While driving, see the signs

Incredible India

While driving, see the signs

Unfortunately, slow moving trucks and break-neck speed buses do not mix. The bus will probably be driving at a speed less than a metre behind the truck in front, so try not to look. It will make a sudden jerk to the right with the aim of overtaking; it will make another, this time to the left in order to pull back in as there will be on-coming traffic. After a few on-coming vehicles pass, the driver will pull out once more, put his foot down and go for it. However, there will be more on-coming traffic.

At this point, you should be on the wrong side of the road with your heart in your mouth. The bus driver will have the horn blowing non-stop. The truck he is attempting to overtake will slow down so you may do so. Once you pull back in, you miss the traffic coming your way by a whisker. This will be the scenario all through the night.

But, it’s not all bad. Indeed, travelling by bus can be an absolute blast because some light relief will be always be on offer. Travelling certainly broadens the mind, and travelling in India has definitely opened mine to the endless talent and wit available in the sign-writing business. I’ve seen, ‘Hurry-Burry spoils the curry!’ in four-foot green and yellow letters, and who could fail to nod sagely at the following gem in white and red — ‘Better to arrive 15 minutes late in this world than 15 minutes early in the next!’

The Leh-Srinagar Highway has a baffling array of signs, including, ‘This is a highway not a runway’, ‘Drive like hell and you’ll be there’ and ‘Do not be rash and end in a crash’. Pure poetry. But one of the best ones has to be the highly sensuous, ‘Be gentle on my curves’. Surely, they are not really talking road safety, are they? The signs themselves may actually be more trouble than they are worth.

Drivers who care to read them may end up in serious trouble, losing control of the steering wheel as they reel in fits of laughter. As the hapless driver becomes gripped by uncontrolled laughter, he plummets over the cliff edge, and, just before leaving the road, he may glimpse the sign that reads, ‘Hospital ceiling are bored to look at’.

Do sign writers spend hours thinking up these wonderful sayings? How about the brilliant play on words, ‘Mind your brakes or break your mind’ and the very catchy ‘Don’t dream or you will scream’. Indian road signs are an endless source of fascination to foreigners.

We are not really sure whether they are deliberately funny or are written and designed in some workshop by deadpan workers and bosses who fail to see the wit in their work. But, through the wit, a serious point is being made — signs like ‘Donate your blood at the blood bank, not on the highway’ can provide a stark reminder that India doesn’t have the best road safety record in the world. I’ve been on more than a few bus rides with first time visitors to India who see the signs, experience the driving, view the mangled trucks by the side of the road and they look to me and ask if it’s safe to travel by bus in India.
Northern India in particular, has the best road signs anywhere in the world, and one thing is for sure — they certainly provide the much needed relief from the ubiquitous long haul, twisting, jolting journey on a ‘sleeper’ bus where no sleep whatsoever is guaranteed.

The klaxon may be a constant deafening sound throughout the night, and after 12 hours, you may be forgiven for believing that you have embarked upon the bus ride from hell. But, just when all seems lost, a passing headlight may catch the sign that says, ‘On this corner please get horny’. At that point, a smile will play on the lips and the preceding 12-hour-grind will somehow seem worthwhile.

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