Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Paradigm Shift

Before we came to India one of our team members, Olyvia Rakshit, showed us a video of traffic in India and referred to it as organized chaos.  I really couldn't understand how any order existed in the zigzagging of cars, motorcycles, rickshas and even pedestrians, weaving and bobbing around one another, ignoring stop signs, and feverishly honking horns.

On our first day here I had the chance to walk around Mubai and observed this chaos.  As we headed to Coloba, a motorcyclist sped by, and in doing so blew his horn at a ricksha that he was passing.  The ricksha moved ever so slightly to the right and let the motorcycle speed by.  It wasn't a frantic response nor was the driver's reaction the negative response you'd get in America if someone blew a horn at you.  His calm movement suggested a willingness to accommodate or cooperate with his partner on the road.

I began to notice this type of signal and response time and time again as we contined to walk through the city.  There was actually a conversation of sorts going on between the motorists on the streets of Mumbai.  There was clearly an air of collaboration.  No one got angry.  Every one was working together.  Drivers used their horns to communicate.  "I'm on your left and want to pass".  "You're getting too close to me.". "Don't stop, keep going".  Even the pedestrians were a part of this wordless dialogue.  There really was organization in what I was witnessing.

I've heard many times that one of the cultural mantras in India is "We're all in this together".  Witnessing the way the rules of the road play out on the streets of India epitomizes this mantra.  Yes, in America this would be chaos, but we're not in America.  The Indian culture has created its own set of rules about how to get from point A to pont B that may differ from ours, but they work  just fine for them (thank you very much).   I resist the urge to refer to this as organized chaos.  I'd rather refer to it as "collaborative commuting".

James Ely

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