Delhi Buses

I don't often ride the buses in Delhi. But because I frequent the roads, I notice them often, and I know enough to respect them. As one who is concerned about the environment, I appreciate the fact, emblazoned on the side of every city bus, that Delhi has the World's Largest Eco-friendly CNG Fleet, which means that all 3106 buses in the system run on relatively-clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG). That friendly fact at least helps me to not feel so bad about bringing four young girls from Canada to live with me here in this fine city -- it's not nearly as polluted as it could be.

I have also noticed that, with 2010 on its way, the fleet is being replenished with new buses. They are bright and shiny and they come in two colours -- red for AC and green for non-AC. However, out of a sense of nostalgia, I prefer the old ones that look like they've been through the revolution, as they say. In fact, I stand in awe of them. Compared to the friendly look of the new buses, the old ones look downright mean. They are brash and battered beasts, and they rule the Delhi roads during the day. At night is a different story, because that's when the trucks are allowed into the city limits, all the trucks, like a giant herd of elephants, barging into the city... but that's, well, a different story. The big, bad buses rule the day.

It seems that the bus drivers know how big and bad their buses are, and so they pretty much do what they want on the road, which makes for a scary situation in Delhi traffic. Sadly, there are almost daily reports of deaths under their wheels, which has caused uproars in the city from time to time, though in general the behaviour of the bus drivers has not changed. The reasons for this lack of reform are complicated, but one of the biggest factors, not surprisingly, is money and the pressure put on drivers by the owners of the buses. But that's also, well, a different story. It is enough to know that Delhi buses are dangerous.

I could give countless examples of the real-life craziness that I have personally witnessed with Delhi buses. I've seen them bumping and scraping other vehicles, and most of the time not bothering to stop. Even the time I saw a bus kill a man, the bus just kept driving. I still cringe every time I recall that scene. But that's also a... well, this is not the time or the place for gruesome stories.

I simply wanted to give two examples of the typical craziness that we in Delhi see from our buses, two acts of audacity that I saw recently and that merely help me to keep expecting the unexpected.

The other day, I saw an old city bus approach a major intersection, which was crowded as usual, and I watched in amazement as it swung wide and proceeded to do a massive u-turn, cutting off innumerable others in the process. To do that kind of maneuver in a vehicle of that size requires a huge chunk of the road. No one else seemed to think much of it, except to stay clear. I briefly imagined something like that happening in downtown Vancouver and laughed at the extreme improbability of it.

Then, as if the spirits of the traffic gods were still inconvinced of my awe, they conjured up an even greater act of menace. This time, it happened right in front of me, and I was among those who sat and waited until the event was complete. It was another u-turn in another intersection, but this time it was performed by not just one city bus but two, and the first was towing the second. They were connected by some great piece of metal, which looked like an old drive shaft with make-shift ball joints to accommodate turning. But the maneuver was again accomplished with great boldness and skill, and not much fanfare or honking.

The old Delhi buses are, for me, a piece of the old India, which may be soon to pass away from the Capital. Those buses smell of danger and risk and even of corruption, but also of efficiency and economy and even humble service. For this reason, I appreciate them and respect them, even as I stay clear of them. And when they go, I will remember them, and perhaps I will even miss them.


Kyle said...

Oh man. Words out of my mouth. Good article, Mark!

corinne said...

Very interesting Mark.

Thailand Greg said...

Thanks for the images you paint. I laughed out loud.

Anonymous said...

Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson