Sunday, November 9, 2008

Traffic! Mumbai-Pune, India Sept-Oct.2008. - 3.

Left, 1st picture: view, from a car-notice the riders on motor cycles on the opposite side chatting (see circle mark.)

By hindsight, I am quite awed insurance companies cover accidents and mishaps driving in India, Pune in particular.

If you want to experience driving at its very worst, then choose to hire a rental car or sit in a three wheeler rickshaw, select the morning or evening office rush hour times, and ask to be driven on some main streets of Pune...........the experience will remain with you forever.

Your driver and every other driver......... cars, rickshaws, buses, trucks, delivery vans, motor cycles, scooters, and cyclists in their midst, compete to stay on the road to the exclusion of all others; it is the stiffest competition of survival of the fittest.

Right of way is amply expressed by jerking the car forward in first gear, and quick timely split-second braking if someone is in your way, and that always is the case (the vehicle in front doing the same thing, or a pedestrian darting through ) the meantime every man/woman behind the wheel, on your right or left, and behind you, will try their very best to get you into a corner so he or she can pass all this it is not uncommon to see two or more riders on motor cycles or scooter riders riding alongside, in earnest conversation(!) .....their wives riding on the pillions, in animated conversation as well!

Every motorist is subjected to constant rude blowing of horns for slowing down, never mind the vehicles ahead have slowed down! Pedestrian crossing/zebra crossings are death traps, you have to go on looking at the traffic or get mowed down........that never happens because the Indian pedestrian competes with the swiftest animals for accelerated jumps.

In any case, the majority of pedestrians cross ac cross roads where ever and whenever they please............Very often they will not even care to look at the oncoming vehicles, they just saunter ac cross........their faces turned in any direction but the direction of oncoming vehicles..........hindi, national language: "rasta tere baap ka?" .... Marathi, local language: "rasta tujha bapacha kai?"........ translation into the colonials English: " road belongs to your father what?"

Be prepared to be entertained when you wait at a red "stop" the way, cyclists continue riding, red signals are not their concern! When you stop for signals, beggars will crowd you and if you draw up your window, this does not deter them, they will knock on the glass. One incident, we were seated in a rickshaw and a very young street urchin, a girl, went up on her hands, her palms unmindful of the hot road asphalt, and did a somersault................she got ten rupees from me! The most awful sight are women, in tattered clothes, carrying babies in their arms, these children of God, not older than one year, are very still, almost lifeless........are they drugged? These women stand at traffic junctions and approach with their bundle, God's children, eliciting your pity and kindness to get some alms.

And this is the most crossroads, all kinds of vehicle drivers are very mindful of traffic signals or a signalling cop; but where signals, for some reason, are not operating or stop operating, or the cop has retreated for a cuppa tea or gone off duty, then all hell breaks loose(!!!).............every vehicle, from every side of the cross roads, considers their right of way paramount, the muddle and jam, with vehicles of all kinds inter vined and almost stuck to one another, gets very chaotic and can be very dangerous; it resembles series of knots, irretrievably fully tied up in more knots!!!

To add to woes, roads in Pune, especially roads leading out of the city, are not roads but craters, in parts; vehicles naturally drive around the pot holes, but when the traffic is dense than the unfortunate vehicles have to wobble their way........a high end vehicle or a fully loaded truck is a sight, its upper top swaying like a boat in rough seas!

My very good friend, Marz, lives in Koregaon Park and frequents the "German Bakery" there for coffee...........he has got himself some German and European friends and they say "Marz, we love it here, driving is adventurous, keeps you alert!" And, living in close proximity to the Osho commune, pretty girls in abundance!!

Many of the major roads have night illuminated "buttons," embedded on the road surface, dividing lanes, and centre dividers, green trimmed plants/shrubs topped on yellow stripped blocks; its not that the civic body is not trying to improve things!

And, this time, I have seen a new innovation : all types of adverts on billboards on tall steel masts fixed on specially designed trucks, these parked on the road side, passing vehicles can view the ads.

But the economic boom is evident in Pune, hotels and restaurants, some very swank, shopping malls, office and residential buildings everywhere, again some very modern glass and steel exteriors, new cars on the roads, Hyundais, Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets, Fiats and Fords, and some spanking new Mercs, BMWs and Audis. But dust, pollution, broken roads, stray dogs, chaotic traffic, poverty evident in most places the Cantonment area or Boat Club road, and Kalyaninagar, for example, you might drive for several kilometers and see nothing of poverty and old dilapidated structures.

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