When a saleswoman at the silk store found out we were from the U.S., she quickly commented: “In America people follow the driving rules, yeah?”
Here in India, a stop sign is only a suggestion, as is the yellow center line that divides traffic. Vehicles here drive wherever there’s space, even if it means crossing over onto the wrong side of the road (which happens frequently).
The streets here are filled with all kinds of vehicles — scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, cars, tractors, public busses and trucks.
Since the vehicles are all different shapes and sizes they fill up the road like a game of tetris. It’s often hard to tell how many lanes are painted onto a road because people drive wherever they have room. Faster vehicles pass the slower ones by crossing into the oncoming traffic lane and then edging back just seconds before a head-on collision. Drivers are so aware of their vehicles that they make passes within only inches of people or other cars.
Somehow it works, like a choreographed dance. The stray pedestrians crossing the street don’t get hit, the weaving motorbikes avoid the behemoth cement and produce trucks.
Horns help. The honks aren’t used in anger or protest, like in America. Here, a few beeps serve as a way to announce one’s presence.
Cows rule the road. The animals are sacred in Hinduism and in the city they are rarely tethered or tied up. When the bovines roam free in the streets the cars part in their path.
Crossing the street is a production. Each morning when we got dropped off at the central school in Mysore our host families accompanied us across the road like we were children. A host dad would take each side of the sidewalk and holding his arm out straight, would stop the oncoming vehicles. The move was met with mixed success. Often the motorbikes flowed around us as we walked across the skinny street.