Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Drivers in Mumbai simply defy description.

There are those who think nothing of cutting lanes, without signalling, and specialize in missing your car by a centimetre   as  they overtake from the wrong side.  If their vehicle is a 4 wheel drive, they really don't care about what happens to your vehicle.

There are those who emerge suddenly from a gate on the left. It could be a building gate or side road.  They get a sense of power as they swerve onto the road in a wide arc, without looking or stopping, throwing traffic into a snarl. Oblivious to all this, they simply speed up and go.

There are some motorcycle types who cannot ride straight. They go sinusoidal in and out of lanes, tilting at 45 degrees at every lane change, as you fervently hope they don't slip, and  as a reflex action, slow your car down.     

Today, one is afraid to be right while driving. Your reflexes need to be super fast, and you need to be in the habit of expecting the worst. 

One time, we were getting onto the highway from a Western suburb service road ramp like structure.  Indicated our movement through a signal, the main highway traffic speeding on our right.  One guy , impatient at having a car in front of him, simply speeds up on the ramp, , along side us on the right, and scrapes us badly. The car stops.

It is not an owner driven car. The chauffeur steps out. Two portly guys in suits, various prominent gold rings on fingers, sit in air conditioned splendour , unaffected, in the rear seats.  We ask the chauffeur what he thinks he is doing driving like this on a narrow ramp. Tempers flare. We examine the damage to the car. We need to speak to the owners of the car. 

They laboriously  open the window, although the switch is automatic.  

They look up, unmoved at their car being involved, size us up, and say " So, how much money do you want for the repair ?"

A sign of the times. Money buys everything.  Even drivers who have got their licences through vague illegal channels.  The thing is to go from A to B as fast as you can.  A is what you were a few years ago. B is where you plan to reach when your so called assets multiply 500 % in 3 years. All by whatever means. (And you still cannot drive yourself).

The guys in the seats and the driver,  get a piece of some one's mind, in no uncertain terms.  It isn't the money. It's the brazenness with which they drive recklessly and injure. Cars and/or/people.  Their eyes suddenly shift. A cop appears out of nowhere.  Checks what is holding up traffic in the middle of the ramp.  Helps us detangle the car from the speeding one .  All the time listening to us vent our anger. He  has seen this kind of stuff before. Everyday. 

We take off,  into the night, as it is late and we have some way to go.  I don't know and don't wish to know what transpired between the cop and the scraping car.

Friends tell us never to get into arguments with folks on the road . In today's world, you never know what they are  carrying. There is the all pervasive Mumbai road rage.  It doesn't matter who is right or wrong or irresponsible.

Two days ago ,on a Sunday, with considerable less traffic in what can be described as a suburban business district,  we witness a  bike rider, simply stop his bike in the middle of an intersection, next to a ricksha. He pushes his head into the driver's section and proceeds to slap the ricksha driver around. There is a major police station at that intersection.  There has been no accident, injury or loss of life. But the biker continues to hammer the rickshaw driver on his face.  We didn't stop to see what happened later.  One has heard of people simply whipping out knives and guns.

The only time I carried a knife in the car was on a road trip, to cut fruit, specifically guavas, which were in season, and the knife was borrowed by someone who never returned it .

 So  we were very, very surprised at what happened a few weeks ago.

Driving  towards central Mumbai on a Saturday noon,  we were enjoying the relatively decent traffic conditions, and the several new flyovers that allow you to skip pesky intersections and traffic.  The traffic is flowing at a fairly fast constant speed, and we are on one of the flyovers in the fast lane, when the huge fancy car in front of us, suddenly brakes. By the time we brake, our car has touched his rear fender.  We stop. Traffic swirls around us.

A gent exits from the driver's side. Meets us , and we both examine the damage. He has none, but our car has some to the licence plate area, and one side has come off. The gent apologizes, saying, he had to brake suddenly because a smaller vehicle suddenly overtook , changed lanes, and slowed down things . He would have hit that vehicle otherwise. We understand. He informs us of nearby places that will fix the number plate right then for us.  The exchange has been very civilized, very polite, and between two folks who realize what Mumbai roads have become.

 We carry on, with some rattling noise of the licence plate, and stop in a parking spot to see what we can do. It needs work. We remove the licence plate, and bring it inside, and display it on the windscreen from inside.

Closer towards our destination, there is a posse of cops, waving  various vehicles in for random checks. One cop spots the missing number plate from a distance, and waves us in,  almost rubbing his hands in glee.

I kind of mobilize mentally for telling the cops the story and how it wasn't our fault. Most times I have interacted with cops is when I was not at fault, and road signs were either invisible behind hoardings and trees  or  nonoperational. Wrong turns, wrong parking etc. 

( Once they even towed our car away from what they said was a no parking area, and I couldn't see a no-parking sign anywhere, with many other cars nicely parked. I refused to pay the fine, brought the cops back to check out and confirm that there was no sign saying parking was prohibited .  The whole thing took a million arguments and some time, but I wasn't going to pay for a mistake I never made.)  Once they realize I don't have my hands in my pockets , they give up and let me go.

Even before we come to a stop, another fellow cop has seen the licence plate in the windscreen, understood the situation, and waved us on.

Aiiyo. Must have been one of our good days.  

Nevertheless, driving in Mumbai is no longer an enjoyable activity.

It just occurred to me that if the car had a mind, it would feel exactly like the average students in Mumbai feel today. 

A troublesome ride, fraught with bad ill designed paths,  dotted with potholes and loopholes, no maintenance and checking,  huge taxes and fees,  useless assurances,  no results in time, erroneous notifications,  and the glorious uncertainties of what you would be facing next.

Unless of course, you are the type of gets driven to school/college in cool splendour and tinted glasses.   And possibly a red beacon on top.   



  1. Having lived in Delhi and now Mumbai (and also started driving on these roads) I can assure you that Mumbai is by far one of the most disciplined cities for driving in India. In Delhi you run the risk of being shot at, if you overtake someone and piss him off. No, seriously.

    That way Mumbai is still far better, in spite of its swerving buses and reckless autos.

  2. reading half of the article...this instantly came to my mind - oh this started in mumbai too...

    in delhi, its been happening for so many years now :(