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February 14, 2020 / catherinebwrites

2. INDIA-THE FIRST TUK-TUK

We took a deep breath and ventured out again. We’d go to a shopping mall mentioned in the guide book. A place we could look around unmolested, finger the silk, admire exotic saris, have a coffee.

We took the first tuk-tuk driver who approached us. Agreed a price – we’re not idiots – and got in.

close up of man driving tuk tuk

“Delhi Helicopter.” he shouted over his shouder as he revved up.

Our laughter was choked when he made a sudden U turn through four lanes of traffic. Through traffic so dense I couldn’t look at it. He shimmied past motor bikes, tooting his horn, squeezed bewteen lorries, beat a van to a roundabout. Everyone also tooted their horn Or rang their bell or hooted their hooter. Engines revved, smoke belched. He steamed up the wrong side of the road. I clutched the bar of the frame for dear life, spluttering and gasping,

“Oh my God” “Oh Jesus Christ.” “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God,” “*&^%$£”!.” “*&^%$£”! , *&^%$£”!, *&^%$£”! , *&^%$£”

“Calm down,” says Sir, sitting beside me, “there’s nothing we can do, they know what they’re doing.”

I closed my eyes and grabbed his hand.

“Shopping Mall”, we discovered, was a euphemism.

An hour later we staggered out , frazzled by salesmen pitching silks and carpets and jewels and spices and carvings of gods and godessess, and paintings of elephants and camels and horses and peacocks. Daylight at last, we could breathe. The air tasted gritty. Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting. Once more into the breach!

This time I looked at the traffic, what I could see of it. We were walled in by tuk-tuks, cars, motor bikes, rickshaws, hand-carts, pedestrians, cows, dogs and bicycles, all blaring hooters and horns and bells. And shifting like maggotts in a pile. If the tiniest space opened up someone wriggled into it. I began to wonder if Delhi vehicles could expand and contract at will.

A raggedy camel caused gridlock. It was hauling a dray piled with sacks, and trying to turn into a side street, when it got stuck. A horse and cart sneaked around causing more of a jam. Cars, vans, tuk-tuks, all of the above, crammed up behind. Nobody could move.

They stopped blowing their horns They turned off their engines and waited. No yelling, no cursing . Not happy exactly, but patient. People chatted about the problems of Delhi traffic. Men got out of cars and tried to work out solutions but failed.

A grubby child did cartwheels between the cars and leaped into forward rolls. His sister shook a can at us. We’d be warned not to give money to beggars as it only attracts many more to try their luck. We stiffen our upper lips and feel guilty.

A man then appeared from the side street and did a lot of waving. Other men joined him nudging cars and lorries and animals forward, shouting directions, waving tuk-tuks to available crevices and, in a very few minutes, we were moving again.

I began to realise that what looks insane to our eyes has it’s own logic. The horn blowing is not,

“Get out of my way you stupid bastard.” It’s more

“Hey there, I’m just behind to your right.”

Vans and buses and tuk-tuls have “Blow horn” written at the back. We saw no accidents. Everyone stops for a red light. They let pedestrians cross. They don’t bother the cows or the dogs or each other.

Back at the hotel I had to lie down once again.

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