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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Traffic #1: Driving on a hope and a prayer

Drivers in Chennai can best be characterised as both very brave and very optimistic.

We’re sitting in traffic in a deep underpass, stuck between a bus and the concrete wall. The bus is angled in so that it forms a narrowing corridor against the wall in front of us. Buses it should be understood are the rulers of the urban roads here. Wide, green hulking behemoths, like Sherman tanks they slowly but inexorbitantly wander the streets on their own path and everyone else has to skittle around them accordingly. But despite the potential for being crushed by this pitiless giant beside us and despite the impossibility of fitting an auto through the 2 foot wide front gap, the auto driver nudges in. As I said, optimistic. I feel like a jet ski trying to pass a tanker in the Panama Canal.

He eventually decides that he can’t fit (I am wondering what he was seeing originally) and backs out. Immediately a motorcycle makes its own failed bid. Finally a bicycle has snaked up to us and sneaks through. If this was the Panama Canal, he would be the passing swimmer. Brave. But then again, the same bus has a gaggle of people hanging off its side as it drives and other vehicles speed past and we all walk shoulder-to-metal along the sides of the road being as there are nearly no sidewalks. So if you are going to set the bar of insanity in Chennai traffic, you’d better set it pretty high lest we all be committed. Chennai is a city where this small scene is normal and regular. In fact, I only share the story because we were stopped long enough and with enough light for me to write it down.

As much of the time I have to think and look is in traffic, this will not be my last post on the subject.

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