When I first arrived in Bangalore, I couldn't figure out why people were always laughing when they saw my roommate, Joelle, and I out travelling. At one point I thought it was a reaction to us obviously being foreigners. Now that I've been here a while, I've realised that's not all of it. The other reason they stare and laugh is me. They laugh because I have an extremely communicative face and they find my horrified expressions amusing. The cause of my fear can be summed up in two words BANGALORE DRIVING
My initial experience of Bangalore driving was my ride from the airport when I arrived. When I got in the car, I automatically went to the front seat. It might have been the wee hours of the morning, but no way was I going to miss out on seeing the city I'd be calling home for the next 6 months.
I should have smelt a rat when the driver turned to me and said, "Don't worry madam, only driver wears belt" when I pointed out that my seatbelt didn't work. I wasn't alarmed or even too surprised; I've been in countries that require only the driver to wear a seatbelt. I was shocked, however by how heavy the traffic was at 2 am. I've since learned that there's always traffic in Bangalore.
My second shock was the speed at which the driver hurtled down the freeway with no concern to driving basics like staying in his lane. I never checked the speedometer but I know we were going too fast. To add to this, the car I was in didn't seem to have a horn or indicators. So every time another car came too close, or the driver decided to change lanes or pull a Transporter style stunt, he would just flash his lights.
I was pumping my air breaks, gripping the dashboard and dodging to avoid the cars he insisted on passing within a hair's breadth of. I lost my cool when he decided the best way to get past the car in front of us, and the one keeping pace with it in the right lane was to create his own lane, between them. His reaction to my loudly proclaimed "What are you doing?" was to volunteer to stop so I could move to the back seat.
What I didn't know then, but I now know, is that by Bangalore standards, he was a fairly safe driver. He might have been zipping in and out of the traffic, but he never used the emergency break or seemed surprised by what was going on. Another thing I now know is that everyone drives like this. E-VE-RY ONE! At first I thought maybe there weren't road traffic regulations and it was a free-for-all, dog-eat-dog situation on the streets. Then I saw this...
So, there are rules, and people learn them. It's just that no one follows them
I'd love to end this blog post on an awesome, totally uplifting, transformational note. To tell you that I no longer freak out every time someone does something crazy on the road. Unfortunately for you, honesty stops me from doing so. I still cringe, make weird facial expressions and stop mid-sentence when someone cuts off the vehicle I'm in. I haven't stopped. Any improvement has been marginal at best, and honestly, I hope it doesn't go away. I don't want to become so oblivious to the crazy around me that I accept it as normal. The other awesome ending for this blog would be to tell you I've come up with a revolutionary new way to improve people’s driving and stop the insanity. Once again honesty prevents me. Instead I wonder if there is anything that can be done. How do you get people to follow the rules? How do you get the commute to make sense and be easier for everyone involved?
I don't have the answers but, in the meantime, I'll try and work on making my facial expressions a little less entertaining.