I have been driving for 9 years now. 6 years in India and 3 years in the US. Initially, I found it difficult to drive in America. I was used to the kind of defensive, survival-of-the-fittest skill we are used to practising in India, while behind the wheel of a car. The fact that everything (or mostly everything) on the road could be predictable, orderly and rule-based was not only astonishing, but also unnerving. For many days, I would instinctively slow down while approaching a traffic light. My driving instructor, who guided me for three classes, would get irritated and ask me what on earth I thought I was doing? It seemed absurd to explain that in India, I would fully expect someone to come hurtling at me for some other direction at an intersection and so I was just being cautious.
Never mind. I got used to this new strange style of locomotion. I even began to like it. Driving became a pleasure due to it's ease and simplicity. In India too, I had revelled in driving my little cars, not because it was fun, but because I derived a grim satisfaction from navigating our crazy traffic, and coming out alive.
For 2 years in the Bay Area, I was the designated dropper-off at Ads' preschool. The first school he went to, was just 4.5 miles from home. It took me exactly 15 minutes to get there. I don't remember ever having been caught in traffic, or some other bottleneck, and having to re-route, or arriving late at the school.
Now that I am once again designated dropper-off for Ads, the situation is, as you can imagine, more than slightly different. For starters, we have to take an unscenic byway - the picturesque (not!) village of Bhangel. My car executes what can only be described as a cacophonic motorised twist in between a crazy concoction of motorbikes, cycles, cars, trucks, buses, and random vehicles precariously carrying long steel rods and sheets of glass. 10 minutes of sheer torture later, we emerge, hopefully un-scratched, into the relative peace of the New Dadri Road, as it is called, a nice smooth road marred only by the undisciplined driving. It's after coming to Delhi that I realized that as long as drivers aren't educated on road discipline, as long as any fool can buy himself a driver's license, it matters little whether our roads are good, and whether we have the requisite number of 4 or 8-lane expressways and flyovers; traffic will always be chaotic, and let's not blame our oversized population which forms but a small part of this problem.
Anyway, back to the school route. The Dadri Road is interesting in that the exits from this high-speed road have been constructed in such a way that they are the default choice - if you aren't careful in moving to the left side of the road well in advance, you will find yourself pushed into one of the exits and taking an unintentional U-turn! Having escaped from this particular pitfall, we take a right to take us to Sec 49 where it appears that the entire population of one UP village has congregated right in front of the driveway to Kothari International School. There seems to be a market or something in progress, every single day. Tractors, concrete mixers, rickshaws, jostle for space with Skoda Octavias, Honda Citys and other cars of lesser vintage; pushing past this jam takes nerves of steel and a certain recklessness which I happily seem to possess. Needless to say, constant pressure on the horn and a few choice Punjabi swear words will also help!
The contrast between a swank "international" school, complete with swimming pool and lawn tennis ground, and the milling crowd of villagers, farmers and constructions workers just outside this school, is so typical of India. Just like the unintentionally ironic billboard near my apartment, advertising one of the many "global" schools, perched above a whole line of asbestos-roofed huts, where not a single kid would be attending even a Government school. I wonder which outdoor advertising company dreamed up such a location for their board???
I wish I could say that this situation is unique to the NCR region. Sadly, it is a mirror image of what is happening with minor variations in all our metros, and every other small town in India. So I fully expect many more driving (mis?)adventures as I continue to play household chauffeur. The bright side (yes, there is one!) -- I have my fill of several FM radio stations and am staying current with all the latest Bollywood numbers!