Sunday, March 21, 2004
THE LOW SPARK OF HIGH-HEELED BOYS
Traffic units here use the left lane (yet another legacy of the British occupation) and roundabouts are a chaotic clockwise free-for-all of horse-drawn carts, giant colorfully-painted trucks, scary war-era steel busses, bicycles, cows, smoke-spewing rikshas and two-wheelers.... yet it somehow usually sorts itself out. Horns are used constantly and if yours is broken you might as well be a dead Indian. Unlike at home laying on the horn is not considered rude or some kind of complaint or a way to start a fight but rather a way of announcing "I'm here." In fact most trucks and rickshas have "Sound Horn Please" written on their bumpers in beautiful colored script (usually yellow). If you are driving along on your Honda Activa four-stroke scooter and hear a horn, you pull over to the left side of the lane and let the vehicle pass. As you already know, passing here is also done in the opposite lane, preferably on an uphill curve (see below for who is most likely to win the many many games of chicken that take place because of this).
For the record, parking is often done on alternate sides of the street, depending on if the date is even or odd (and if you're here doing yoga like me you often have no idea what day it is, let alone the date, and sometimes get busted). Two-wheel parking on the sidewalk is de rigeur, while most pedestrians prefer to walk in the street (where there's cowpoop and lots of sand/dirt that gets into your flip-flops, among other things). Most intersections don't have signals; two-wheelers usually push up to the front of the queue, because they can (you never want to get behind a ricksha because they are slow and spew acrid, lung-blackening smoke). Some bigger intersections feature a white cowboy-hatted police officer in a little go-go cage in the middle; he gracefully waves a white-gloved hand in the direction of the lane that has the right of way (this too is done clockwise and makes more sense than you could imagine; with one lane going at a time it's *no problem* to make a right-hand turn here [similar to doing a left in 'Merica]). At the few intersections where there *are* signals -- they also go clockwise, very auspicious -- they have a big timer that lets you know exactly how many seconds remain until you get the green. This is helpful because, in an effort to save petrol (which is not artificially cheap due to government subsidies, as it is in the US [instead really important things like medical care are cheap]) most ricksha and two-wheeler drivers turn off their engines while they wait. When 15 or 20 seconds remain it's just like someone yelled, "Gentleman, start your engines," and the air fills with the sound of starting engines and the eau of grey exhaust fumes. Then we all jockey to see who wins that small race....
MYSORE TRAFFIC HIERARCHY
(ie; who wins the chicken fight)
4. Tata Sumos / Other SUV's
5. Metros, Vans, Cars
12. Male Pedestrians
14. Female Pedestrians