Eli and I were feeling we needed to leave Pondicherry within a day or two, and then Eli got a better idea – he rented a scooter. That expanded our horizons and possibilities so much. Now we think we can have our base camp here and go on “explores”. And “adventures”.
Renting a scooter is something that Eli and I had to grow into. We've had nearly two months of being in the flow of traffic here, as pedestrians, on bicycles and as passengers in rickshaws and taxis. At first I just couldn't figure out the logic of it all. But it gradually became clear that the traffic here is not a logical organization of clear cut rules, with me in my space and the other guy in his space, each of us going straight ahead in a clean and linear sort of way.
The traffic here is a giant organism. It's one big flow. You either become part of it or you get scared. Once you get scared you start to hesitate and stop being able to go with the flow. And then it's dangerous. Once you become part of it, it is not at all scary. It feels safer than in the U.S. Also, it's easier to be “in the flow” because vehicles are much smaller and are moving at much slower speeds.
As you go along, by foot or with wheels, you can't assume that you have the “right of way” - I wonder if that concept even exists here? Instead you have to be aware of the whole pattern – and you can trust that everyone else is in the same frame of mind and movement. Then you just do what you need to do to make it all work. That might mean driving in the oncoming lane for a bit. Or it might mean slowing down or stopping so someone driving towards you – very possibly with a couple of small children as passengers – can smoothly pass. Nobody gets mad – not that I've seen.
And then there's the Noise Makers. Every bike or bicycle has a horn or bell of some sort. And of course the same is true for rickshaws and taxis. I even saw an old man who had a bell on his cane. In the states we use our horns to tell the other guy that he is doing something wrong or to express our anger. But here you just use your noise maker all the time, to let other people know that you are there. You ding or honk if you are passing someone, or if you are coming to an intersection or if you just feel it is a good time to say “here I am”. It sounds like chaos but it really works.
Of course, I'm not expert on India.....just describing what I'm experiencing. It reminds me of a teaching from the Yoga Sutras – Sthirra Sukha Asanam. Basically this is saying that to be “In yoga” or in a “good space” you have to maintain a balance of effort and ease. My favorite distillation of this sutra is “Relax relax – Alert, alert”. And this is exactly the frame of mind and movement that makes being in traffic in India an experience of being part of something really alive and vibrant.
So learning to “be in traffic in India” is one more thing I love about India. But a person could easily and with good reason, hate it. Ute told me there are exactly 3 kinds of people: those who would never come to India; those who would come once and never again; and those who come once and immediately know they must come again. I am sure that the traffic is a good reason that many people wind up in the first two categories. And its one of the reasons I'm in the third. Vive la difference! (Remember I'm in Frenchville – so for a more American flavor: Hooray for Diversity).