Sitting up high in our tour bus, we could see the tangle of small trucks, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, tuk-tuks, bicycle rickshaws, horse- and burro-drawn carts and pedestrians ignoring the lines on the road and jockeying for position.
At first, it was alarming. Surely someone was going to get run over or a motorcyclist would be clipped by a car. There were lines on the roads, but they seemed to be just suggestions. And there was so much honk, honk, honking!
It got to the point where I couldn’t look down at the traffic as we traveled; I chose instead to look at the landscapes farther away. That way, I wouldn’t be fretting over vehicles and people that disappeared from sight too quickly.
When I got the opportunity to ride in a car, it felt even more uncomfortable. Driving on the left side of the road and riding in the seat I usually drive in probably discombobulated my perception. But I still couldn’t understand how anyone could safely drive through such traffic.
Then I went to beautiful Kolkata for my teaching assignment at Shri Shikshayatan School and discovered my hotel was only four-and-a-half blocks from the school.
I could walk that, right?
With trepidation, I took my first steps on the streets of India without any guides or vehicles to ride in. How would I cross the first street with no crosswalks and no lights?
But then, as I started walking, I began to sense a rhythm.
Though from high in my bus, traffic seemed crazy, walking in it made me realize that everyone was actually working together to keep the flow smooth. The horns which had before seemed so shrill, now were simply little reminders that “I’m over here.” The speed of traffic was actually much slower than I had originally thought; people were keeping the flow by taking their time and watching out for each other. There was no ego in traffic – whoever’s turn was most logical was given berth.
And when I went to cross the street, I was reminded of double-Dutch jump rope. I waited until I saw a logical opening, and when I started crossing, traffic gave me time to cross. One motorcycle gave me a quick honk to let me know he was going to cut in front of me, and I hesitated one second so he could.
The important element was being aware of and respectful to everyone and everything on the road.
And I learned that you can never judge anything from a lofty position, far away from the issue. You need to get up-close and personal to really see things as they are and discover the rhythm of how things work.