Streets of chaos

Observe how the overloaded bus is listing to its side!

If you think our city traffic is impossible, wait till you land in the nightmare in South Indian cities, warns PEGGY LOH.

I WATCHED in amazement as auto-rickshaws wove through thick traffic. They closely avoided collision, just like how blind bats always seem to miss crashing into each other.

As an eight-wheeler bus turned at a traffic crossing, I saw passengers clinging on to the open door, making the bus tilt heavily to one side. Some were even hanging to windows by their hands and as the bus took corners, bodies swung wildly in a wide arc!

It was a horrifying sight but in overcrowded India, this was a daily routine for the people. Watching the unruly onslaught of two-wheelers, three-wheelers, small cars, buses and huge trucks impatiently honking and rushing by in Chennai, I was truly grateful this did not happen in Malaysia.

The chaos made us very appreciative of our own public transport system – orderly, convenient, inexpensive and much, much safer.

Auto rickshaws on the streets of India
The streets of South India are clearly not for the faint-hearted but since auto-rickshaws are the most convenient mode of transport in the city, my friends and I steeled ourselves and were determined not to be fleeced by the tricky operators. The three-wheelers are equipped with a meter but drivers often refuse to use the meter, seizing any opportunity to squeeze tourists for an extra rupee.

From past experiences in Penang, Malacca and Kota Baru, we knew it was best to agree on a price before boarding. So each time we needed a ride, we were in for fierce and loud haggling to reach a mutually agreeable deal.

Of all the bargaining sessions, one that made a lasting impression on me was when a driver agreed to our price on condition that we stopped at a mall to buy him a T-shirt! How absolutely absurd!

We soon discovered one of the clever ploys to demand additional fare. Our hostel in Bangalore was located behind the Cantonement Railway Station. Local friends advised us to instruct drivers in the local lingo, to go to “back side of Cantonement Railway Station”.

We did just that only to have the driver impatiently wave us aboard with, “yes! yes! yes!” After a nerve-wracking ride, he would swerve to a stop in front of Cantonement Railway Station!

There, he would demand additional fare to take us to the back. When we protested, another loud debate ensued. When we boldly refused to budge, he would grudgingly take us to our destination, muttering all the way in his own language!

Since the Indian auto experience, I have not only developed a thicker skin and nerves of steel but I have also drawn closer to God. That’s because each time we climbed on board an auto-rickshaw, we prayed so much harder for divine protection!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 23 March 2008

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