Just the other day, I had a spat with a scooterist. The fellow had swung in from my left and then cut across to the right from in front of me without bothering about where I was. An all-too-common instance in Pune and something that I should have, at least in hindsight, ignored. Unfortunately, ignoring such things everyday can bottle up and once in a while feel the need to explode. That day being one such, I decided to have a chat with him, which is to say give him a piece of my mind. When I caught up with him and confronted him I saw he was somewhat older than me and I immediately expected him to be mature and logical about things. Big mistake. After five minutes of explaining to him what was wrong with his manoeuvre and how dangerous it could have been for him, I was at the wheel of a brutish SUV hurtling down a slope at 15kmph through Pune’s rush hour traffic, he looked at me quizzically and asked why I hadn’t bothered to see his signal. “Because you didn’t give any,” I told him crossly. To which he said he had indicated with his finger?!
I gave up and left, but it did get me thinking about the kind of signals the average Indian motorcyclist, scooterist and motorist uses that makes absolutely no sense. I’ll ignore light signals for a minute and zero in on hand signals. If you’re on a motorcycle, you’re supposed to use the left arm to signal. You stick it out straight to go left or you stick it out and rotate to go right. The reason why you don’t use your right arm to signal is because you’d have to let go of the throttle, which means you’re slowing down. In India, however, anything goes. Apart from that finger indication, I’ve seen people do strange hand movements to indicate a U-turn or simply that they’re going to stop. I have seen riders in biker groups in India point at all odd things on the road with whichever limb they can to point at it. Never seen it elsewhere. The most common one, of course, is the pillion sticking his arm out whenever you get close to the bike, as if they’re about to turn from in front of you. Bloody irritating isn’t it? Because the pillion obviously isn’t psychic and has no clue what the rider is about to do.
Then there are the light signals. Hazards in tunnels or simply riding about with the hazards on is a huge pet peeve. People do it all the time, without realising the risk of the act. A hazard is meant to warn others of a stationary hazard. When you casually ride around with your hazard warning lamps on, the guy behind you has no clue if you’ll go left or right. So he’ll either wait till you move out, or, if he’s in a hurry, he’s going to make a move, the results of which could be disastrous. Besides what could possibly be inside a tunnel that requires hazards? Just switch on your bloody lamps.
It isn’t just riders who use these strange signals. Taking off from the hazards, one of the most frequently seen signals on broken down vehicles on the side of highways are branches sticking out of them. C’mon, when was the last time you could see a branch in the dead of night? If truck and bus owners actually decided to maintain their vehicles then, (a) they wouldn’t break down so often, and (b) if they did, at least the driver would have the option of switching on the hazards. Then there are the rickshaw drivers of Ahmedabad or Baroda who believe sticking a leg out of their vehicles is good enough, or the taxi drivers of Kolkata who think that a dirty red cloth being waved frenetically should tell the world that the cab is being used as an ambulance. But you know what is absolutely senseless about all this? That it somehow seems to work and people seem to get it on instinct. Truly, there’s only one way to describe us: Incredible Indians.