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Bombay Traffic: Road Rage

For the final installment of this 5-part series on traffic, we come to one of the uglier sides of driving in Mumbai. For the most part, drivers are pretty anger-free as they push and squeeze and inch their way through the crowded byways. However, watch out when the levee breaks and the emotions due spill over.

View from the school vanThe most aggressive driver on our school staff is fantastically fast at getting us around town, and he also shows the most emotion on the road. He has this “look” that he gives other drivers who don’t get out of his way (or in some other fashion stink up the road). The Look is like something moms (or school teachers) in the olden days would give to kids who were misbehaving – a full on glare stare that lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you were wrong in whatever you were doing.

But he doesn’t swear or race or flip people off, and neither do most other drivers on the road. There seems to be a pretty grudging acceptance of the lousy traffic conditions by everyone.

Alas, when accidents do happen, the full on rage and anger suddenly snaps to the surface. One evening when I was coming home, a rickshaw scraped a fancy car at a crazy intersection, and the drivers hopped right out.

The amazing thing about the confrontation was the unhesitating manner it was played out: the rickshaw driver stood there while the driver of the car slapped him around. There was no fighting back, no self defense at all.

Bombay traffic jamThe only thing I can guess is that the rick driver accepted that – as a poorer, lower caste person – it was his responsibility to let the richer guy beat him up. There were no threatening bodyguards or anything like that to keep him from fighting back, just a passive acceptance of his ‘lot in life.’

That driver got off easy, however: there are daily reports of crowds ‘thrashing’ drivers who smash into other vehicles (or pedestrians). These gruesome incidents sometimes result in the death of the drivers.

Just last Sunday, Breck and I joined some other dads and sons at the school to play a little baseball. One family came in 10 minutes after us, asking if we’d seen the wreck at the corner: a dump truck had run over a motorcycle, completely crushing it (and presumably the rider).  The sons and dad were pretty shaken up, as this incident had apparently just happened, and they saw an angry mob chase down the dump truck driver, grab him, and start to beat on him with sticks and bricks.

I guess that with the perception of the police as being pretty corrupt and ineffective, the average man-on-the-street believes that the best way to obtain justice is to mete it out himself. In fact, the advice we’ve been given is to always leave the scene of an accident immediately – regardless of potential casualties – to avoid getting caught up in just such a mob scene. Adds quite the dash of somber reality to the prospect of getting around in our fair city…

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