Never Overtake an Elephant

Or lessons in negotiating traffic from the animal world

Most first-time foreign visitors to India get terribly excited when they first see a cow on the roads. It's a life-changing moment for many, who have perhaps never seen a live cow, and here they are strolling down the middle of an expressway, or sitting bang in the middle of a major crossroads or on the central verge. Many call their therapists immediately. But like everything in India, there's a mystic meaning behind this phenomenon: foreign visitors are usually also completely traumatised by our traffic and need to be treated for PTSD when they get home. But there's no need for that and cows will show you why. They even work their magic on hard-bitten Indians who try to get run over from six different directions, 12 times a day.

There you are, fighting tooth and nail for your place on the road, skirmishing like Vettel and Hamilton, your blood pressure and the red mist rising, and what do you see? In the midst of this Roman arena mayhem, a cow, or a bunch of them, sitting calmly in the middle of the road eyeing the traffic with their huge, lustrous eyes, chewing cud with more sangfroid than any teenager, and desultorily flicking the flies off their backs. Immediately your BP returns to normal and you stop trying to mow down the scooter just ahead of you. But umm, let's not talk about buffaloes.

There are many other animals that share road space with us. Dogs probably get the worst of it and are frequently mashed to pulp, but many are canny. They sit patiently at pedestrian crossings, waiting for the lights to change, and only cross over when it is green and they can take cover behind the few sensible people doing the same thing. Of course, many have the propensity to try and disembowel your tyres while you're doing 70 kmph, but they're probably fantasising about the time when they brought down deer and antelope in the glorious hunts of yore. Cats usually keep out of sight.

... contd.

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