Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why driving in Bangalore is like war

I’ve been driving a car in Bangalore for six years now and have been at the receiving end of horrible drivers throughout. Why, I wondered do people thrust and parry on the roads!? And the answer struck me just yesterday; it is because driving in Bangalore is like war.

Here’s why:

First, the fight for every inch of space. Not unlike armies, drivers in Bangalore know the value of every inch of ground. And they are willing to risk life and limb for it. The auto driver who squeezes his handlebar in the small gap between your rear-view mirror (the left one!) and the electric pole; the two-wheeler rider who jumps on the footpath at the first sign of a traffic slowdown; the taxi driver who tries to climb over the median to avoid the U turn he should take; and by god, even the cow that lazes past a hundred mad honkers!

Next, might is right. In war, the stronger army makes the rules. On Bangalore roads, that privilege goes to none other than the mightly Volvo bus. Clad in red colors, Volvo buses move with the flourish of a Gulliver in a Lilliput china shop. Get close and you are squashed, they warn with just their colors. Incidentally, Volvos prove an old adage about India and Indians: Give an Indian even the least bit of power, and he/she is bound to abuse it. Examples abound, but I digress.

Let me get back to my theme. An important aspect of fighting any war is filibustering. Which is why country after country develops fancy ICBMs and nuclear weapons; the threat of massive action keeps  misguided adventurers at bay. However, the opponent must be assured that you will follow up your bluster with bombs. Bangalore roads are no different. The weapon of choice (after sheer bulk) is the horn. The louder and shriller the honk, the stronger is the threat of action; but it needs to be followed up by a quick thrust to the point of choice. Any delay convinces your opponent that you are all horn and no thrust leading him or her to ignore your filibuster. Which brings us to

Sizing up your enemy. Pakistan, for instance knows that despite all posturing, India does not have the guts to invade it. Similarly, auto drivers know that a BMW is not going to challenge them over a spot in the lane. Scorpios know that autos wouldn't challenge them, and Volvos know that no vehicle will challenge them. Sizing up your enemy quickly is key to success on Bangalore roads.

Bangalore drivers also follow another tenet of war: hitting your enemy at his weakest with your strongest weapon. Think of a two wheeler who overtakes your car from the blind spot. Or a truck that comes barreling down the wrong side of the road at high speed, or a bullock cart who takes up all the space on the road with its bulk, forcing you to get on the wrong side of the road to get ahead. Sun Tzu could take a lesson on the Art of War from our drivers!

Finally, like in war, both victors and victims lose. Both victors and victims end up with high blood pressure, mental fatigue and loss of useful brain bandwidth. The joy of having snatched a square inch of space from one opponent is killed by the threat of the next opponent who is upon you before you can even think of your victory! However, as in, families are relieved to have you back. That alone is a saving grace of the disgrace that we call roads.