I’d heard that driving on the streets of my hometown is a ghastly experience. I was an indifferent observer of the state of affairs during my childhood. I did feel a bit bad about it and would get irritated when traffic jams made me late for wherever I was heading to. The really appalling aspects of traffic in my city, however, became apparent to me only when I myself started driving!

A daily commute of 11km opened my eyes to reality – God does exist and is watching over us! How else do we manage to retain our sanity despite being subjected to this madness?! “Traffic rules are made to be broken” is a maxim most people seem to follow here. No matter how much the roads are widened (buildings torn down haplessly and trees cut down mercilessly in the process) it just doesn’t seem to be enough! Motorcyclists keep driving on cycle tracks and footpaths (quite shamelessly, I might add). If a pedestrian objects to this, he/she is glowered at and sometimes hears muttered abuses. Mind you, some pedestrians are just as bad! They boldly cross the road as though they are immortal; even though the traffic lights have turned green and vehicles are moving at reasonable speed. When an irate driver then has to brake sharply (attracting the ire of drivers behind him/her), he/she doesn’t even receive a due apology; far from it, he/she is made to feel as though he/she has committed a  sin!

Then there are the speeds people drive at. Quite a lot of people are uninitiated about traffic lanes. Every now and then you find someone who decides to plough on on his/her ancient Scooty in the rightmost lane, oblivious to the insistent honking from frustrated sufferers. PMPML buses too cause the same effect on one’s mood due to their annoyingly slow speeds. Then there are the chronic ‘lane changers’ who cut across the road in a serpentine manner and slide into any and every available gap. They then have difficulty extricating themselves from said gaps and hold up traffic. Six-seater drivers come under this category. And finally there are those deluded souls who seem to be under the impression that they’re participants of a Grand Prix. I am sorry that the streets of Pune don’t give you much scope to feel that adrenaline rush, guys; do try not to give a heart attack to other, calmer people who are just interested in going from point A to point B, won’t you?

The most persistent awful experience is, indeed, the traffic jams. I’d learned about deadlocks and scheduling under one of the courses I’m taking. I got practical exposure to it on my way back home! For nearly half an hour the traffic came to a standstill; there just wasn’t any space to move! People swore and cursed and honked in irritation. I seriously don’t get the point behind honking like a maniac. I mean, every vehicle on the street is a normal vehicle, not a Batwing or Sirius Black’s flying motorcycle. So basically, we have to drive it on the ground, yes? And circumstances being such that there’s no free ground to drive our normal vehicles on, we, regretfully, cannot do anything! All that it leads to is a lot of noise pollution and bad moods due to the din. I remember being in a highly volatile mood the first time I experienced this chaos. It took a very strong cup of tea and an hour of ranting (that Mum patiently listened to) to calm me down! The poor traffic cops have to show tremendous patience and immunity to the atmosphere charged with bad feelings in order to direct the traffic. I salute them, I really do. Their job is perhaps the most strenuous and taxing of all jobs. Imagine standing on a busy road during rush hours every day, no matter which season it is and having to put up with all that noise! We only notice them when they stop us under the pretext of checking our documents or when we jump a signal. We ought to show them a little consideration, I feel. Maybe they’ll reciprocate it and stop accosting us then?!

After a few weeks you do get used to the road conditions and the ways of the traffic. You do get used to using the brakes more frequently than the accelerator. You learn to bear with a pace slower than the slowest snail. There’s nothing like a traffic jam to learn anger management and to increase your patience, I always say! It also gives you an opportunity to explore bylanes and alleys and thus increases your geographical knowledge of the area. It helps you to find shortcuts which sometimes do help to avoid heavy, congested traffic; at least for part of the journey if not the whole! I’ve noticed that quite a lot of people use earphones while driving. Listening to music does soothe you and it does drown out the racket, agreed. My personal opinion, though, is that headphones are a health and safety hazard when used while driving. It’s a sincere request to all readers – please avoid using this technique to cope with being stuck in a traffic jam.

To wind up, there’s a saying in Marathi by Sant Tukaram: “आलिया भोगासी असावे सादर”. It means “be thoroughly prepared for whatever bad times you might have to encounter”. Though it was said by this great saint in the 17th century, it totally applies to our traffic woes, doesn’t it?!