I spent a good twenty minutes this morning trying to get an auto rickshaw to stop and take me to work. Most sailed by already crammed with passengers. Out of three that did stop, two were hijacked by other commuters who acted as if I was invisible and certainly not in the decent way that I would have done if I saw someone trying to get in who had clearly been waiting a great deal longer than me (hhhhmmmpph!) The third just looked at me with certifiable eyes, shouted angrily “hundred rupees!!!!” and then drove off before I even had a chance to tell him no thanks I prefer the meter (which I knew would read 15 rupees only by the time I reached work).
The clock was ticking and I was now late for sure. Whilst thinking up my excuse and looking in the other direction I nearly got ploughed down by a scruffy looking auto. A passenger got out and I just jumped in immediately instead of the customary query to the driver asking if he would take me to my destination (a question which often produces a blank expression, followed by a shake of the head and a face that looks like you just asked to be taken to Mars, shortly before auto departing empty seated).
The driver turned round with a toothless grin and informed me “wait two minutes! Pray to gods!”
Despite my lateness I decided that this probably wasn’t a bad idea knowing what the roads of Mumbai were like – deathtraps at the best of times and that is even before you consider the traffic and other drivers! This is a city where right of way is given to he who pulls out first, or simply drives in front of you. This is a place where it is considered rude NOT to beep your horn, constantly, day or night – how else would other drivers know you are there otherwise? They would have to look in their mirrors or other such unsafe driving practices! God(s) willing is very much the law of the road here, where it is not uncommon to see a family of six balanced on a rusty old Enfield swerving round a cow. Recently my friend told me about a photo used for a press release of two guys and a donkey on a motorbike – that stuff really does happen I kid you not! Just last week I saw a guy on a bike last week with his friend behind him desperately truing to balance a car windscreen in-between them. Of course many people are forced to travel from A to B with whatever bulky, bizarre or dangerous goods in whatever manner they can afford, however unsafe. However I am certain that many of the people I see on the roads here doing strange and precarious things are actually just plain mental…!