The roads of Mumbai are special. Here, cars, tractors, buses, lorries, scooters, bullock carts, fruit and vegetable carts, cycles, goats, chickens, dogs, cats and people all jostle for space. Space is hard to come by on Mumbai roads. So there is always some negotiation, a bargaining of sorts happening at every other juncture. The pedestrian may raise up her hand and cross the road when vehicles are just getting a headstart at their vrooming, but she won’t be able to finish crossing. A biker may completely ignore her existence and go ahead and accelerate. The pedestrian will have to make peace with getting stranded in the middle of the road for at least 30 seconds.
The ungallant biker will be met with his just deserts when he encounters a crabby cat choosing to spring out of nowhere and determining upon crossing the road. The biker will curse under his breath but he will have to press the break when he was zooming at 60 km/hr, and it’s not a pleasant thing to break when one has set out on never stopping until one reaches one’s destination, not even for traffic signals.
The Mumbai road is like an old friend with disgusting habits that you’ve come to accept, and sometimes even like, because he has been around for so long now and you’re grown used to him. Dirty, dusty, severely pockmarked with potholes as the Mumbai roads are, I have grown reluctantly accustomed to them over 5 years of regular, sometimes daily, use of them on my bike.
The users of these roads have bonded into a nomadic community of sorts over the mutual knowledge of the vagaries of the roads, its looks, its tendencies. They’ve even developed a language, composed of nods, looks and beeps – any fellow member will be able to speak and understand it and it only takes a year on the road to learn it. I as a 5-road years-old driver am quite fluent in it.
For instance, when two vehicles meet in such a way that each is in the way of the other, the more courteous driver of the two will nod at the other, telling him or her to proceed further while they wait. When a driver inconveniences another, there is a special sorry-nod to express regret that of course, differs from person to person. While taking a turn at the bend of a road it is not only courteous to signal your arrival with not more than one beep of the horn, but also, really, imperative to avoid danger. You must, after all, alert the jostlers of your coming.
Besides the language, there is the courtesy that one must show for another while on the road. When moving in a flow with the other vehicles, for instance, if another wants to impose itself right in the middle of the flow, you must rearrange and make room for it. The round-turning truck or any such road beast, while it negotiates for space in a tiny gulley, must grudgingly allow the relentless flow of scooters and motorbikes to come in the way of its turning.
You must allow the bikers to overtake cars by driving on the right. If you are a biker and are caught driving on the right by an on-coming vehicle, you must settle for the onslaught of cuss words that will be slung at you from everyone and everywhere, even from the urchin running besides you.
So you see, these roads of mine are quite an experience unto themselves.