The road talk

To cheer myself up any morning as I set out on my scooter, I switch the lights on although it is broad daylight. And then wait for it: for signs, from oncoming two wheelers, pedestrians and motorists. Even before I have driven away from my residential street, a friendly Bangalore pedestrian would indicate that my lights are on at day-time. He may raise his hand to his shoulder level, have eye contact with me, pump his thumb and fingers as though he is pressing an imaginary rubber ball. This is his signal to me to switch off those lights. I smile a silent thank you and switch them off.

Only to switch them on again, a moment after I pass him by. An oncoming scooterist might note my blazing lights, momentarily take his hand off his handlebar, quickly shake it a bit. I nod a thank you, and switch off. And then put them on. Perhaps a motorist this time, in daylight, may switch his car’s lights on, flash them off and on for me. I switch off and nod my thanks. I get many more friendly hints of this kind. And I do this for a lark.

Then there are signs used by the city’s motor vehicles. If a car wants to make a right turn, the rules say stick your hand out straight. In practice, this hand sticking takes many forms. Some will have it out, but dangling limp. Others use it to flip ash off their cigarette — which may or may not mean a right turn. Still others have the arm sticking out but making a right angle at elbow, and you interpret whatever you can.

Many Bangalore roads have trees that form a canopy. The foliage is at a height such that loaded tall trucks need to drive in the right lane to avoid entanglement with leaves. They drive slower than cars but hug the right lane so you perforce break the law and overtake from the left. And the truck’s cleaner is constantly got his left arm out his left window. That cleaner’s arm is waved about every which way. It can mean ‘slow down’ or ‘we’ll turn left’ or ‘we’ll turn right’ or ‘Isn’t my tattoo great?’ or ‘I need air in my armpit’ or any or all of these.
Cosmopolitan Bangalore has a cosmopolitan road language!

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