If ever you should find yourself in the back seat of an Ambassador Grand, that iconic yellow automobile clogging the streets of cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta, you would do well to remember three things. First, Indian taxi drivers are encouraged, quite strongly, to make use of their horns. The migraine inducing symphony of beeps and honks is as much a part of the culture as curry, the Taj Mahal, and the dream of one day relocating to the US to operate a 7-11. The streets of Calcutta are awash with signage, both planted in the pavement and painted in festive hues of yellow, orange, and lime green on the fronts of large cargo trucks. These city-wide emblems proclaim the virtues of leaving one’s thumb planted squarely on the horn for minutes at a time.
Look twice. Save a life. Children are everywhere. Use your horn!
A brighter future for India! Use your horn!
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Use Your Horn!
Second, taxi operators in India consider traffic rules as more of an annoyance than anything else. My turbaned driver bolted out of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport and into the frenzied streets of Calcutta, West Bengal. He looked neither left nor right. He barely hesitated at a deteriorating stop sign, hanging loosely by a rusted bolt. I am not even certain that there was a center line, formally dividing the tr 519e affic barreling forth in either direction. We dodged a man laboring over his rickety wooden cart laden with bananas. Women, wrapped in dirty but colorful saris, marched purposefully in every direction, keeping a watchful eye to the road. A young boy balanced a basket of fabrics effortlessly on his head, alert to his surroundings as if his life depended on it. (And if you’re walking on a street in India, your life surely does depend on it.) I squeezed the blood from my thighs as we hurtled and braked through the morning traffic. No one stayed in their imaginary lane. People and cattle scampered side by side among the cars and trucks, sharing the road in a much unorganized way. Several times my chauffer opted for the other lane, the one containing oncoming lunatic traffic. He never broke a sweat. And at the moment of impending doom, when I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I would momentarily meet my Maker in a puddle of antifreeze and curry, he would jerk the car back into the proper lane, and carried on as if nothing was amiss.
Third, and finally, pay no attention to that hole in the floor of the car and the pavement zipping by at 70 mph between your feet. It’s just part of the experience.