Playing in the Dirt
Don't Let it Get Away

Startlements from India: Stories from the Road

"You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... a cow... on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation."

---The Blind Seer, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I begin today's post with that rather lengthy quote from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to introduce you to a special kind of story we "save" in our family:  We call them startlements, and they are . . . things you just . . . never expected to see.

When Tom travels to India, he encounters many startlements!  I've asked him to write some of them down, and I decided to share some of them over the next few weeks.  (And since he's back in Mumbai right now, he can collect some more for future posts!)

So, here's Tom . . . with a Startlement from India.


The traffic in India is spectacularly chaotic, but somehow manages to avoid generating the amount of carnage that you'd think it should - at least based on US sensibilities.  I don't think I could survive one day driving there -- my instincts are all wrong.  Mostly, I'd be driven to a rage by the lack of apparent traffic rules and really no sense of the sacredness of lines (waiting your turn seems to carry no weight at all).


The only rule or priority is this:  Everyone goes for space when it becomes available.  Simple.  Maddening.  Usually accompanied by a cacophony of car horns.

I couldn't survive.


Here is a video taken from my hotel room on a Sunday afternoon.  Keep in mind this is not main street traffic.  This is a side street mostly used to access a popular mall.  You will see many vehicles turning into the parking garage entrance.  They are, at least in theory, driving on the left.

The video takes about 4 minutes and there are some slow spots.  But at times the congestion grows and you get a sense of how traffic (human, animal, cars) works.  (Note from Kym: My favorite thing is watching how people just . . . walk casually among the moving cars!)


Typically, there are not a lot of collisions, although on our last trip we did see a significant fender bender.  I imagine this is because it is hard to go very fast with all the . . . stuff . . . in the way.

We had a first on our last trip.  Our driver actually hit a pedestrian on the way to work.  Now, there was no severe injury, but we hit hard enough to leave a good bruise.  The driver was looking left and creeping forward, not seeing the pedestrian.  The walker was crossing in front of us, also not looking and not at all concerned with traffic.  We passengers were watching it get closer and closer, until it was beyond the normal level of "ooh, that's close!"  Then . . . BOOM.  That got everyone's attention!

No shouting.  No gestures.  No fisticuffs.  The pedestrian glared at the driver and moved to the side of the car.  The driver looked worried, but then just drove away.

No harm, no foul.  (The underlying rule of traffic in India!)


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Crazy chaos! So fascinating...a place I have very little interest in visiting though!


I like how Indian drivers aren't distracted by any lane demarcation lines! I wonder what Indian drivers think when they drive here? We once drove some visiting Brazilian businessmen to an event and they were amused by our use of headlights at night, and our willingness to follow the "suggestions" of stop signs, stoplights, and not making sharp left turns from the far right lane.


It sounds (and looks) an awful lot like Rio de Janeiro! I was amazed at how few cars were actually dinged up there, too... and no road rage! It's all just taken in stride... super chill. Mack summed it up nicely when he said that, in two years, he never saw anyone stopped by a cop for a traffic violation.

Cheryl S.

I could never drive there. But then, I couldn't drive in Boston or NYC, either.


I couldn't drive or even ride in this chaos. Thanks for sharing.


My husband spent 5 weeks in India for work last November/December. He sent me several little videos and pictures of people, traffic and cows. It was crazy! He said it was very taxing to be in a car. They were driven around daily to work and taken sightseeing every weekend for hours out of Chennai and other parts. I've never known him to be so happy to get to a hotel room every night!


Oh my goodness, it looks worse than in Amman, Jordan and it was bad there!

Upon our return from Jordan to Tel Aviv, in the taxi on the way home from the bus station suddenly Joe said: the traffic here is not so bad.... It is all a matter of what you compare to I guess.


The traffic seems to move slowly enough people can walk as fast as they drive. It looks like their is an order of its own to the chaos. The cacophony would get to me as much as anything.

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