Update on the Driving…

… I hate it! I hate it not so much because I have to go from driving an automatic car to a manual one, but because driving in Mumbai is not a pleasure at all. I previously mentioned how different it is driving in Mumbai when compared to San Francisco, because it had more to do with the way people drive and the lack of road discipline and blah, blah, blah. But as I have completed my 4th driving class, I am realizing that my irritation with driving in Mumbai is not so much to do with how things wok on the roads and with the cars, but with how many people and things you have to dodge when driving in this city!

For one, most pedestrians insist on walking on the roads instead of using the foot path or sidewalks. It’s like a disease. Although we do not have the best footpaths in Mumbai, because there are almost always cracks or crap on them, we still have good enough foot paths for people to utilize. Why people insist on walking on the roads is anybody’s guess. Actually, that is not entirely true. I suspect that the denizens of Mumbai walk on the roads, where cars are meant to be (than on the footpath), is because we have the hawkers who have taken over the sidewalks of Mumbai. And I am not kidding when I say that, because in most parts of Mumbai, the hawkers are like little cockroaches that have bred (and continue breeding), so that anywhere you turn or any sidewalk you are on, you will see them there. They could be selling anything from vegetables to flowers to bed sheets and underwear. You name it, they have it! I can’t say that I am innocent in all this, because I am also one of the gazillion people in Mumbai that depend on these hawkers, especially for my weekly veggies. But come on, can there be another, better way to have them carry out their operations? Can there be a more efficient, smarter way for hawkers to sell their stuff without inconveniencing pedestrians? I do not believe I will live to see that day.

In any case, it could be said that because people are used to walking on the roads instead of the sidewalks due to the hawkers, it has become a perpetual habit for them to now walk on the roads, irrespective if the footpaths are empty or not. So can you imagine trying to drive on the roads and in the by-lanes with people all around you? It is incredible how casually they walk on the fringes of the road, and yet they are in your bloody way, their arms flailing about, people on their cellular, as if they were having a stroll in the park. It frightens me every time I drive because I think I am going to knock someone down. Apart from pedestrians on the road, there are cyclists and motor cyclists that zoom in like meteor showers and it’s so hard to anticipate which side they are coming from, especially when you are too busy managing your time changing gears! Gosh, this driving is killing me and will be the number one cause of my death, I promise you!

In addition to this mayhem, there are men with hand carts and bullock carts that also own the streets and you have to compete with them as well, when trying to drive safely. There are also cats that randomly cross the street, and dogs that just park themselves where they shouldn’t and you have to be careful to not run into any of these creatures either.

I think the worst part of it all, is that I am becoming like, or at least it seems, that kind of driver who I never want to be: the one who always honks! Trust me, I have been and still am so critical and irritated by people who honk. But with every day I am in the driver’s seat, I am becoming more aware of the necessity to honk than anything else. People mostly honk to let people know they need to get out of the freakin way!! I have started doing this myself and it actually gives me great joy, because it is more a catharsis, to honk at them in the hopes that it will scare the living day lights out of them. But who am I kidding? They continue to merrily stroll, and if they move, it will be half an inch and you find yourself back where you started – muttering obscenities to yourself because most pedestrians do not have a brain!

Just this afternoon, as I was driving, some of the neighborhood kids took over half a lane to play India’s favorite sport, India’s most treasured past time – cricket. So I honk and the kids stop playing and make way for the car. A pedestrian is standing on the left corner of the street gazing at the kids and probably very involved in the game. I am about to turn left and almost into him, and so I honk. The man does not move, does not bat an eye, and continues to be enthralled in the game. So there I am making adjustments so that I do not knock him down (even though I so wish I could!).

I do not know. I am just going with it and trying to be patient with this whole “driving in Mumbai’ business. The only thing I can say is, “God help me!”

On a more positive note, I am so enjoying the pleasant and cool weather in Mumbai. Granted, it is not cold like how a “winter” should be, but this is enjoyable and loveable weather all the same. I continue to be amazed at how I can be in a room, hours on end, without the fan, let alone the air conditioner. I know these days are numbered and in the next month the heat will be so bad, it would feel like I was being charred with every bleeding moment. But until then, I thank my lucky starts that my first winter in Mumbai is a benevolent one.


My first driving lesson in Mumbai

Yes, my friends, I have “voluntarily” committed myself to 21 days of driving classes in Mumbai. Today was my first day and I HATE driving a manual car. After driving an automatic in the USA for about 6 years, where driving was a breeze, I feel like I am in the pre-historic era, trying to drive a car that operates on 5 gears, that has a clutch, an accelerator, and a break! I cant’ say that I ever enjoyed driving. I am one of those creatures that have always had some kind of aversion toward driving. While sitting behind the wheel brings great joy and pleasure to most folks I know, it induces a state of anxiety (and sometimes even comatose) in me every time I have to drive. A past life thing?

Anyhoo, I think I did OK for my first lesson in driving. For someone who is used to obeying traffic rules, giving way to pedestrians, and taking the law really seriously, driving in Mumbai is like driving in a zoo! The concept of “road discipline” does not exist and I was barraged by cars from all sides of the road and it was non-stop. I had a rude awakening today on two occasions: First, when I was approaching a main junction where there were no traffic lights, I asked the instructor if I should slow down and see if there were other cars that were already at the junction that were ready to cross. To my great surprise, I was told that there was no need to stop and I should just continue going and if there was traffic from the other side, they would stop. This made no sense to me and sounded like an unsafe practice. But hey, I figured when in Rome, do as the Romans do, even if you have to die!

Second, I was making a turn into the left lane and as I was getting into the lane, I saw some pedestrians crossing half way through. I told the instructor that I should wait until the pedestrians cross before I completely turn into the left lane. And I almost jumped out of my seat when I heard, “Why should we stop and let the pedestrians cross? Can’t they see there is a car coming? You just keep going. They will stop.” Granted, the pedestrians did stop  crossing half way through the street, even though I swear I was so close to running them over because of my instructor’s insistence to get in their way.

This whole driving lesson situation that I am in will last for another 20 days. My next lesson is on Monday. On a funny note, well, maybe not so funny, in the first 10 minutes of my driving, the instructor asked me if I was living in “America.” When I said yes, he said, “Makes sense. You keep wanting to drive onto the wrong side of the road.” Yes, indeed. I found myself driving on to incoming traffic a couple of times. Lucky me, I wasn’t driving during peak hours!

I guess it would be safe to say that, if you do not hear from me in about 4-5 days, you can be sure I was driving on the wrong side of the road.