Deconstructed: driving in India.


Sometimes we fail to realize that there are ordered systems at work in a seemingly chaotic environment. Driving in India is one such example. It is one of those things that has only slowly, over time become understandable (as a system). Based on my observations over the past months, here are some of the “rules”:

1. The road is not comprised of lanes, it is a “field” onto which as many cars (as well as people, bikes and animals) as possible will float with the sole intention of moving forward and not touching other cars. This is not apparent at first go, because some streets are deceptively painted with western style dashed lines.

2. All manner of “me first” and “dog eat dog” behavior prevails on the road here. That said, unlike in the US, there seems to be very little road rage. People just accept that they will be cut off and the larger vehicles can bully the smaller ones by sheer force and fear. They also know that they will behave in exactly the same way towards other vehicles (and people) on the road.

3. The horn is a navigational aid here, and it is used incessantly. Without it, there would be no way to warn the cars (mostly to the left of you) that you are coming through or that they are about to hit you. At night, the use of the horn declines slightly in favor of blinking lights three times.

4. Drivers posses a strong (emotional) need to get ahead of whatever vehicle (or vehicles) are in front of them. Passing is just what one does, and so driving on non divided roads consists of an elaborate and never ending game of chicken with the oncoming traffic. One learns to accept it calmly or lock oneself indoors, never to travel.

5. It is a great help in navigation if there is a small (often blinking) statue of Ganesh glued to the dashboard. This is because Ganesh is, among other things, the god who removes obstacles. Taxi drivers in particular worship Ganesh to insure smooth sailing through heavy traffic.

6. Moving right or left across the field (known in the US as “changing lanes”) involves a hand gesture pointing to the right to move right (and cut someone off) and sometimes a signal. To move left, you use your turn signal if it is working, or just hope Ganesh will clear out the obstacles if your signal is broken.

These are some of the rules of how the system of driving works in India. Anyone out there care to share any I’ve left out?


  1. tlitten says:

    7. Avoid killing cows with your car at all costs.

  2. Kelly says:

    Hey Bro,
    I was looking for Dad’s home page (where he posts his pics) and I found you instead!!!

    Hope all is going well. Sheila fills us in most of the time, because I always forget to check your blog.

    We are all swell. Sarah can’t wait to get back to the UK…and Bert is graduting from high school this month!

    Robert and I will be empty nesters in the Fall.


    Ps You are a great writer!