I was on my way back home on Saturday, and had stopped at a traffic light. There were a few autos in front of me, and a car. Pedestrians were crossing the road while we waited, and as the light turned green, I noticed an elderly man just about to attempt to cross the road. The vehicles in front of me kept moving, but I waited to let the old man cross, and signaled to him to walk. As I started moving forward after he had crossed, two traffic cops, waiting just beyond the light, flagged me down. I stopped, wondering what the matter was. “Licence”, the cop asked. “Sure”, I said, and handed him my licence, asking “What happened?” No answer. My licence is the card type, unlike the booklets issued in Maharashtra. “Show me the original licence”, the cop said, disregarding my question. It’s the original, I replied. He then showed it to the other cop, who also told me it wasn’t the original, but a photocopy. I was beginning to lose it by then, as was my friend sitting next to me. A trifle curtly, I told the cops to look closely; how could they call it a photocopy? And would they tell me why they had flagged me down?

“You honked”, they said. I was flabbergasted. Not just because I detest honking, but because I hadn’t honked. My friend, who was with me in the car, was also surprised. “But he didn’t honk” she said, “I am sitting next to him and I know he hasn’t.” And she knows me well enough to add, for good measure, “He never honks.” The cops would have none of it, and insisted I had honked. Meanwhile, and very surreally, as this conversation was taking place, every car passing us was merrily honking away. When I pointed out to the cops that they really didn’t seem to be bothered with stopping anyone else, their answer was “We are not here to catch everybody.” “Well”, I said, “I don’t agree with the charge, and I want to dispute this. Whom can I speak to?” So I was directed to the Saheb at the Chowky across the road. We went to meet the “Saheb”, and explained things to him. No luck. He said if I didn’t pay the fine, he would confiscate the licence and I could go to the court. Sure, I said. Let me go Monday. “You can’t go there before the 24th,” he said. When I told him that was more than two weeks away, he shrugged. “Dispute it in court….we will keep the licence here for some time in case you want to pay the fine, and will then send it to court” he said. I called a few friends to ask them how this worked. Each one advised me to pay the fine, saying going to court was just not worth the time, money and effort, and in any case, the chances of my case being believed were negligible. It would be the Traffic Police’s word against mine. I would be assumed guilty and would have to prove I hadn’t honked. So I dropped my grand ideas of disputing this in court. Should I have gone ahead? Would I have been given a fair hearing? I don’t know, and I can definitely be faulted for chickening out, for not trusting India’s subordinate judiciary and allowing perceptions of the painfulness of the process to dissuade me.

So I paid the fine, took my receipt and went back to my car. All the way home – and whenever I drove that day and the next – every time I passed a police vehicle (twice), or traffic cops (six times), I slowed down, and honked like a madman. I figured I had already been fined for something I hadn’t done. I might as well ‘earn’ the fine, and if they decide to fine me again, well, at least this time I would have actually committed the offence. I was quite prepared to pay any fines that might come my way. Funnily enough, in all the subsequent eight instances, even after some maniacal honking (like any good Indian would) right under the cops’ noses, no one stopped me.

Thankfully, that bout of silly childishness, brought on by the utter helplessness I felt, soon passed.

The moral of the story, though, stayed with me: only idiots follow rules and obey laws.

I wonder if ‘The Quirky Idiot’ is available on WP.

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It is known that Indians are genetically predisposed to diabetes and obesity. Perhaps even heart disease. What is not so well known is the fact that Indians are also genetically predisposed towards bad driving. Here’s a clip from YouTube as an example!

Is it just me, or has everyone noticed how the last bastion of civilised (a relative term, as all non-Indians would agree) Indian driving, Mumbai, has also fallen? On my drive to and from work, at every traffic light – major or minor – I see people jump lights with impunity. And it is not just the usual suspects –i.e., the autos and the cabs. Two-wheelers, cars of every make and size (self-driven and chauffeured), BEST buses (serious offenders, these chaps!) and the occasional Mumbai police Bolero/Qualis – basically anyone who can jump a light, does. Not that the other aspects of driving fare any better. But at least, until a year or so ago, it seemed like while Mumbai drivers never followed any other rule, the red light was still the last un-breached frontier; a holy cow, not up for slaughter. It seems we have changed!

India has some appalling road-fatality statistics. According to the 2007 report of World Road Statistics (WRS), India ranked number two with 94,985 people killed in road accidents. As in most other things nowadays, we were pipped to the post by China, which lost 98,738 citizens. Isn’t it strange that two nations where rules and social niceties of any kind are treated with disdain should have the highest number of road fatalities? Because, in the final analysis, safe and good driving is all about following rules, and as we know, we Indians were not made to follow rules.

Given our disregard for rules and our ignorance of the concept of self-restraint, I have attempted to create a list of suggestions to make Indian driving better, safer and less stressful. Please feel free to add to this list.

  1. The Government of India (which loves dictating things to industry anyway) should ban the manufacture of car horns. So every new car will come without a horn.
  2. At each intersection or crossing, introduce barrier gates/arms/turnpikes, like at a level crossing. Only the sides with the green lights will have their gates raised, the others will be shut, and so people will not be able to jump red lights. Of course, the barriers will have to be solid and extend all the way to the ground, so as to prevent two-wheeler riders from tilting their vehicles at 30˚ and sliding under the barrier.
  3. Lanes should have dividers at least 12” high – this way we ensure that all drivers stick to their lanes. No cutting! Of course, if the guy in front decides to pick up a passenger, or generally stop to leisurely spit out of the window, you’re screwed. But you can always beat him up. That’s still legal….or should be.
  4. The horn should be banned
  5. Indicators should be connected to the steering wheel. The moment the wheel moves more than 5˚ in either direction, the relevant indicator starts flashing.
  6. Windows can’t be lowered while driving. This will take care of all spitting and “throwing-beer-cans-out-of-the-car’ instances.
  7. Driving licenses should only be issued after tests. Wait a minute. I have heard rumours of such a system. Will somebody please tell me if that’s true?
  8. Driving licenses should not, by law, be issued to the blind. From personal experience, it seems that India has the highest number of optically-challenged drivers on the road.
  9. The horn should be banned.
  10. No more than 364,566 pedestrians, 35 cows and 12 dogs to be allowed at any point of time per one-kilometre stretch of road.
  11. The hi-beam headlight should be banned in vehicles that have headlights.
  12. Vehicles should not be permitted to be overloaded beyond 500% capacity. (Of course, this does not apply to trains.) This rule should be strictly enforced.
  13. Children under 12 should not be allowed to drive without a valid driving license.
  14. Driving the wrong way in the path of oncoming traffic should be discouraged. More than 10 such instances should result in the cancellation of the offender’s driving license. If the offender did not have a driving license, he should not be issued one.
  15. The horn should be banned

I realise that for most of us, rules like these will take the fun out of driving. So every weekend, we should allow people to come to a huge field in (or with) their vehicles of choice. (Handcarts, ponies, the occasional elephant, bicycles, dumpers, trucks, buses and tankers are all allowed.) Pedestrians, beggars and hawkers should also be encouraged to participate and generally mill around the field to better simulate Indian road conditions. Then each person should be allowed to drive his vehicle within the field in any manner or direction he chooses.

That way, we can still be true to our genes. And if we’re really lucky, we still might make it to the number one spot on the WRS rankings. Go India!