A couple of reflexions from my short trip home this time. Since the topics are rather disparate, I've decided to break my post into two short parts. Here's Part Two (Part One's here).
- Strangely, driving around in my city, Kolkata, wasn't too bad this time. I have never experienced this ambivalent feeling before. For various reasons, this time in Kolkata, I had to drive either my father's or my father-in-law's Maruti 800 (what would it qualify as in the US? Perhaps an ultra-compact sedan?) to and from places. Those who know me are aware that I have earlier nodded in august agreement with the account of a friend's experience of driving for dear life on Kolkata roads, my own experiences being identical to that.
The contrast is clear, and my confusion about the ambivalence, concomitantly stronger, now that I am back in Baltimore and drove to work this morning. Cars drive in orderly lanes (making it great for opportunistic lane shifters like me), changing of lanes is preceded by blinking turn-signal lights, traffic lights work and drivers actually follow them, there are no actively aggressive three-wheelers and passive-aggressive cyclists menacing the roads; there is no more of the cacophony of incessant honking that one's obligated to engage in, not to irritate or heckle others, but out of the sheer instinct of self-preservation - to attempt, often futilely, to force the knowledge of one's car's presence upon the oblivious idiots (a.k.a. obliviots) in the vicinity, especially those that are engrossed in risky endeavors, such as texting-while-walking, to the exclusion of all reality. Yeah, it's great to be finally free of all that.
But somehow... this time, it didn't feel half as uncomfortable to drive around in Kolkata. There were no near-death-by-collision events, no vegetable carts upending and smashing onto the side of my car leaving a deep gash, no narrow escapes from having the puny car tossed and thrown about by an irate public; to be sure, there were still no lanes and vehicles (cycles and motorbikes included) still didn't give a flying f*** to traffic signals, but the chaos was somehow subdued, less disorderly.
Has the traffic on Kolkata roads become more orderly? Can it be? Or (gasp!) have I become more comfortable with the murder and mayhem that is Kolkata traffic? A far more likely explanation, perhaps, is that the thick pall of vehicular pollution that perpetually hangs over the city has reduced the respiratory capacity of the denizens to the extent that they no longer find the full-blooded gumption to take on pedestrians or other drivers in death-defying stunts on the streets.