I drove today. Drove myself and two toddlers through the streets of Delhi, AND NO ONE DIED. No one got close to dying or even remotely close to getting into a fender bender! This, my friends, is truly a small miracle.
I should note here that I am a good driver on my own turf. My experience behind the wheel dates back to the tender age of ten, when my dad would let my brother and I take the battered mini-van on joy rides up and down our long rural driveway. I took my driving test at 16 on a stick shift. I’ve driven across the country and back. I had to teach Husband how to change a tire.
So my sense of triumph here is not because I’m some timid grandma on the road. It’s because driving in India feels very much like a hyped up version of Mario Kart, complete with strange creatures hogging the road and exploding obstacles flying at your windsheild. Add to that a few bicycle rickshaws, limited road signage, and a population of people who seem to have little sense of self preservation when trying to cross the street, and you have a typical Saturday morning driving experience in Delhi.
Oh, and did I mention the complete lack of rules? Sure, there are lanes. But they offer only the loosest of guidance, and the solid yellow middle one is a mere suggestion. Merging into the many traffic circles takes speed and agression–show any hesitation and you’ll be edged (or honked) off the road. Generally speaking, the bigger vehicles expect deference from everyone else. A packed city bus will not think twice about careening across four lanes of traffic without notice to make a lefthand turn.
Driving here requires your mind and reflexes to be on high alert. You could be cruising along peacefully when WHOA! WHERE DID THAT ELEPHANT COME FROM!? And then HOOOOONK a bus driving down the wrong side of the street! And SHITBALLS DON’T HIT THAT DOG! You swerve around that mess and then the guy in front of you stops dead in his tracks, gets out of his car and starts rummaging through the trunk. I am not kidding.
Meanwhile you’re still trying to get used to shifting with your left hand and keep turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turning signal. This is why we have a driver during the week, and almost always drive with a wingman on the weekends. You need that extra pair of eyes to warn of impending dangers and find another route on the map when you hit a random road closing.
Understandably, I haven’t felt too pumped to venture out on my own yet. When I pulled out of the gate today the gaurds looked worried. But I did it! I made it to the embassy and back. And I feel like I could conquer the world. Or at least a trip to the mall next weekend.