It's All Relative

Driving in India is not for the faint of stomach. It always makes me smile a bit when India newbies look into renting a car for themselves because they want the freedom of being able to hit the road when they want and they don't want the hassle of a driver. To them I say, get thee to India and see for yourself!

The traffic in India defies all logic or even laws of nature. It is chaos at its finest and host horrifying. There are no lanes for either direction, to start. Indeed when I saw a stretch of highway with lanes marked, I thought, "How quaint! Lanes! I wonder if people know what they mean!" Overtaking another driver is an art here. There are no turn signals to warn others of your intentions so you honk your horn, a more persistent honk than is used to move stray cattle out of the way or to just notify others of your place in the world at that very instant. This honk has vigor, "I am man, watch me pass you!!" The fact that there may be oncoming traffic at that moment is no deterrent, especially if that traffic is a mere motorbike with a family of 5 on it. If the oncoming vehicle is a truck then more care is made. More care meaning to overtake as fast as possible! Gun it! So what if the guy you're passing is still only right next to you, he's got brakes right? He needs to learn how to use them!

Yes, Indian driving is a class unto its own. 

When the inevitable happens, an accident, then insurance information is calmly exchanged, hands shook, and chai sipped. Ha! On another planet maybe! Let me tell you what I witnessed. A driver with a small white sedan marked "tourist vehicle" brushed up against an illegal local bus. The bus was already beaten down and would be considered for the scrap heap in America. The white sedan had visible bumps and bruises but you could tell it was cared for as it was probably the man's only livelihood. When we arrived on the scene there was a commotion. The man who was obviously the bus driver had a lathi (equivalent of a baseball bat) and was violently beating the cowering driver of the sedan. When the bus driver took a breath the sedan driver would run around to the other side of the car. Meanwhile the occupant of the sedan (indeed there was a man in the back) was yelling at the bus driver, obviously trying to calm him down. This is how traffic disputes are solved in India. No one got out to help, no one tried to restrain the bus driver, the bus passengers watched the whole thing happen. Was it barbaric that no one intervened? Let me tell you a story...

When I was in Ethiopia we were caught up in a traffic jam. Our driver went out to see what the problem was and came back with a report. A child was playing on the side of the road, I guess he didn't notice the truck coming and went out in the road at the last minute. The truck hit the child and killed him. The truck kept going. As me and my traveling companion expressed our horror at the barbarity of the driver, our own driver said that he did the right thing. If the driver had stopped he would have been torn from the vehicle and brutally murdered by the village on the spot. This is justice out here. The driver had called the police and they arrived on the scene to help the family. 

Another example, this time with our driver in India. We were driving on piste roads in the middle of nowhere in Rajasthan when we see a boy who had obviously just fallen off his bike and had a nasty gash on his arm. Our valiant driver, Deepak, stopped the car and brought out his meagre first aid kit from the glove box. He quickly bandaged the boy while a man from the village walked up and started asking questions. Was the boy hit by the car? Thankfully, the boy told the truth. If the boy had said that we hit him, it could have turned nasty. The common protocol would be what the man would ask for a large sum of money from Deepak. And us. Tourists are virtual ATMs here as we are "obviously" rich. The amount he would have asked for could have been as little as $100 or as much as $1000. And this in a place where $100 a month is a common salary. 

Deepak was a good man in many ways, and the fact that he stopped to help the boy, risking not just his livelihood but ours, speaks volumes. In my home country of America you stop if you are in an accident or you hit someone. The consequences are great if you don't. Here, the consequences are great if you DO stop. It breaks my heart that in a country that protects cows and feeds stray dogs can be so brutal to its human occupants. The concepts of karma and caste are strong but isn't karma also about doing good deeds? It's not just about karma being the shitty things that happen to us, but it's also the good that we actively do. We are subject to karma, yes, but can't we also accumulate karma by our actions? I hope so. I think I'm going to go do something good for someone.