Driving in Mumbai

This is not a new topic for my blog.

But I felt compelled to write again, after driving today (being a Sunday and so no driver, have to find the way myself !). When the driver is driving the car, you just do something else inside the car and avoid looking out. Any focus on the traffic outside and the way you are being driven around is enough to give a newcomer the jitters.

I observed that my own way of driving a car has changed over the past several years of living in Mumbai. Previously I used to concentrate excessively on the car ahead of me and the three mirrors to see what is going on behind my car. I still sometimes do this, but mostly now I drive by instinct.

You have got to have a well-rounded 360 degree head in order to drive successfully in Mumbai, and you need to make guesstimates on how close the neighbouring car’s edge is located beside your own car’s rounded edges. This comes purely by instinct as geometrical analysis and data interpretation do not really help here on the roads. If we follow the rule that rectangles or squares move ahead in lanes on the road and you can avoid rupture by keeping the edges of the objects within the lane that you are driving, then you are headed for a disaster. That’s because of several reasons – in India, we not only have rectangles and squares, we have trapeziums, circles, ellipses, protractors, compasses, and long objects with seemingly no edges, on the roads at any time. We also have triangles and parallelograms. When you have a traffic comprising of all these objects with sometimes corrugated edges, and then you have roads in which the central dividers have swaying poles, and many a time big rocks or stones on the right edges of the road (India is on right-hand driving, which is the right way any way), then you can imagine the plight of an average driver like me.

I sometimes use the horsepower of the car to surge ahead when the traffic lights turn green, but I found that it is not always a good idea. Yes, I could create a distance between myself and the guys on my sides and back, but it does not work all the time even if I am first off the mark. The reason is simple. The pedestrians do not care about traffic signals, they keep crossing one by one – the dad first, the mom next, and then couple of children after them, or a trolley full of objects which could anytime spill over on to the road which needs to cross despite the traffic signal urging the pedestrians to stop. Apart from this unique “continuous crossing” behaviour of Indian pedestrians, we also have the super duper bikers, who have just learnt how to use their new bikes, and always use parabolic trajectories to overtake others on the road, whether the traffic signals work or not. So, when I am the first vehicle on my lane in the road, I am always almost surrounded by a bevy of bikers, just like the Prime Minister or President of India, or may be the Chief Minister of the state. This is because the bikers like the right most lane, which gives them the adrenalin rush to beat the cars and prove that parabola and ellipsoid are better geometrical figures as compared to cuboid.

Well, well, there are many tricks to be followed on Mumbai roads, but increasingly I have come to rely on my context-sensitive right brain, which signals to me that something is not right, or everything is all right. Generally, the right brain commands me to follow my instinctive reflexes, which it sends to my arms and legs which then act in conjunction to move ahead or stop. I have seen that the other vehicles have taken cognizance of my vehicle because of this manner of driving, which is better suited to Mumbai roads than the left-brain driven intelligent driving which is not practical. So, the other vehicles are now respecting me, and I am kind of pleased with my new status as a recognized driver on Mumbai suburban roads (I am yet to drive to South Mumbai even after almost six years).

I also decided that it is not worthwhile to spend a lot of money on your car in Mumbai as the sea wind causes corrosion of the undercarriage, irrespective of whatever plastic treatment you could do on your car. The bikers and cyclists almost always knock off your side view mirrors and then apologize (sometimes only) with a smile which means that these things are normal on our roads, so do not complain or even try to speak. Just keep the engine of your car running well, and that should be adequate these days. Tyres are already struggling due to the rough patches on the roads which are not attended to by the road works contractors or by the government (they know that people do not vote based on road conditions), with small stones strewn all over the roads.

Another unique feature of Mumbai suburban roads is the shrinkage of lanes from three to two and from two to one. This situation is because of the usage of road space for non-transport purposes, where almost one lane is taken up for various purposes such as loading/unloading, parking, living (yes, you have to see to believe), washing utensils and clothes, storage of heavy equipment (ostentatiously to prove that the government is going to deliver on its road improvement programmes), and conduct of political rallies or delivery of political and or religious speeches to whoever can gather in that space of the road to listen to such speakers.

The loss of such valuable space on the roads causes heartburn to both good and bad drivers, as drivers have to be extremely careful not to horn and not to hit any object (whatever be its geometric shape) or any person who is using that road space. Such practice of forcible and illegal occupation of roads continues unabated despite whatever action that the police takes.

Wow, that is more than a thousand words on my driving experience and general road-related observations from today’s driving. Enjoy driving in Mumbai using your right brain and context-sensitive pop-up menus which would guide your reflexes as you go along. Don’t worry about your car’s health – it would behave fine whatever little shocks you give to it.


Vijay Srinivasan
29th January 2012


2 thoughts on “Driving in Mumbai

  1. Continue to write regarding this matter. Right now there is really a larger need than you may expect for this kind of knowledge and assistance. What you share is valuable to the person that is looking to get the tips that you have put together.

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