Honkless in the city (Learning to drive again)

Last month, I returned home to Delhi having been away for 9 months. One of the things I had been silently worrying about was reviving my “Delhi” driving skills. Arriving at the airport 2 hours late and 1 bag less didn’t lessen the enthusiasm and I chose to take the front passenger seat in the cab; THAT gave me the front seat to the roller coaster ride that driving in Delhi is. The cabbie was my teacher & so that was the first step: Learning by observation. I watched as the driver made the cab twist, turn and squeeze through narrow spaces to get me home.

Next in my agenda was a hands-on session and chose a small car for it, the advantages being that a hatchback is easy to park and of course the maneuverability. The BIG disadvantages of my choice: the car has L (Learners) signs on the front and back [how apt, or so I thought!!!] and the horn wasn’t functioning. I wasn’t sure then what I was getting into. When driving in Delhi, the horn is one of the most important tools in your toolbox, probably even more important than brakes. Being honkless would mean that you’re in a boxing ring with no gloves, or like being on a stock exchange trading floor and not be able to shout, its like being on a fast the day you have a team feast.

Initially, the experience was frustrating, being a mute spectator in the chaos, the hand would reach out & hit the horn with intensity but there would be no sound. Add to that, the Learners sign, and that adds 10X hostility when you’re on the road. People don’t honk when they see a L sign but immediately try to overtake you. But then an interesting thing happened: I started to slow down, give way more and observe a lot (by force rather than choice); it gives you a different perspective and makes you less aggressive. That ring of wisdom didn’t last for long though, and evaporated as soon the horn was repaired. Soon after, I regained my Delhi driving skills and re-graduated to my own car.

And thus returned the sweet sound (ahem!) of the horn, and so I was able to contribute some musical notes to the orchestra on the street.

So here my friends, I give you Top 5 tips for driving in Delhi:

1. Changing Lanes
Active observer: When a car in front signals to change a lane, the driver following in the destination lane shall speed to not let the car change lanes.
Actor: If you need to change lanes, first safely get your car 50% into the destination lane and THEN signal. (Rule of thumb: signal after the remaining space in destination lane &lt width of the car that’s following)

2. The L sign
Active observer: L stands for Loser, not Learner. When you see a car with this sign, speed and get ahead as you need to be the Winner. Be a good citizen: don’t distract the loser by honking, let him drive at his own pace.
Actor: Try and get rid of the L tag ASAP. If you had applied a red plastic tape to draw the L, remove any remanents of it completely. An leftover impression of “L” on your car screams “Fresher”.

3. Overtaking
Active observer: Always drive in the fast lane and never give way to cars behind. If they really want to overtake, its their problem not yours. If you don’t like to be overtaken, speed when cars try to overtake you
Actor: If you’re trying to overtake, do so in a fashion and speed such that the driver you’re overtaking doesn’t notice you. Tip: use blind spots.

4. Traffic Signals
Active observer: If the car in front of you stops at a traffic light, honk repeatedly, the guy has no business stopping like that, the color red is over-rated. Also, research has proven that traffic signals change color in a few minutes if you honk.
Actor: Traffic lights and signs are suggestions really.

5. 2-way streets
Actor: On a 2-way street with no divider, be a leader…start a lane instead of joining one. If the lane you’re creating obstructs traffic coming in the other direction, well…a wider road is needed and should be built.
Active observer: If you’re in the traffic that’s coming from the other direction, relax, there’s nothing much anyone can do. Just utilize the lanes left so that no new lanes get created.

Disclaimer: The above is a work of fiction…..Of course I don’t drive like THAT!