Feb 22 2008

Indian traffic

A trip across the twin Indian cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is a little like an intergalactic space trip. You strap in (or don’t) and launch out into the great unknown. There is so much life here, and you never know what new experiences each trip will bring. The only certainty on every trip is diversity.

The dense traffic here flows like water, widening as vehicles jockey for position at intersections and squeezing back to the allowable space (some might call them lanes) once the intersection is crossed. Honking is considered a courtesy rather than a complaint in India. The trucks even have “Please Sound Horn” signs to invite the driver in the vehicle behind to give a warning when they pass. No encouragement is really needed, though. No one seems bashful about using their horn. When traffic is not bad, you can drive across Secunderabad and Hyderabad in about an hour. When the traffic is bad, the same trip may take two hours or more. The traffic is usually bad.

Different languages, cultures, religions, economic statuses and castes coexist everywhere you look.

In Hi Tec City, one of Hyderabad’s wealthy new suburbs, the small makeshift huts of the construction workers are sprinkled among the gleaming office buildings. A little further down the road the Muslim call to prayer spreads from loudspeakers atop a nearby mosque, blending with car horns and the Hindu chants that are coming from a TV in a repair shop by the road.

And throughout the city motorcycles carrying three, four, five people zip in and out between luxury automobiles, bullock carts and pedestrians.

At first I tried to pull apart India’s diversity so that I could make it easier to understand and more manageable.But India is neither manageable nor easy to understand. And trying to pull it all apart is as futile as trying to pull apart the flavors of a curry in order to make it easier to digest.

Maybe coming to grips with India can only be done through embracing its many paradoxes. While this country may look on a map like one country in the world, a drive across any of its cities reveals a deeper truth that this is a country that contains many worlds.

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