Blog-Sharmila whether i mention her name on top or not. if i want to address someone else i definitely mention that particular name. simple as that!! And this space is not like other blogs where ppl are allowed use strong words to abuse others. Hope you can understand this simple things in simple language.

  9. Abusive language???

    Sharmila, do you think I should go away?
    It is your blog and I shall respect your opinion.

    • Renate – No need to go anywhere. This is a space where I wish everybody interacts, all opinions are important. Yours is as important as mine or anybody else. Thankfully, the moderator here is not as strict as the one on AB’ is good to interact with people from AB’s blog on a different platform. I enjoy reading different views, I am learning everyday with what you guys say.

  10. Renate,
    when you like to expedite your right,you should respect others rights too and shall refrain using abusive language and passing on unwanted advices. Better talk sane,watch your tone and mind your own business. if you don’t like my comments just ignore it and stop butting in instead. as such its addressed to the writer of the Blog-Sharmila whether i mention her name on top or not. if i want to address someone else i definitely mention that particular name. simple as that!! And this space is not like other blogs where ppl are allowed to use strong words to abuse others. Hope you can understand this simple things in simple language.

  11. Renate, MonaLisa, My dear friends…

    Peace folks. Don’t lets get personal. You are talking about an NRI. I am one too. And I feel the pain as much because in many ways I feel I have been a part of the deteriorating conditions in my hometown. There is a sense of guilt. In this strange town in the Middle East, I am just a witness, not a citizen. In Pune I am a sharholder, an owner.

    Let me share this with you.

    I was 8 years old when I learnt to cycle. Dad bought me one that was about a foot taller than me! I would run with it for a few steps and then jump on the seat throwing my legs on either side. As the seat was so high my legs would not touch the ground. The only way to stop the ride was to jump off the cycle.

    I went on my bike to every lane in the town. Like marking my territory so-to-speak! Every knew me and i knew everyone in our area. There was a sense of belonging. We did not prey on each other.

    Today, when I go back, I can feel the looks of the people who live there. I am the prey now. I pay for everything in hard cash; in a place where I used to run distributing sweets to everyone during festivals!

    Its a sort of alienation that money cannot remove.


    Please don’t fight.

    • Sudhir – That is so true! We NRI’s do feel a wee bit alienated. In BLR, where I am from the changes are rather overwhelming. I do not see “locals” anymore. It is a new crowd, new breed, fast paced where only money is the only language most understand.

  12. Renate,

    Lets swap. I will go and live in Cologne, and you can take my cottage in Ooty. Absolutely free!


  13. Sudhir – Marathi is most welcome, with translations will be a good beginning. Of course, good governence is the key. Comes back to the starting point, education, education,education!

  14. Hi Sharmila:
    Excellent response by you today at Amitji’blog.
    I share the same views as yours. Nothing more to add.
    I only wish Amitji does not stress out again on this. He as addressed the many things she as raised ithe earlier blog and to a resposne for a fellow FmXT comments some weeks ago.
    But well done again Sharmila.
    I hope Amitji reads your comment today.

    You really write very well and I will visit more often now. BTW are fron Bangalore.
    Best regards,

  15. Sharmila,

    This ‘one for the Road’. 🙂

    Roads, housekeeping and traffic are the first things that any visitor meets in a place. People feel welcome in a clean environment.

    There is an MLA elected from a small town about 90 Kms from Pune called Saswad. This MLA was calling on investors to develop property in his place. The downer was that it was so congested in the central market place that no one would waste money in setting it right again!

    This is what happens with development. When things go wrong, it costs a lot more to put it back in order than if we had done it right first time!

    • Sudhir – Yes, a fine balance is needed. I have never been to Pune but I hear it is one of the better cities? In what way apart from the cosmopolitan sense?

      • Sharmila,

        The land adjacent to the State Transport Bus stand has to be cleared of slum. The Dhaba and hawkers have to move at least 500 meters away. The cattle market (weekend) has to be re-located. And so on and on. It a lifestyle change! And politically sensitive! A government Khadigram udyog office in the spot where there should have been traffic lights!

        Cosmo? 🙂

    • Sudhir – Thanks, question

  16. Sharmila,

    Watching news of the fire in B’lore. Dont know if you are at Hong Kong or B’lore rt now, but hope you and your near and dear ones are safe and well.



  17. I’m sorry for joining in so late. Actually I was caught up in the traffic, so I have to agree to whatever you’ve said about the traffic in India. I feel the reasons for this could be so many. For instance, the majority of drivers on Indian roads are illiterate, especially the drivers of heavy cargo movers. Obtaining a Drivers License is just a matter of being able to afford the agents fee. The traffic cops and wardens are ill paid and so seem more interested in making a few extra bucks by way of bribes from the offenders. And generally there is an absolute lack of traffic sense. So driving in India is akin to performing the most daredevil of stunts. However the upside to all of this is, Indians make the most skilful of drivers in the world.

  18. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    I laughingly agree to all that you spoke about…….everything mentioned is so true.”…he mingles with the traffic on the road as harmoniously as bees buzzing on bright flowers….” LOVED THIS EXPRESSION.The NRI part just expresses irrefutable facts.I myself say that I can’t drive on Indian roads.Others can brush away your vehicle without uttering a word of apology……..

    And I have to say now that I must be more active to acquire the first place in the comment list……for it has taken me at the very bottom 😦

    Congrats Shramila aunty,they are gradually increasing……:)

  19. masterpraz Says:

    An inspiring and superbly written piece Sharmila!

  20. what would be the big deal discussing about the whole traffic issue rather than planning something and going and acting upon it. There are 1000s of people out there (indians) who want to make things proper in their respective cities. Everyone understands that change cant be done by sitting an mourning about it. It has to be done collectively. To gather people together and forming and alliance which will force the municipal commission and the help of the Mayor who can initiate the NGOs and Traffic Engineers who would indeed come forward and bring about a change..even if its a small change.

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