The Monday Uniform

We’ve established by now that Bangalore’s traffic is bad.

Today morning I noticed a whole line of bikes standing in traffic. All the guys were dressed in crisp formal shirts, black or grey formal pants and black shoes. The Monday Uniform.

I couldn’t see any of their faces – good thing perhaps – but all of them looked incredibly smart from the back. Some of them had a hint of a tie peeking out, and backpacks. Probably men in marketing headed out for the day’s assignment. What is it about men in formal wear that makes so incredibly… interesting, if not hot?

The women on bikes were all hidden behind gloves, jackets, a stole and the helmet. And this is when summer temperatures are hitting 30s already. Are we so conscious about tanning that we would rather wear a jacket, gloves till the elbow, helmet covering the face and a stole and sweat through it in the traffic than saying to hell with it and enjoying that beautiful cool breeze while driving?

I realised I need to get a new helmet. The one I have feels like those things on a horse’s eyes… unidirectional, which means less whizzing between cars. And if i can’t do that – what be the point of using the bike?

Song of the day: Mama i’m coming home – Ozzy

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Driving in Bangalore

… is a nightmare.

I had never really taken my car out in peak hour traffic. Of yes, there were those random weekends when i’d to get somewhere… but I was neither tired, nor was everyone else in a hurry… or I had people in the car with me… or the excitement of taking the car out for the first time. So discounting all that, I took the car out for the first time yesterday during peak hour traffic.

I knew when I got the car out in the morning I should’ve taken my bike. The wind was still a little cool and the sun just warming up to bake us all and I just took the car because my back hurt from riding the distance and I needed a new helmet.

So at 6.05 PM I finally headed out of the office. The road a little fuller than I was used to but having gotten adept at squeezing at whatever possible openings, I managed to get myself to the first bottleneck. I saw a huge Scorpio trying to make a u-turn – which was basically a spot where people had pulled out the stones to make some turns easier for them (read: illegal). The space wasn’t enough to squeeze in my little car, let alone that monster but the guy was determined, despite blocking the traffic for 5 minutes.

5 minutes doesn’t seem like much in the scheme of things but in peak hour traffic, the entire 3 km road can back up, which is what happened now. People leaned on the horn as they craned their necks to see what was happening. Bikes squeezed in anywhere they could – the pavement, the 2 inch of space between cars and buses. What was the hurry? Home is all they had to go! I turned up my music and stopped, figuring they would move when they do.

Cell phones – aren’t they banned when you are driving?

Such rules absolutely doesn’t seem to apply to people. Nor have they heard of lanyards, bluetooth or any such thing. So the phone rings – and I bet it is on vibrate mode – and the guy on the bike struggles one-handed to pull out the cell from the pocket of his overtight jeans… then he keeps on driving (read: zigzagging all across the road) while he shoves the phone in his helmet or worse, just starts talking like he is walking somewhere. And then he sees a cop at the end of the road on the right side and figures if he switches to the left side, the cop won’t see him or won’t bother stopping him (is it worse that this actually works). So he suddenly cuts across the road, despite what cars and bikes are coming. I mean, come on, why wouldn’t people stop for him. Honking doesn’t work. They’ve some device in their ears that just blocks out all such stupid noise.

So I went a little crazy drove almost the rest of the way with one hand on the horn. Apparently a long drawn blast of the horn does get people’s attention. Of course, most of the glances I got were of the “what are you getting worked up about” sorts. This is the way we drive apparently. With no order, no  regard to rules, squeezing through wherever we can find a gap.

Doesn’t it occur to anyone that it would be so much simpler if people followed lane discipline? At least on the main roads. Stick to the right if you are going right. Do not cross over all the way from the right to the left just as the light turns green and zoom across, cutting everyone off. Morons!

And there are roads which are dug up, or parts of a road which are dug up without a warning… So you manage to beat the traffic, overtake a moron talking on a cell hone from the left and are about to zoom when you have to break suddenly – and pray  you won’t be rear ended – because some idiot has decided to dig up the manhole and leave it open and the only on that is a piece of some shrub sticking out of it. And then you spend the next 15 minutes trying to head back into the traffic lane, trying to be polite with your indicator on… hoping some good soul will slow down and let you back into the traffic.

Of course such good souls are rarely present, which means you pull your socks up, put that hand back on the horn and swing into traffic, praying you won’t get slammed. Little scratches are perfectly acceptable. You can choose to stop and argue with the guy – creating a little more traffic but venting your day’s frustration – or shrug and just keep going.

I’m sure there is some God watching all those on the road. How else would you explain that cars don’t get dented (much) or there are as many rear-ending accidents as there should’ve been?

I finally managed to pull up outside my house, the car in pretty much the same state as I took it out but my mind completely frazzled with all the close calls. And I figured till i get used to the fact that the car next to me is closer than the two seats in my car and that is normal, the car stays in the garage.

Song of the day: Willie Nelson – On the Road Again

Drive to the airport

I had to pick up a friend from the airport yesterday. A trip I’ve made several times since the new airport opened.  But with my eyes not quite up to par after the surgery, and in peak hour traffic, I decided to take the same road I’ve taken several times. Except, there is more construction going on there and the road has a really bad bottleneck. So I never quite moved out of the first gear and finally crossed the little bottleneck only to realise that I’d no fricking idea where to go. It was dark, there were big trucks and buses all around and I refused to listen to my friend’s direction of “take a u-turn”… and i refused to follow my instincts to take that smaller road leading to the highway to the airport.

So we drive and drive and drive and we are a little jubliant at seeing signboards reading “airport – turn right”. Of course it doesn’t say how far the turn is but we figure that would be a little too much to expect from a developing country. In say 30 years, maybe we’ll have those boards too. So I keep following the road when another signboard turns up pointing to a road which i KNOW is  no where near the airport.

I pull over and try to get the GPS on my phone to work. And then we realise, all the boards on the road were pointing to the OLD airport, which has been inactive for about two years now. And the old airport is in the other direction completely.

So we turn onto to the right road, with a little reconfirmation from GPS and my eyes are tired and we drive, with me too tired and distracted to completely miss the speed breakers and go flying over most of them and my friend to throw up his arms in front of his eyes, cuz mine being a sweet old car, has no such thing called airbags… though it has a partially working seat belt.

We did make it to the airport an hour later than when we were supposed to go. Luckily, my friend’s plane was delayed so he had to wait only for half an hour for us to turn up.

We figured we didn’t want to take any more chances with the roads and traced the same path back, which even if a little too long, was a path we knew.

It was only after I reached the road near my office, which is about 15 kms away from my home, I felt like I was almost home. The familiarity of the roads makes me comfortable. The tension seeped out and I was happy driving because I could handle these roads blind-folded. I have traveled across countries, alone at that. And I never had an issue. But in my very own city, I feel a little uncomfortable being in the northern part simply because… I don’t know. I didn’t realise that till yesterday. It feels like home. South Bangalore… even when it is no where close to home… I used to often itch to get back to my place when I visited some people up in the north. I knew that place really well… but it never feels so much at ease as I am here. Weird.

And someone should seriously tell the Bangalore City Council to please remove those bloody antiquated boards saying “airport.” Or least change it to old/unused airport!

Song of the day: Driving home for Christmas – Chris Rea