Hi from India where I am for the first time!
I am in awe of everything here. The vegetation, the people, and of course the food. But the most fascinating thing about Hyderabad to me so far is the experience of being on the road.
I am lucky enough to be traveling here for a music festival, doing something I love in a place I’ve always wanted to go. So much is taken care of for us, including drivers who shuttle us between our hotel and the rehearsal spaces. The first time we got in a car, my fellow passengers and I were in suspense. There are rarely lanes or footpaths in this part of India and so there are cars, buses, trucks, auto rickshaws (I’ve seen up to 8 people squeezed in one of these) people walking, people cycling, people motor biking, and the occasional herd of cows all on the same road. Yes, all of them simultaneously. Going as fast as they can. In different directions.
As I watched through a crack in my hands, I saw first one, then another person walk right in front of our moving vehicle. Not only did they not look scared or apologetic or stressed. They looked if anything, bored. I kept looking to confirm that there was a total lack of stress from everyone participating. People nonchalantly strolled between cars like they had forcefields I couldn’t see. When I saw that no one else was scared, I stopped being scared.
Once fear (nonchalantly) moved away, I had room to be curious. To wonder how the way the road ethics and traffic of a country affects its people, reflects its people, or both. Everywhere I looked, people were taking chances. They saw opportunity and took it without hesitation. The slightest opening between a truck and a rickshaw and they would move towards it. For someone who struggles with sometimes paralyzing indecision and insecurity, this was incredible to see. Empowering to do when I had to do it later. I will not soon forget the ways people were aware enough to become cognizant of small opportunities and immediately seized them.
Another thing I love about the driving in India is that honking is a full-blown language. In America, and especially NY, honking is usually a sign of impatience or anger at a lack of control. There is a lot of emotion, but rarely any information. In India, every honk means something different. There’s the “I’m about to be there” honk, and the “I’m over here” honk, and the “I’m coming this way” honk and my favorite, when leaving a house, an affectionate “bye” honk. In the last instance, there is not only information, but emotion. This conveys to me the importance of telling people what you intend to do. How that gives you room to do what you want to do. How the world will (literally) sometimes move in order to help you get where you need to go. But only if you tell it to.
The lack of lanes are incredible to me. Often there will be up to five cars kind of in a row with a smaggle of other kinds of vehicles around. I found myself thinking at one point how much faster and efficient things would be with lanes. But then I looked around with my eyes and saw the intense language of eyes and feet. Heard the beeps and honks that are vital for staying vital. And thought how lucky they are, to have this kind of awareness built into their infrastructure. Self-awareness and awareness of all other citizens (including cows) on the road. Constant consideration and nuanced telegraphing of intentions and unspoken communication that is so subtle and complex it borders on poetry.
And just as important as telling people what you’re going to do is knowing when to take (opportunity) and when to give opportunity. It’s so different from America where you can just feel deeply in your marrow that the person who just cut you off is an asshole. Because that person is most likely someone who keeps cutting people off. It isn’t so much something they just did, it’s more like something they are apt to do because we live in a society that prioritizes individuals getting ahead at the cost of everything and everyone else. Here in India, everyone who is taking is also giving. There’s rarely anything emotional or personal meant by not letting someone in or squeezing yourself in somewhere. It’s just the community, the lifestyle. A truly public space where community, competition, and non-verbal communication thrive. Not so different from a concert hall. Especially when you close your eyes and listen.
Last thing I’m learning from Hyderabad roads.
Whatever happens, whatever gets in your way suddenly or unexpectedly on the path of life that throws you off or derails your plans or scares you (or just me, on these roads) be it steel, man, or herd, keep going.
Maybe slowly, but don’t ever stop
~Here’s a time lapse of some traffic a friend took from yesterday!