Stop driving me crazy!

Stop driving me crazy!


Stop driving me crazy!

It all started out promisingly enough with his complimenting me for maintaining my aging Maruti 800. He was even all praise for me as I skillfully pulled out of the labyrinth of underground car parks at my apartment complex and slipped seamlessly into the traffic on the main road. But I had a nagging feeling his good spirits would not be untouched by Bangalore traffic. As we neared a crowded under bridge, things began to get nasty. “Watch out, Gargi!” he yelled. “You’re right up that guy’s behind.”  

I tried to patiently explain that if I gave an inch, the neighbouring auto driver would take the proverbial mile and try to edge and nudge his way in front of me. While I patiently explained, he did exactly that. It sent me into a frenzy of swear words.  
“You need to watch your road rage,” said the Englishman.

This was just the beginning. “You didn’t even look to see if anyone was coming the other way,” he said, as I coasted over crossroads. Since there was no independent observer present in the car, I can’t comment on the veracity of this claim. But it was quite clear the Englishman was getting increasingly jumpy. I rolled down the window and took a refreshing gulp of fresh air — sorry, smog — and tried to ease his nerves by pointing out various sights of interest. His mind was still on other things.

Englishman: “You Indians honk too much. It’s considered really rude where I come from.”
Me: “I’m just letting them know that I’m behind them. I’m doing them a favour. Now, look at the beautiful trees on this road.”

Englishman: “Oh my god! You almost hit that old woman.”
Me: “You’re being paranoid. She was a good two feet away!”

I didn’t want to prolong his agony, so I headed home. As I was pulling into the car park, the Englishman began to talk quite solemnly, as if he had come to a grave decision.  “I want to have a go,” he said. 

“A go at what?” I asked, backing into my parking space. “Driving in Bangalore.” I almost reversed into the wall.

 Not wanting to deny him the unforgettable experience, we began his induction into Indian ‘chaos’ the following day. As we trundled up the main road, I noticed cyclists zipping past us at incredible speed. At busy crossroads, truck drivers with bemused expressions gestured to the Englishman to go first.

But as the day wore on, I noticed a change in the Englishman. From his tentative first toot on the horn, he had now become a full-fledged honker, spending no less than 10 seconds expressing himself. His body language had changed too.

Where earlier he was hunched over the wheel and staring at the road with dilated pupils, now he was leaning back in his seat and using just two fingers to control the steering. The other two fingers, incidentally, were now artfully employed in making gestures at drivers who had upset him on the road. The honking and two-fingered gesticulating was accompanied by plenty of swearing. “Don’t even f*%*@#* think that you’re slipping into that gap.”

“You almost hit that child,” I said. “Not a chance. I know what I’m doing.” The tables were turning. Yet I had to give him credit, he was learning. In fact, he handled even the most trying situations with élan, on one occasion swerving gracefully aside as a two-wheeler headed confidently towards us up a one-way street. The only time his joie de vivre screeched to an abrupt halt was when we passed a traffic cop.

“He made direct eye contact with me,” he said on one occasion. “I hate Indian cops,” on another. I began to wonder about his questionable past. But there was no doubt that Bangalore roads had awakened the old imperialist in him. He reminded me of the more eccentric officers of the East India Company, throwing themselves amongst the chaos of the natives and relishing every moment. He couldn’t help commenting on the inferiority of Indian roads, but he just couldn’t help having a go for himself. And enjoying it too. In fact, I could hardly get behind the wheel during his visit.

But I did discover the reason for his fear of policemen. “I love driving in India,” he said one day as the sun set on Mosque Road and he expertly dodged a flock of sheep headed for the abattoir. “I really must remember to bring a license the next time I pop over.”