Dear Ezra and Lian,
Every 10 minutes, I thought I was going to die. I’m going to die in a terrible head-on collision. Uncle Steve and I were riding in a share Jeep (Sumo). He was calmly sleeping. I should have been. It was the middle of the night. This was my first 6 hours in India, ever. I had been awake for hours flying here, going through customs and waiting for Steve. I was exhausted and trying not to panic.
At first, all I heard was a cacophony of horns honking and engines revving. After a while, I realized Indian drivers use horns as communication devices. Our vehicle would honk its horn to let the guy in front know we were passing. He would honk back or “dip his lights”. Then we would be heading straight for a big truck right at us. Nobody seemed to be slowing down. Just at the last second we would squeeze between the oncoming vehicle and the vehicle beside us. The bigger the vehicle, the less they slowed down or made way for us. I was looking for seatbelts and couldn’t find any. It was incredibly hot and humid. I was seeing and hearing things for the first time. It was sensory overload.
After hours and hours of this, we somehow reached Pune alive.
This is India.
I have had the following incident happen 3 different times in 3 different ways. Driving with the drivers of Mizoram cabinet ministers, private secretary to the chief minister, etc.
8 years after my first drive in India; Ezra, Mommy, a couple Canadian university students were driving in a jeep in Mizoram. Our driver was the Mizoram Sports and Tourism Minister’s personal driver. We had spent most of the day having fun around Riak Tlang. Our driver had spent most of the day mixing drugs and alcohol. I didn’t know that when I loaded all you guys in. For the sake of not embarrassing either the driver, his boss or the boss’s son, I put up with his driving for way longer than I had any business doing.
Since our driver was high, he started driving like a race car driver. He was literally making motor noises with his mouth. He was driving as fast as he could. He was cutting inside on corners. Here’s the thing, most of Mizoram driving involves driving in mountains, on bad pot-holed, narrow roads with no guard rails. There are drop-offs of 100-1000 feet almost along every road outside of towns. There are hairpin turns and double switch-backs. We would be going around corners, the tires would skid off the pavement onto the 1 foot wide shoulder. Numerous times I thought, we are all going over the edge. I was trying to get the driver to slow down. He wouldn’t listen. He was having too much fun.
At one point, the driver stopped the vehicle to wait while the rest of the caravan of vehicles carrying university students caught up. I got everybody out of the jeep. I squeezed all of us into other vehicles and forbid the other students to get in with the maniac. This driver like the other 2 drivers who did almost the exact same thing to me, they all drove for a bigshot. They drove recklessly and wouldn’t listen to me. They also never got fired for endangering the lives of others. It’s the way amongst the powerful Mizos. It is always viewed as more important to look after your employees no matter how bad they are. Firing an employee is seen as very shameful and excessively cruel. Consequently most employees can get away with murder and are never held responsible. This is India. This is Mizoram. In Canada, this driver would have lost his driver’s license for 5 years and his job.
I had been filming rats and rat damage on a farm. My friends who drove me there, were going the opposite direction as I needed to go. So I had to hitchhike in Mizoram. We were hours away from a town or a bus stop. Eventually the last bus of the day came along the road. It was riding on some bald tires. When it stopped, its brakes let out a painful squeal. The door opened and I hopped on board. I happily paid the fare to get off my feet.
I looked over the bus. There was absolutely nowhere to sit. So many kids and babies and packages were on people’s laps. The roof was even covered with luggage tied down. The centre aisle was already full of other people standing. I had to stand at the very front, right beside the bus driver. The bus creaked away. Remember this is Mizoram; narrow roads, lots of pot holes, many bends around and around and down and up high mountains, no guardrails, frequently rock and mudslides. The bus driver did a great job with the bus he had. He took it slow and carefully.
One thing I never realized before was that up front like this, you can’t see the ground or the road underneath you. As we went around a corner, I couldn’t see any road or any shoulder. There was only air and the valley far, far below. I would be hanging unto the railing, spinning around it as we cornered. I felt if I let go I would be hurled over the bus driver and out his window into space. Eventually, I sat on his dash. If I looked to the side or forward, it gave me the sensation that I was flying over the edge. At first it was stomach-churning scary. Then it became like a slow moving roller coaster. I couldn’t see the road. My life was in the hands of stranger. This bus driver was always smiling at me after we went around every corner. I relinquished control of my life. I put my trust in him to get me home safely. It was fun.
Just a glimpse of driving in India.