I still carry the scars of the incident that took place soon after we moved to Gurgaon, over ten years ago. The memory continues to haunt me; it sometimes makes me wake up in the middle of the night, trembling, in a cold sweat. While driving down to the market one day, I saw the traffic light turn red in front of me. Dutifully, I stopped the car. Almost immediately I heard the screech of brakes behind me. As I turned my head I could see a car swerving, to avoid crashing into the rear of my car - even though I had not suddenly applied the brakes. I can only guess that it came as a late surprise to the speeding gentleman behind me that the car ahead of him would be stopping at the red light. That close shave completely unsettled me. In the sixty odd seconds that I was at the traffic light, I had vehicles going past on either side. One ‘kind’ taxi-driver, who was without a passenger, asked me if I had a problem with the car and if he could help. Some gave me withering glances, for slowing down their imperious march towards their destination. Some gave me the ‘how dare the government issue driving licences to such uneducated people’ look. All of this in sixty seconds….though it seemed like a lifetime. I felt completely alone. I cracked. I engaged the gears and moved. My hands were still trembling.
After that incident I could not drive for a long time. But I am not one to give up easily. I would spend hours standing on the roadside observing the traffic movement and piecing together the jigsaw puzzle…in the hope that one day I would be able to drive in Gurgaon without making a fool of myself. My efforts yielded results. I learnt a lot about traffic signals. I learnt that it is the people ‘whose light is green’ who need to stop and wait for people driving through red lights, and that they need to wait for their light to turn red before they can begin to move. I learnt that if you see a traffic signal turning red in the distance, you must crazily speed up. A corollary of the above rule is that you should never, ever, be the first to stop at a traffic signal. Doing so is bound to lead to an immediate and irrevocable deterioration in your social status, if an acquaintance were to notice this act of weakness. But I did not learn just about traffic signals. I learnt that while going the wrong way on a one-way street, if the oncoming traffic honks at you, you must flash your high beam. When aimed correctly, the magical properties of the high beam will make that ‘errant’ vehicle vanish. I also learnt that while driving at night on an undivided two-way street, the non-stop use of the high beam is a contribution that every individual needs to make, to ensure that driving in the city remains ‘safe’. I learnt that if you need to turn right at an intersection, you must stay in the left-most lane till the last second. The right turn must be made in a graceful arc, sweeping across all the on-rushing vehicles – to bring them to a screeching halt. This strategy is even more effective when you have to make a U-turn. The beauty of this strategy is that it is equally effective the other way round - while turning left from the right-most lane. I learnt that one should never, ever, stop on the left side of the road. For maximum impact, stop right in the middle of the road. And, to show that you are educated, to those honking away and to the cops, you should then turn on the blinkers. I learnt that the law asks you to wear a seat belt while driving for the safety of the cops trying to enforce it, contrary to what they would have you believe. Hence never, ever, wear a seat belt while driving. If you think you have to, just hold the belt and stretch it to the point where it should be buckled, without actually doing so. This will still leave you with one hand to drive, shift gears etc. I have finally learnt not to blame the City’s traffic woes on its drivers…and picked up some choice words that can be used to good effect on any occasion wherein you don’t see eye-to-eye with someone.
Driving on Gurgaon roads, as you can guess, is pregnant with possibilities. Each day brings a new, refreshing experience…and learning.