In India, it’s ok to honk
Cars honk endlessly as they zip in and out of traffic. Tiny rickshaws burst at the seams with extra passengers, some of whom have their legs or head poking out in an effort to make more room. Women wearing colorful Punjabi dresses and saris sit sideways in the back of motorpeds, some cradling babies in their arms as they make their way through the congested streets.
Vendors selling fruit, snacks, coconuts and souvenirs flood the sidewalks. Pedestrian traffic spills onto the streets because sidewalks are too crowded. Stray dogs sit lazily in a corner basking in the sun. But nothing makes people stop walking, they continue their path uninterrupted. Somehow, the seeming chaos flows in perfect harmony. No one is struck by a car, no one falls out of a rickshaw or off a motorped.
This is life in India: a dizzying dance of 1 billion people living in a land that is a third of the size of the United States but with three times more people.
In order to survive in India you need to be a quick learner. Can you imagine the skill it takes to cross a busy intersection with no traffic lights? It involves a lot hand signals, brisk walking and praying.
Here are some of the lessons I learned:
1. You must not stay in your lane while driving. Although there may be lines painted on the road, no one observes them. There are just too many people in India and the easiest way to get around, especially in their small cars, is to ignore the lines and make your own lane. Which brings me to lesson number 2…
2. You must honk while driving. It is not rude, it is a courtesy! Every truck in India has a sign on the rear that reads: “Horn OK Please.” This is truly a matter of public safety. With so many cars on the road and makeshift lanes, how else will someone know you are approaching?
3. Don’t bother walking on sidewalks. There is no room! Just make sure you are alert at all times to avoid getting hit by a rickshaw or a moped.
4. A family of four fits on a scooter. Including babies and kids. Unlike the U.S., there is no law against having children on scooters. People ride around with their kids all the time. During my time there, I never saw any of them get struck by a car or fall of the scooter.
5. You must drive aggressively. It is OK to pass cars while driving through a curve. Believe it or not, the oncoming drivers are expecting this. They will give you a courtesy honk, slow down and allow you to get back in your lane.
6. When asking directions don’t bother saying “please” or “thank you.” You must stick to the point. Example: When you approach someone, simply say “Statue of Liberty.” They will gladly give you directions. Then you’ll drive off without even so much as a “thanks.” When I inquired about this lack of courtesy to an Indian friend, he said “Indians cut to the chase. Who has time for all that?!”
7. Respect. When traveling it is important to respect the customs and traditions of the country you are visiting. India is a modest country so I covered my chest and arms whenever the occasion required it. Take the time to learn about the country you are visiting before you get there. Once there, learn and try to understand your surroundings.
Reserve your judgements. For instance, if it seems bizarre to see kids on mopeds with their parents, remember that cars are expensive in India. Some people can only afford a moped. So people do what they need to do to get to work and transport their kids to and from school.