Something as simple as crossing the road is a high-risk adventure activity in any Indian city. You look both ways and all you see is a sea of unending traffic. Yes, there are some pedestrian lights in the city centre which can be used at your own risk and zebra crossings dotted here and there but both are completely ignored by motorists. The only traffic rule seems to be “ME FIRST!” The car is king here and you better get out of the way! The rules governing right of way are that the biggest vehicle has priority.
Crossing the road is an acquired art. The approach is to take the challenge in calculated stages. You won’t be able to cross in one go. Once you notice a gap in approaching traffic, make your move. Do not attempt to cross in front of buses, trucks or SUVs: the drivers of these vehicles are ruthless. Motorcyclists are your friends: they will swerve to avoid you or even stop if they have to. They probably feel more vulnerable than other motorists.
Before crossing, have a quick glance in the other direction to assess the on-coming traffic. Beware of cyclists and other ‘two-wheelers’ driving the wrong way in the wrong lane. Beware also of vehicles trying to take shortcuts by crossing the median line and driving in the oncoming lane. Once you get to the median, wait there and pray to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to protect you until traffic eases up and you can safely cross to the other side. The sense of achievement is amazing.
A strategy for beginners is to stick to the side of a fellow pedestrian and follow his or her movements. There is strength in numbers. I witnessed this in Calcutta: while waiting to cross the road near the Maidan, traffic was just not letting up. A crowd started to form on the street corner, a mass of bodies surveying the traffic and waiting for an opportunity to cross. As we waited, the crowd just kept getting bigger and bigger. Eventually it took over and started to inch its way forward. Some brave souls held up their palms to the approaching traffic, appealing to motorists to slow down and eventually stop to let us cross safely to the other side. The effect was like Moses dividing the waters as the crowd surged forward asserting its right to space, it’s right to get to the other side.
Watch this clip!