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.


Ellee Seymour said...

It sounds like a great adventure, lucky you.

That's So Pants said...

Hi Ellee

Nice to hear from you. Yes, it's adventurous (for me anyway) and I'm having a bhaji of a time.



Reading the Signs said...

Pants, thank you for doing all this so I can just enjoy it vicariously. Not the same as Being There, but that's ok by me. Glad you're having a bhaji of a time. I like bhajis so assume this is good.

Liz said...

Brilliant post as ever, Pants.

Isn't it the Indians who believe that the gods/death will take you only when it's your turn, therefore it doesn't matter how you drive?

That's So Pants said...

Hi Signs

My pleasure.

Hi Liz

I believe so, yes. Karma, they call it, I think.



Ario said...

Glad that you're having a good time (and a very happy New Year to you by the way!). Clearly hiding behind a book is the best tactic.

I am reminded of an elderly Iranian friend of mine back when I was living in Nuremberg who refused to drive with his hands on the steering wheel. He used his knees to maneouvre around which was the way he had learned to drive on mountain roads while growing up in some God-forsaken mountain village somewhere in Iran. You have your hands free to smoke and gesticulate, hence it's more comfortable.

Mind you, he did wear a seatbelt. As he told me, he was not a lunatic.

Have a good rest of your stay. Regards,

phil said...

Mrs VVB and I were in Lahore in about 1979, we took a (motor) trishaw and saw the accident coming about 3 decades before the driver. We got out and strated walking, he wanted to be paid. We didn't consider it either transport or entertainment and so we declined the offer.

It's a hoot, really.

trousers said...

Onion or mushroom bhaji? I think we need to be told.

That's So Pants said...

Hi guys

Nice to hear from you all and happy New Year to you too. Sorry about the brisk response but leaving Pondicherry in about fifteen minutes and my friend flickr is still downloading my photos. Never have I known such deadlines.