(We have an unusual schedule today and tomorrow, which will prevent me from publishing a post on our current location until tomorrow evening. But never fear: I’ve been saving this one for just such an occasion.)
Was there ever such a wonderfully efficient vehicle built as the auto rickshaw? No, says this fan of these clever little conveyances. known as tuk-tuks, perhaps named for the sound of their constant honking.
Not an extraneous inch exists on these marvels of engineering, purpose-built to move the maximum number of goods and people around cities already teeming with competition. Granted, there are no luxuries included either, but there is usually a strong bar to grab onto as the driver swerves like a dancer through seemingly impenetrable traffic. And sometimes you might get lucky and find an owner with a vivid sense of interior decoration who favors wild animal prints or Indian carpets.
Perhaps more of an explanation of India traffic systems is required. Our wise guide, Bernard of India, told us early on that there is only one rule of traffic in this country: “If you see an empty space, occupy it!” The difference between us and a tuk-tuk driver is our definition of available space. We might require at least a yard to feel comfortable passing another vehicle. The tuk-tuk driver deals in centimeters, and one is all that is required to forge ahead.
I have a strong fantasy life, and can easily imagine this conversation taking place over a hundred years ago in the government offices of cities all over the country as car traffic began to dominate the streets:
“There are too many cars on our roads. Cows and people will be injured! What shall we do?”
“I have heard that in Britain they are installing lighting devices and making special places where people can cross the roads. Sometimes eventhey have policemen stopping the traffic at intersections for the automobiles going perpendicular to the other autos, or wanting to turn.”
“That is all very well for Britain, but we have far too many roads and far less money. We could never have such a system! It is impossible!”
“That is so true. But perhaps we have one thing that Britain does not have. Our Indian drivers are very polite and clever, and surely don’t need to be told when to stop and start. They would think machines that do that would be a very poor way to spend their money.”
“Yes, you are right. Let us rely on the cleverness and kindness of our drivers and allow them to make decisions about how to use their own roads. Maybe we can afford to paint a few lines on the main streets to provide suggestions about where to point their automobiles. And perhaps we should install one or two of those lighting devices in each large city, just to show that we are very modern thinkers. That should surely solve the problem!”
And so it began, a system of traffic control that has little to do with control, but everything to do with drivers’ wits and eye-hand coordination. Believe it or not, it works, though it does take a bit of getting used to.
Tuk-tuk drivers and I are very sympatico about the driving choices they make. I stifle a scream and they stifle a laugh. Silly woman, they say – did I kill you yet?
Just share one ride with us. Very safe and no cows in the road – but otherwise quite typical: