Saturday, February 25, 2006
Varanasi- the city the Communists never exploited for its Rediness (no letter missed).
I read a hilarious account the other day about the travails of driving on Indian roads. Naturally, I tried to relate it to my life and compare the incidents. During this comparison, I realized that driving in Varanasi presents a greater challenge than driving a Ferrari in Monaco. If Ayrton Senna’s misjudgement of a tortuous track proved fatal in Monaco, mistaking a ditch for a pot hole would be his undoing in Varanasi.
Varanasi has three types of roads: i)lanes, ii)by-lanes, and iii)lanelets. The lanes are occupied by trucks, tractors, cars, auto rickshaws, rickshaws, cows, and the rest. By-lanes have cars, tractors, auto rickshaws, rickshaws, cows, and the rest. Lanelets are filled with cycles, rickshaws, cows, auto rickshaws entering, and misdirected autos trying in vain to reverse. In Varanasi, you, as a driver can be in two places- on the road or in the drain (in some cases, the drain is called the Ganges and you might just get fooled)
There are three rules for driving in Varanasi:
1. Look to your left, look to your right, repeat the process several times, and when your neck has loosened up nicely, look up and cross the road.
2. Use the footpath if necessary. But beware! you cannot hit and run like Salman did. You may hit, but you can’t run farther than the next fruit vendor, rickshaw, or cow.
3. Always keep your walkman with you and play Triambakam Gajamahe on both sides of the tape.
There are many similarities between driving in Varanasi and playing Roadrash City. Only, use your nitro boosts judiciously; an overdose could land you on a nearby temple’s Trishul, and probability will prove that its chances are pretty high. Your position on the road is governed by the Le Chatelier’s Princliple which states that “when a constraint is applied on a system, it moves in the direction which nullifies the effect of the constraint.” By following this principle, Right and Left are purely relative terms. You can keep to the left of the right side of the road or to the right of the left side depending on the density of traffic at that time. Always keep to the left of the road till it’s too crowded. Then move to the right and use all the skills you acquired while watching Moto GP. The ride also resembles Need for Speed with the only difference being that in NFS-Varanasi the speed will always remain an unfulfilled need.
The roads in Varanasi are remarkably level. There’s just one bridge near the campus, straddling a drain. The bridge could’ve been made without an elevation but that would make the fragrance of 5 parts hydrogen sulphide, 3 parts strong ammonia, and 3 dead rats too much for human olfactory organs. When the authorities realized that the bridge wasn’t high enough, they added a mound of concrete (half a foot high) at the highest point of the bridge to simulate the track of the Thai X-Games. It’s great to see stunned faces, clutched groins, abusive language, and a plethora of other reactions, when vehicles jump into infinity.
It’s sad that humans can’t go to the moon. But Varanasi, true to its promise of providing ‘universal’ bliss, gives you a near-true picture of it. The roads have craters big enough to hold the Great Lakes of America. Also, while the moon has only one, Varanasi boasts of many Seas of Tranquility- green in colour, stagnant for whole seasons, and an ardent lot of microscopic devotees circling around it. Like the University, these seas have annual festivals, where the devotees spread their word and germs to their human brothers.
The roads from outside the University to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple would be more densely populated than Japan if only a statistician would have the fortitude to wade through the human currents. The hierarchy of vehicles on the roads is unlike in any other city. Cattle play the twin role of acting as dividers and defecating at will. There is a basic difference between the UP police and cattle. Both regulate the traffic, but the latter whips the defaulters and leaves a bit of dung on their shirts as a memento.
The roads are flanked on one side by the divider and on the other by an open drain. The authorities aim to match Singapore in road cleanliness and they’ve almost done it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the flowing dustbin is never more than a step away, though at times the step may be yours. When it rains, children and the drains overflow with joy and muck respectively. It’s that time of the year when what’s below comes on top, and what’s on top is afloat.
Rickshaws are the kings of the road, and help in reducing the average speed of motor vehicles to a near-idling state. People don’t mind this really. It gives them time to open another packet of Rajnigandha. The maximum gap between any two rickshaws is enough for a motorcycle with a man and a woman wearing jeans. Sitting with both legs hanging on one side could lead to legs hanging from nowhere. The remaining voids are filled with cycles, pedestrians, and dogs. If you are the proud owner of a new car, you’ll soon be the proud owner of the world’s first striped car.
The synchronized honking of horns reminds one of Mozart’s early compositions, and the blend of these noises with the barking of dogs and the mooing of cows brings back the good old days of Pink Floyd’s progressive rock. Ever wondered why George Harrison used to come here for inspiration. On most occasions, the horn functions as a death knell and the victim’s last words generally are “Hey Rammed!”
Indicators are seldom used. Drivers turning to the right stick their hands out offering the oncoming vehicles to do a high jump over the outstretched arms. Also, drivers have a fetish for committing themselves to the left before making an almighty swerve to the right. The plot is simple. You see no indicator and obviously keep blasting ahead coo-cooing with your girlfriend. You subsequently ram into the swerving driver who abuses you in the vernacular and being in a smaller vehicle, he corners all the sympathy. The police come around and finally you have no money left to waste on your girlfriend’s indulgences.
Hyderabad Gate opens into a road wide enough for 2 motorcycles and a man walking sideways. It’s a straight stretch of brick road. If you sit on a bike with a cup of tea and a pour a teaspoon of sugar, you needn’t stir. Every alternate brick is prised out of its place and the remaining are eroded with the result that the road looks like a series of speed brakers laid end-to-end- in other words, it looks like the crumpled paper in the MRF Tyres ad. Occasionally a truck or school bus enters this road. This leaves around six inches on either side for the scooters, cycles, pedestrians and cows to pack into. The net compound is so closely packed that the road can be inverted without anyone falling off.
Last Word: Rent a Cow- There’s a solution to all these problems. Life’s not that cruel after all. Just hop from cow to cow for some very simple reasons. Firstly, the problem of not having enough cows is non-existent. Half the population does nothing to cows out of reverence. Half of the remaining stays away out of fear and the rest out of disgust. So:
1. Make the cow your best friend
2. Don’t forward this to too many Banarsis, else the word will spread.