I bought a new vehicle in Mumbai, which is an event to celebrate in itself. Not that I have a desire to drive on Mumbai roads; no Sir, not me, there are better ways to end your life. I am still awaiting a suitable driver to show up however, so my reliance is on the good old rickshaw. I can drive stick shift, which my car is, I can drive on the left hand side of the road, where Indians drive (well, most of them), what I can't handle is the mentality of the drivers.
Consider the following:
1. Lane dividers are ignored so a three lane road on peak hours will accommodate five and maybe two motorbikes, a bicycle or two and people of course. Many, many people.
2. Cars do not indicate turns here, none. You are supposed the "read" the intent of others and navigate accordingly. People tell me this comes with "experience". OK?
3. Going down a straight, main road does not grant you the right of way; if others from secondary roads have reached before you, they can nudge in and the stream does not stop. I am always confused as to who has the right of way.
4. It would be common sense to yield the right of way to the vehicle already in the roundabout right? Wrong in
5. What happens if the traffic lights don’t work? Or you think they don’t work? I am baffled when drivers wait at red lights that don’t work, or so I think. But they do work, only I can’t tell the red light because it is so dirty from the dirt, the red does not show! That knowledge, I am admonished, comes with experience, OK?
What takes the cake in this mass madness is the honking. You must honk, you simply must! It is a passion with the drivers here, just like spitting. People (and animals) walk on streets so you either honk or hit them.
For you that live outside of
I ask a friend and tell him I want to get a drivers license. No problem, he says, it will cost you INR5,000 (USD100) greasing money. I am appalled. Bribe? I ask, a bribe? Yes, yes, says he, yes, surprise apparent on his face. No, say I, I shall not bribe. I want one the legal way. My friend giggles, then he giggles again and then he laughs so heartily, tears stream down his cheeks. He finally stops when he sees my baffled face, but even then, relapses into spasm of laughter fits now and then. Listen friend, he says, stop being an American in
My wife Tasneem suggests a distance cousin who is supposed to be an "expert" with these matters. Raju, the "expert agent" comes home and quotes INR3,500 (USD70) for the process, "in and out in 10 minutes", he says, snapping his fingers. That means an hour in
We are early at the RTO, , so we wait under a Banyan tree where the temperature must be about 35C (95F) in the shade and I begin to perspire. There is no hint of any wind and the humidity levels get my body working overtime in about five minutes, rivulets of sweat begin trekking down all parts of my body. The place where my application will be processed is a tin shed devoid of any furniture. A lone bored policeman attempts to fan himself with a tattered newspaper but gives up the attempt soon. There are people milling around and pretty soon the line is about a hundred people long and growing. As is the case elsewhere in
It is now past and my T-shirt is all a patchwork of sweat, as if an abstract pattern; I am very hot and bothered. Suddenly, there is a scuffle in the line up front and then a fistfight, the line disintegrates and people surge forward to enjoy the fight which is short-lived, as a batch of policeman come running, baton swinging; I quickly take cover under another Banyan tree, a fair distance away. Raju has disappeared, gone to join the entertainment, I suppose. Once there is discipline, the police force a new line, away from the shed, away from the shade and right into the blazing sun; the women protest the loudest, the police ignore them. Raju returns, a sheepish grin on his face. I gesture at my watch and remind him of his 10 minutes promise; he shrugs his shoulders and says, "this is Mumbai', as if that solves all my problems.
Finally, at about , a man comes in carrying the blades of a fan and fixes it of the naked housing; the blades begin moving and the crowds stir in hot anticipation. Chairs are brought in and an officer arrives, sits on a chair and is immediately surrounded by a yelling and jostling crowd. I look at Raju for any clue when my application will make it through the crowd. He looks nervous, biting his lips. Suddenly, he grabs my arm and we almost run towards a row of warehouse type buildings with unmanned barred windows where people either mill around aimlessly or sit on concrete benches and stare ahead blankly. We enter a long, dark room and the temperature here drops slightly but the place stinks of urine and unwashed sweat. There are desks strewn around but few chairs that are occupied by people either reading newspapers or talking. Raju disappears again.
I wait and look around. No wonder it is dark, half of the bulbs on lights hanging down from the naked ceiling are empty, the other half are not working. Same with the fans; half of them are idle, the others whirl around so pathetically, I wonder if they are doing me a favor rotating at all while others wobble alarmingly; I make sure I am not under any of them. Raju returns with a sad look. "Sir says no, Sirji, you are not Indian, no? So he says no. I can still do it but it will cost you more, now another USD50" Who is Sir, I ask. "Sir, you know? The manager." In
I lose my temper for the first time; me a very impatient person -
I get another shock as I exit "Sir's" office as the heat and humidity hits me. Raju waits for me with a sullen look on his face; I have taken away his thunder. I hand him the approved documents and he brightens up. "Ok, Sirji, I will have your license by tomorrow ", he says, snapping his fingers.
Yeah, right. And pigs will fly.