Horn Sutra: The Orgasmic Frenzy of Indian Traffic

I am not the envious kind, but I clearly recall a bad episode of it while reading +PURBA RAY's A-Musing for the first time. She already was a celebrated blogging phenomenon; I was green. If you have ever watched green turning green, that was me - now and then. Her way of making me laugh and boil at the same time, her casual yet profound, almost dummies-friendly, conversational style, had me hooked from the start - unlike many, perhaps equally clever satirists who leave you wondering what they are talking about. And no, that was not an obscure autobiographical reference. Like Anurag Kashyap and Shah Rukh Khan, she makes the most of meanings and words such as dichotomous. And as if her attitude wasn't bad enough, she has opinions too. Just imagine.

For a long time, she was just a writer I read and admired, identified with, and did not dare irritate or imitate. Little did I know that she has this way of slipping under your skin, subverting your thinking and making herself a part of your life - without you noticing it. I still remember that during my very first exchange with her about two years ago, I ended up chatting with her as if we knew each other for several lifetimes. That was when I realized how powerful her writing is. I began to see her mastery - making writing seem so natural and graceful, that the art is no longer visible to you. She makes you believe what you are reading are your thoughts, just presented cleverly and humorously, no big deal. To my mind, that is the goal of good writing, no big deal.

Picture of our family (foreground) with Purba Ray (background)

Must have been the greens in the cheesecake, but one fine evening, I asked her if she would consider writing a piece for Subho's Jejune Diet. A few days later, I found this in the mail. Without any further delay (it has already been sitting in my drafts for too long), here is Purba's take on the only thing that matters - survival.

*****

Horn Sutra: The Orgasmic Frenzy of Indian Traffic


The 21st century saw many emerging traits, relegating the old ones to the dustbins of history. But we still insist on conning our newer generations into believing that the peacock is our national bird, even though all they see is crows and pigeons cawing and cooing and shitting on window ledges. The national animal is the near extinct Bengal Tiger, while mongrels continue to multiply merrily under Maneka Gandhi’s patronage. We now have a national insect – the deadly mosquito, a national pastime – outrage, and a national crime – rape. Our school textbooks, however, continue to focus on kharif and rabi crops and Gandhi’s satyagraha movement.

India has moved on. Her record keepers obviously haven’t.


Political parties choose to have cycles, lotus, hand, elephants as election symbols while our roads choke with 70 million cars and 100 million 2 wheelers. Your friendly neta may keep 12 cars in his garage but he will prefer pedaling his way to your heart to grab your vote.

But you are no neta with a cavalcade of cars and commandos protecting your life. If you have chosen to step out of your home, you must make sure you have recited the Hanuman chalisa half a dozen times. If death frightens you, stay at home. Because in a sea of tractors, trucks rickshaws, autos, cycles, cars and two-wheelers, your faith in God is your best chance to stay alive. In fact most motorists drive on the assumption of immortality. Only a mortal with a recently acquired bag of boons from the Almighty will dare jump red-lights, squeeze his way through mean looking buses (with perhaps a trapped woman passenger crying for help), try to run over a hapless pedestrian and if a lowly vehicle decides to share space with him, he will honk his displeasure loud and clear. So loud that the heart patient in the nearby hospital gets a second heart attack, the baby who took two hours to sleep begins to bawl and the scooterist in front hops off his vehicle and pretends to play dead.

Indian traffic, like our society, is structured on a strict caste system. The bigger you are, the more adventurous you can get. A speeding truck, just by virtue of its size and jalopiness, can magically make all traffic scuttle away in fear. If a car has a blinking lalbatti, it has the right to abuse you and any rules that come it way. SUVs with Haryana registration number with drivers in Ray Bans enjoy special reverence. Handcarts, bicycles dogs and pedestrians are treated like women are in India. If they get hit or die, they were asking for it.

All drivers follow an unwritten code of conduct – to slow is to err, to brake is being an ass and to give way is to accept that you’re a loser. If you are a loser, please brace yourself for the choicest of abuses. Most of them will prefer focusing on your female family members and their coital behavior.

But using a horn is more of a social responsibility and no one shies away from fulfilling it. You will often see trucks signalling their approval in form of “Horn Okay please” signages on their ample behinds and all automobiles behind them, before them, under them ascribe religiously to this mantra by tootling their approval.

In case you’re still scratching your heads, wondering what I’m blabbering about! Let me make it clear, for most drivers it’s not just a horn but an instrument of empowerment – to inform, warn, nudge, express displeasure, signal changes in direction, serving as headlights, brakes, side and rear view mirrors. It’s a driver’s brahmastra. In fact some of them are of the belief that incessant blaring will translate into kinetic energy and accelerate the offending automobiles out of its way. If there’s a jam or a red light they honk louder hoping that the cacophonous symphony will compel the souls to leave for their heavenly abode in their cars and scooters.

The roads alive with poo, pee, pyain are a sure shot way of keep boredom at bay. It is the primal mode of communicating with fellow commuters. Short bursts signal impatience and trying to be the change you want to see. Prolonged bellowing - get out of my way, if you want to stay alive! And a feeble beep is simply an indication that the vehicle needs to get it’s ass into a service station as soon as possible.

Sometimes to make things even livelier, motorists take out their guns and use you for target practise. Little wonder, people driving on lonely stretches tend to drop off to sleep and off the cliff. It’s so quiet!

Little wonder, outsiders to our country find our country so exciting that they refuse to go back!

Perhaps what we are witnessing is the onset of a brand new emerging trend, making a smooth transition from Horn Okay nation to a Horny Okay, one. Both are expressions of machismo and feel the weaker ones have no business being out on their own. So they take it upon themselves to teach them a lesson, again and again.

So, if you are a woman, cyclist, pedestrian, or two-wheeled driver, prepare yourself to bark, claw your way through a sea of wolves. After all, it’s the fittest who survives.

38 comments:

  1. I have started believing that honking is an euphemism for brotherly slap. We should be fortunate that honkers are polite enough to indulge us in a brotherly way. And look at the brighter side - someone honking at you is better than a bullet tearing your skull from behind. No?
    On a serious note, honking should be defined as an assault in our country. Even being a guy, I do feel molested every time I return home after driving.

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    1. What annoys me the most is when drivers start honking at red-lights. As if they expect themselves to turn into Moses and part the river of traffic.

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  2. Thanks to your lovely introduction, I read Purbas older posts again. Her ability to be profound, witty and sarcastic all at the same time is amazing. It's a pleasure to read her.....always.

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    1. And your positivity is an inspiration for me.

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    2. Thanks, Alka. Reading older posts is always so much fun.

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  3. I am praying that if God recreates me as Indian in my next life, He sends me back as a truck. Alternatively, I wouldn't mind coming back as a sunglassed Haryanvi in an SUV.

    But first, I am getting a triple horn installed on my Nano.

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    1. I suggest you start looking for a Haryanvi father-in-law to end your miseries.

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  4. As wonderful to read as ever! Struck a raw chord having been a recent victim of the one thing that Purba has not mentioned :) Two-wheelers using the pavement to get ahead of the traffic. One such got on within a couple of feet of me and in jumping to avoid him I fractured my right hand :)

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    1. I am so sorry to hear that! That must have been such a frustrating experience.

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  5. And me on my bicycle. No wonder people are going deaf and their age not being the reason.

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    1. Driving in India can be extremely stressful.

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  6. You get honked at even if you can't do anything about it. Lovely article. What bugs me on road are the buses who honk all the way to get ahead and then immediately stop right in front of you as soon as you let them overtake!
    My friend was yelling me that in the US they barely use it.

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    1. Honking is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. In most countries using the horn is reserved only for emergencies.

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  7. On Indin roads, big is beautiful/effective indeed. And the louder the horn, the more respect you get. I have often jumped out of the way by the loudness of the horm imagining the largest of vehicles bearing down upon me, to see a mousy scooter zipping past the horn still blaring. It is a circus out there, with untrained wild beasts running amok.

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    1. The NCR is becoming worse with each passing day. Traffic rush-hour is no longer restricted to office hours. Even at 11 in the morning, you can expect a jam that stretches for miles.

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  8. Blowing the horn is a national pasttime which in no way facilitates movement of traffic on a crowded road. There does not appear to be an escape from this as people have scant respect for laws! Thanks for hosting Purba who is capable of turning the most serious subject as a hilarious one which very few are capable of:)

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    1. Imagine the plight of Traffic constables, who have to put up with this assault all through the day!

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    2. Thanks, Rahul. What I like most about her writing is the way she can make unpleasant topics fun reading and wake me up to my own complacence and sometimes hypocrisy.

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  9. Women fall right down the spectrum. They are harangued. Their driving skills are made fun of. Everone has a right to check them out and give lascivious smiles. It is a jungle on Indian roads. Great post!

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    1. An elderly colleague was harassed so badly by a bunch of young boys that she stopped driving to work.

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  10. Purba,

    I fully agree with you on unwanted honking. If one wants to just " honk" for enjoyment, then do so at home in the evening with favorite malt. But at times one needs to request the slow moving vehicle in front in the extreme right lane to either speed up or move to left slow lane, specially when other lanes also have slow moving vehicles not letting one in hurry to overtake from left or wrong side. This normally happens when you find more than 3 autos driving in formation.

    Take care

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    1. We need more lanes, fewer vehicles and more traffic control.

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  11. Hi Purba,

    A recent visit to the US showed me how ignorant and loud we Indians are. I hardly got to hear any horns in US while here, we already know what happens once we step out of our houses. I'm not even asking for a ban, I feel that the manufacturers should stop putting horns in cars made in India. Let the people taste silence for some time and it would also teach them to drive on the roads with no honking.
    I seriously do not foresee any method of teaching Indians to drive on the roads, when the Law & the Police themselves are so corrupted. God save this country.

    @ Subhorup - Thanks for finally letting the cat (post) out of the bag (draft) :) :) :)

    Regards

    Jay
    My Newest Blog Post | My Entry to Indiblogger Get Published

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    1. Same is the scenario in Australia. Honking here is considered rude.

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    2. Honking with Indians is both a conditioned reflex and a stamp of power ...My take? We aren't rude - just unaware and insensitive. For a land that gifted the world the concept of "awareness" through practices like Meditation and Yoga, we are a singularly "blind-and-loving-it" people... The only saving grace is our self-sustaining warmth that seems to magically nourish itself through the vicissitudes of life. Subhorup, I'd love to talk to you personally - I came upon this post through Joe Koster's link in his Listening Post mail - I'm located in Hyd. too.

      Your writing has both flair and depth - qualities that I 'm subconsciously and instantly drawn to in anything I read - and, in that sense, shares something of those traits you mentioned about Purba's writing. Thanks for sharing this post with us all - she's a treasure!

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  12. Good one. Banning honking altogether is not practical. I think vehicle manufacturers should do something about this necessary evil. Reduce the decibel level and penalize vehicles that exceed the decibel level.

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  13. Reminded me of an old post that I had written way back in 2005, in infant days of my blogging : http://anuradhagoyal.blogspot.in/2006/05/species-on-bangalore-roads.html

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    1. An evergreen topic to outrage about :-)

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  14. I concur with the thick end of the stick bit, but I find that the evil driver in this post is an implied male. Most men will agree, even if grudgingly, that if there is one driver that they fear most on the road, it is a lady.

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    1. Ahha! are we turning this into a gender war! Just because a few nervous women take wrong turns, are you going to blame the entire tribe?

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  15. Excellent Post. Did the author travel in Hyderabad? I liked the Moses part a lot. This is daily / hourly/ minute occurrence here. Can we link this to "Hyderabad Traffic Police ' page please?

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    1. Pattu, I have yet to visit Hyderabad :-)

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  16. What a brilliant piece of writing from Purba!
    Whiling going through it I felt like I'm trapped in a chaotic street among utmost nuisance... till then essence of humor made me slid through the honking bobos and drop down to comment box :))
    BTW Subhorup, talking little off-topic, Nepal has many beautiful places and even 6 months won't be enough, even for a peeping-tom... certainly Tikapur is not among those worthy places... but someday if yo feel like I can make an itinerary for you :)
    Cheers!

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    1. Purba feels humbled by your effusive praise :-) Thank you so much.

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  17. Hahaha! Nothing like a Purba piece to make you smile again:) Subho, what a fantastic intro to Purba. Yes, her ease with writing, a satire that on second look shows its intellectual depth and is so much more than humour--they do baffle me. Love Pattu's comment on linking it Hyd Traffic Police page. We should do it for all cities:)
    A friend had remarked that in India, we drive not visually, but with our auditory senses. If we cannot hear traffic, we dont know how to manoever. Recently drove with a friend whose car horn was malfunctioning. It was a very interesting drive...:)

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    1. This is an intro I'll cherish for a lifetime, Bhavana!

      Trust an outsider to have such clarity on our chaotic state! A friend from Singapore remarked "here in Singapore, the rules are so black and white that when one party is "right" they just don't want to compromise which makes the roads kind of deadly especially if the other driver is really bullheaded. Here if you horn, you are a moron but in India horns are a means of communication and there seems to be a sense of compromise between drivers".

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  18. Great one, Subho. One really needs to experience it to believe it. It is really amazing how we react to our traffic conditions. Having driven in most parts of India, I find Hyderabad to be one of the biggest abusers of traffic rules and also some of the worst traffic sense prevails here. The longevity of my stay here might have clouded my judgement. Driving to and from work has become impossible. For the last few months, I have opted to use public transport. Honestly, I am lot more at peace now. While it is a little inconvenient compared to having the luxury and flexibility of owned transport, I find it a lot less taxing on me.

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