Since coming home from India I’ve found myself feeling trapped and confined in DC traffic. Having grown-up with it , the grid-lock and frustration of Connecticut Avenue traffic should feel natural to me. I should find relief in the traffic lights, the turn signals, the clearly marked and followed traffic laws. Instead find myself longing for the chaos and disorder of Delhi’s streets. I remember the first night we went out into Delhi, trying to cross a large street with our only slightly smaller group of disoriented and scared Americans, fresh off the plane. I felt every moment as if we were going to be smashed by a rickshaw into a taxi, or bowled into a fruit cart by a bicyclist. I remember the terrified look on Alex’s face on the first taxi ride through Delhi. I remember the first time I tried to cross a street on my own while living in Pune, when I had to be helped across the street by a kind stranger for fear of being stranded in the middle, unable to get across the last “lane” nor get back to where I had started.
But it took surprisingly little time for me to become re-accostumed to the insanity. Within just a few days I began to feel more comfortable and confident crossing the street, and just walking through the streets. Part of my confidence came, I think, from being able to give advice and lead the other members of the group who had less experience with Indian traffic customs. Acting as a sort of quasi-leader when I could really helped me to step into the country as I focused on other people’s fears instead of my own. I felt this in more ways than one over the course of the trip, but nowhere more prominently than in street-crossing, where calmness and confidence are key.
Once I got over the initial rickshaw-shock of the streets, I felt as though I fell into a sort of rhythm within the bustle. I began to barely look before stepping into the street- partly because looking does little good when you had no clue as where the cars might be coming from. But more than recklessness, I developed a sort of feeling for the flow of the bicycles and the tuk-tuks and the taxis and the trucks and the fruit carts and the buses and even the cows and goats and pigs. Through this, I came to understand a kind of unwritten set of traffic laws. Among other things it includes: create your own lanes, but follow vehicles of approximately your own size; be aware of your surroundings and help keep those around you aware of you; and possibly most importantly keep moving- constantly.
The motion helps to accommodate the millions of people needing to get to all different places and all rushing at the same time. There is constant weaving and shuffling and shifting, but fewer accidents than we have in the U.S.
Since coming home, I’v missed the cows and rickshaws and lyrical honking in the Delhi streets. But most of all I miss the fluidity and the musicality with which the variety of movers and shakers maneuver through the streets. Here I feel truly “stuck” in traffic- unable to weave or wimble out. Traffic here may objectively be better and more manageable, but I will always prefer the rhythm of the chaos to the staccato of organization.