I have procured a bicycle. Actually, the NGO that I work for, Shaishav, had a spare one in their storage space. Three tire repairs and one seat adjustment later, I rode away with (somewhat rusty) newfound freedom, the ability to cruise through the city on two wheels, wind through my hair.
Well, not exactly. Because in Gujarat, girls tie scarves around their heads when they bike. So instead of glamorously riding to work each day, enjoying the breeze, my face is swathed in layers of fabric, wide eyes peeking out, protected from shining sun and the eyes of the men motorcycling to work each morning.
When strangers learn you have lived in India, they ask questions such as, “How was the traffic?” or “Did it take you twenty minutes to cross the intersection?”
No. Let me break this down for you.
Traffic in Bhavnagar never stops. The entire city is built around traffic circles, which allows for flow in and out of traffic, but even at intersections, people never stop. They anticipate, they slow down, they speed up, they swerve, they anticipate, they speed up, they slow down, they make eye contact, they signal with their hands, they anticipate, they repeat. The entire process is musical, an orchestra of weaving wheels.
Initially anticipating the chaotic concerto of commuting by bicycle in Bhavnagar sent me running to the nearest autorickshaw. However, biking is my preferred method of transportation in the U.S., so I took a deep breath and dove in.
…and emerged unscathed! Biking in India is wonderful, perhaps better than biking in the United States. At home, it was routine to be cut off by someone who didn’t look in their mirrors or over their shoulder at the bike lane. If the road didn’t have a bike lane, drivers were even less conscious of your presence. Indians, on the other hand, are always alert of the entire road, whether they be a bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, pushcart or cow. Although their traffic patterns may seem chaotic externally, once you gather enough courage to graduate from the back seat, you will realize that everyone is conscious of where you are, as well as where you will be in ten second.
Why? Is this an entire country adapting to an unorganized system of transportation? Perhaps. But I like to think that the traffic in India represents a larger aspect of Indian culture. Indians genuinely care about each other. Caring about others, even perfect strangers, is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it spills over into all areas. People make sure you are well fed and have a comfortable bed at night. Aunties stop when you are paying your autorickshaw driver to make sure he isn’t trying to rip you off. The man with the vegetable cart gives you free ginger when you lose your voice. The security guard in your building runs up to help you with your oversized luggage. And, on the road, people look out for each other.
You may still be wondering, have I been in an accident? Almost. My only near-collision experience happened the first week of riding my bicycle. No, it was not (almost) caused by a car, nor a bus, autorickshaw, motorcycle, bicycle or cow (they are also very conscious of the traffic, and no, that is not a joke). Instead, a fat warthog, brown and hairy, dirty and homeless, left his place of residence on the side of the road and charged at my bicycle! I’m not sure if the squeal was let out by the pig or myself, but I managed to speed up and narrowly avoid hitting the animal, who then slowly sauntered back to safety, nibbling on some grass. So the lesson here: watch out for the pigs.