Thursday, January 10, 2008
The road bites back
A Kochi bus - faith is mandatory
I was expecting to be challenged but not in quite this way. I anticipated profound questions about life and the meaning thereof to come a-knocking. I braced myself for a severe testing of character. Instead I find myself dealing with a series of banal annoyances related to group travel. I'd forgotten how much I dislike prolonged discussion about issues that don't need to be discussed, much less have the same information repeated fourteen times accompanied by a healthy helping of condescension.
Before anyone panics, I'm having a great time. Loving the country and the people. I'd show you some but this is the second internet cafe that has rejected my fabulous new card reader, so I'm drawing from the first cache of images I had the good sense to save on my friend Flickr. Having had experiences on various forms of transport that make Flycoaster look like a trip to the nursery in a Maclaren buggy, I find myself unusually preoccupied with the question of life and death.
Anyone who has experienced Indian traffic will know that the first law of the road is save yourself and, if possible, the pedestrian. It is far less destructive to your vehicle to run into a person than another metal object. There are no protocols for giving way and stopping is not considered until the destination has been arrived at. In lieu of formal provision for merging a complex system of horn blowing, combined with highly skilled defensive driving keeps the traffic flowing. My fellow travellers are convinced that these people know what they're doing and they wouldn't risk their livelihoods recklessly. I, however, believe that risks have consequences and deal with the situation by keeping my head firmly planted in a book.
I'm winging it a bit here but I wonder if this says something about the Indian perspective on life in general. In addition to driving with wilful abandon they also remove the seat belts from cars. That has to be a statement of some kind. We're all a bit paranoid when it comes to road safety and insisting on booster seats for twelve-year-olds is surely asking for a generation of profoundly disturbed people in future. I'd be much happier with a more relaxed attitude to personal risk but I do draw the line at taunting the reaper.
Considering the two extremes raises the question - is the concept of preventable death valid? Clearly the Indians don't think so. They're slightly less relaxed about preventable umpiring decisions though. Tomorrow we're walking through a tiger reserve which will be far less scary than riding along dirt tracks in an auto-rickshaw.