An Italian in India
An Italian in India – Part 1: Cars, Roads, and Anarchy
Let’s take India into consideration. It has 1.2 billion people on a surface seven times larger than Europe. India is impressively colossal; it spans from the Himalayas to places south of the equator, resembling an unbreakable force, an unmovable mass, with countless shades. I think that in order to just begin to comprehend what India actually can represent, a person has to live there for few years.
I had the opportunity of visiting Delhi and Agra (which both lay in Uttar Pradesh), of travelling through Rajasthan on a minibus, touching upon Jaipur, Rathambore, Bundi and Udaipur, and finishing my wonderful trip in Goa and Mumbai. Nonetheless, I’m sure that I didn’t see anything, not even the smallest pat of what those places had to save for stranger eyes.
The first impression was a basic, simple concept: an enormous and evident contrast; everywhere, everything and everyone was in contrast with any basic western rule.
The hotel, a super rich and elegant English palace, was surrounded by roads full of carts driven on the shoulders of men of all ages, women begging or working, often with their children, while hundreds of men spend their days chatting, while sitting or standing on the side of the road, usually at the entrance of the shop of a friend or relative. The side of the road was also a chaotic bazar of shops and street sellers. The traffic-filled roads are no less chaotic -apart from at nights when the traffic dies down- as they embody on a daily basis the very concept anarchy.
Even the most unimaginable vehicles, that only through some miracle could somehow still travel, would move on Indian roads. At one point our minibus passed by a truck, which, instead of having the cabin in place, was driven by a teenager sitting on a chair, standing on the bare motor. It is impossible to describe what happens on their roads; just try to imagine that everyone on the road makes their own rules. No other western rule of travelling applies, even where they seem to exist. The result is the expression of the most anarchic people I ever met. What a wonderful trip!
On the roads you can find any vehicle able to move. The most common cars are jeeps, but in cities such as Delhi, the roads shine with western cars all covered in dust and usually with countless dents due to travel conditions. The second most used vehicles are motorbikes, which you can admire standing outside the huts in the Rajasthani fields, as well as travelling on packed roads with up to five or six people on board. But still, the most common form of transport are still animal or human-led carts of all kinds. Those that are most lucky, reassemble their bicycles so that they can be motor-powered as reshaped carts or moving shops. On the other hand rewhip are also proper trucks travelling on Indian roads, most of which have written on their backs: “HORN PLEASE”!
Which brings us to the only other commonly recognised rule for travelling in India: everyone horns at any point for any reason, mainly to let the others know of their presence. So you might imagine the most chaotic and anarchic situation on Indian roads. However, where for western eyes and ears it would be impossible to find any logic or path, the natives can orientate themselves as if they were driving on empty Dutch roads. Inside the walls of the English palace, the hotel’s garden was almost quiet, while the outside burst with life. The wide and elaborate rooms didn’t have anything in common with the claustrophobic feeling left behind by the Indian roads.
By Alberto Gouthier