The curse of Indian road manners

By Shahwar Hussain | on October 1, 2015

Shahwar wonders why Indian drivers suffer from the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome.

Every time I ride out of Bhutan, I suffer from a severe bout of depression. When I ride in that wonderful mountain kingdom, I’m a changed man. I ride with care, with discipline, and without any of that invariable stress that I suffer from when I drive in the chaotic streets of Delhi – stress that often leads to high blood pressure and road rage.

An overwhelming majority of us suffer from the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome. We change colours… drastically at times. This behaviour leaves me totally flabbergasted. Dr Jekyll couldn’t avoid his changeover from a caring doctor to the monstrous Mr Hyde. As the story goes, he injected himself with his own concoction that turned him into a monster. Try as he might, he couldn’t reverse the chemical process – and so every night Mr Hyde would wreak havoc.

We don’t necessarily have a chemical imbalance to deal with, but that doesn’t stop us from turning into a foul-mouthed, aggressive monster, ready to fight with (or even without) any provocation – and this is especially true on the road.

The absolute absence of this type of behaviour is the reason why it’s pure bliss to ride in Bhutan. Amazingly, even the big city Indian seems to change his stripes when he’s in Bhutan. This is amazing and amusing at the same time. A chameleon would envy us.  I’ve seen Indian registered cars, driven by Indians on holiday, who follow the traffic rules to the T.

As soon as the drivers spot me on their rear view mirror, the let me pass with a wide berth. They don’t honk unnecessarily, drive with their low beams only, never overtake rashly, and voluntarily stop to let pedestrians cross the road.

One particular West Bengal registered car impressed me a lot. I rode alongside the car for more than two days from Punakha to Phuntsholing, and he drove ever so beautifully. I tried to match his good driving skills and road manners.

But no sooner had we crossed over to India, his driving saw a marked change. He swerved sharply, changed lanes at will. I saw his fist come out of the window and heard him shout at another driver. Well, it wasn’t entirely his fault. The traffic on the Indian side is chaotic to say the least, and so tempers flare easily. I rode roughly too. I left all my good road manners back in Bhutan.

Why do we behave like this? When the Bhutanese drivers can carry on their good driving manners even in the chaotic traffic in India, why can’t we do the same? Is it because we lack courtesy and manners despite being educated? Is it our upbringing? Agreed, Bhutan has much less traffic than India – but that doesn’t justify our bad road manners. When we drive abroad, we become law abiding road users but forget all about this when we return home.

We don’t give a damn when the rules are explained to us in a gentle manner. We flout them with impunity. It’s only when the authorities gets tough, do we fall in line – for a while anyway!

We need a rap on the knuckles to make us follow the most basic of traffic rules. We’re a nation in a hurry, and I wonder where we’re headed. We don’t mind if we literally run over the other person as long as we get there first.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could learn to breathe little easier, be calmer, laugh more, swear less, and respect other road users more. If nothing else, we would be better human beings...

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