Ayoh! Albert Einstein never learned to drive either.

We wedge further into the wall of traffic. A slight commotion crops up along the exterior flank; a rickshaw has broken formation (ironically of course), followed by an obnoxious and over ambitious red car. The rickshaw disappears into the distance; the car hoots angrily in failure. A universally known fact has recently been brought to its attention: all rickshaws have the capacity to create a dimensional porthole that automatically transports them to the front of traffic jams and beyond. Additionally, armed with the license to exasperate and a Machiavellian strategy to scale minimally greater heights, no transportation with more than three wheels appears capable of this.

Driving in India is an experience unto itself. It’s not easy explaining to a bewildered non-Indian, who wonders which side of the road we drive on, why the answer is, obviously, both. The traffic is not fast per se, given the numerous potholes, domestic animals and clueless traffic policemen contributing to the general blurriness of road rules. The problem of one way streets is solved by traveling in reverse; road signs and markings are just a suggestion (as are traffic lights occasionally), whose primary purpose is to contribute to the economy by providing paint jobs, and speed breakers are an opportunity to defy gravity for a few short seconds. It’s general knowledge that stopping at zebra crossings will only earn you abusive gestures. After all, Indian pedestrians learn self survival techniques from a young age and will, like the famed chicken, eventually cross the road.

Traffic jams can get notoriously bad, although there is no end of entertainment just outside your window. On one occasion I was able to count 15 adults alight from a single rickshaw (reminiscent of a joke I once heard, except that the people alighting were ordinary denizens and not clowns or the kind to wear papal hats). Public transport in India serves the dual purpose of delivering passengers to their destinations and of providing free lessons in physics. During rush hour in particular, one is afforded the sight of people hanging off people hanging off other people, clinging desperately to anything or anyone physically inside the vehicle. Passengers on the periphery (i.e. mostly outside the rickshaw/bus/train than inside) are introduced to Newtons Laws of motion en route. Precariously unbalanced, this arrangement is also in defiance of the laws of gravity, but in a daily exhibition of miraculousness the overwhelming majority make it to their destination intact.

Littered around the cities and immortalizing historically significant who-knows, are larger than life statues that effectuate to slow down traffic. Occasionally, you can feast your eyes on a colorful procession, that will whiz past in a cacophony of chants and loud melodies, usually led by another (albeit mobile) large, grandly adorned statue. Typically traveling at break-neck speeds and on the wrong side of the road, they appear to be happy pilgrims or religious festival celebrators seeking contact with the All Mighty; their dodgy road discipline is most likely the means through which they achieve this goal, and it is advisable to stay clear at all costs.

I stopped wondering why the Indian masses are so spiritually inclined, a long time ago. I still however, stand in awe of how casually we mess with the space time continuum on a daily basis.

At least 12 happy faces headed home from school in this autorickshaw © Nisha D’Souza

At least 12 happy faces headed home from school in this autorickshaw © Nisha D’Souza

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