You Could Be Killed…

Friday, October 28, 2016

“What the hell do you think you are doing…? YOU COULD BE KILLED”…

The 1st half of my 100 odd cousins who live in New Jersey… another half in the state of Microsoft in Seattle… and a third half spread across the iOffices of Apple Inc. in Cupertino and the Bay Area…

All had equivocally warned me… “you have never driven in the US… don’t even attempt to do that… YOU COULD BE KILLED”…

circa Sep 2002…

I had started to learn to drive a car in 1996 – a clear 6 years before I attempted to drive in Uncle Sam land… not that it was a pre-qualifier for me to have driven in India before I drive in the US… but it helped… somehow… trust me…

Starting to learn to drive a car when you are in your late 20s isn’t any sign of your late arrival in life… nor is it any significant validation of your skills and competencies… or a lack of them – particularly, your Learning Agility…

But I guess I had taken to driving like fish to water… in fact, in Delhi where I lived at that time, that would be called “Owning the Road”… it did not matter which car you drove… as long as you ‘Think in Punjabi’ while you drive…

Only to be warned by the 4th half of my cousins at that time in Hyderabadu… “What the hell do you think you are doing…? YOU COULD KILL SOMEBODY”…

——————–

A host of years of driving later… in Mumbai, where I have been driving for the last 7 years now… driving has a different meaning…

With the teeming 20 million that live in the city… and another 2 that snake their way in and out of the city every single day for their daily livelihood… Mumbai offers unique challenges when I am behind the wheel…

When I got into Mumbai 7 years ago, I knew the city had 2 seasons… a ‘Hot’ season and a ‘Hotter’ season… maybe 2 seasons and a half if you threw in the 3 months of rains into the equation…

But what I did not bargain for is that there are 2 more seasons to Mumbai… the REPAIR Season… and the PREPARE Season…

October brings with it, the umpteen festivals that signal – quite ominously – the ending of the rains and the onset of the Hot season… also incidentally kicks off the Repair season…

BMC, or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the civic body that governs my quality of life… and my lifestyle in this city… reopens its treasure chest for repairing the city and to rid it of its potholes and craters… with promises, always, to get the roads back in shape before Diwali… and to predeem (preemptively redeem) itself of its sins that it has yet to commit… restart all the infra projects that came to a standstill because of the rains…

I adore BMC… it keeps my sense of apathy about Municipal Bodies in the country quite well in place…

But it’s not the pathetic state of the roads that test me, my car, my patience and my spine… there are other idiosyncrasies of the city that test my driving skills… more specifically when I am NOT driving…

I am serious… most of my drive time is negotiating around turns and T-points… where you have the traffic lights… and where, the maximum drama unfolds…

Given the width of the 1.5 lane roads… in which the snaking traffic invariably finds 4 lanes of vehicles to squeeze, it takes an eternity before the turn happens…

Add to that the potholes or the uneven surface of the road around these turns… and you add a few more seconds of precious time for each vehicle to make that turn…

Add peanut vendors… flower vendors… mobile phone accessory vendors… pirated books vendors… and eunuchs to the kerb on the road near the traffic lights… and you have the luxury of spending some more time negotiating the turns…

Add the beggar brigade… particularly the mother in tattered clothes with an equally tattered infant in her arms and you start wondering how to avoid hitting the head of the hanging infant with the exterior appendix of a rear view mirror of your car…

Add to that the pedestrians at every traffic light… and everywhere else… who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain when it comes to the right of the road…

Add to that the left turn never free for you to take at most traffic lights in Mumbai… one of the few cities in the country where the rule is followed…

Add to that the Traffic Cop… who is literally the King on Mumbai roads… because his outstretched hand to signal for the traffic to stop… or to go… is benign and is the God’s own word… to him, it doesn’t really matter if you think in Punjabi while you drive…

——————–

Meanwhile, BMC can wait… can take its sweet time to REPAIR the city in this hot season… and when we get to the hotter season in April and May next year… and the next… and the next… it can PREPARE me for the rains again…

Because life must go on… seasons must come and go… the hot and the hotter season… and the Repair… and the Prepare season…

——————–

20 years down the road after learning to drive… I realize neither sets of cousins of mine on either side of the Northern Hemisphere… neither in Hyderabadu… nor on the Stateside could get me on the wrong side of the road… irrespective of whether I am driving cars with right hand or a left hand drive…

I neither got killed… nor did I kill anyone… in all these years of driving on both sides of the road… er… northern hemisphere… because our Municipal Corporations in the country repair me… er… prepare me well for all seasons… and for the geographies…

Always before Diwali… well… almost…

Happy Diwali…

Ravi Kodukula

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