India, Day 8 - A Race.
I've written before about Indian traffic, an ongoing and constant phenomenon that would initiate wetting of the pants in most Western drivers. Lest you think that the highways in India always operates on a basis of "just the way it is," think again. Our driver, simply called "Driver" by my host, has been driving for twenty years. He is good. Very, very good. He can nudge cattle out of the way with a fender with less effort than it takes for most US drivers to coax sparks out of their cigarette lighters. Every now and again he would execute a particularly daring lane change and throw a grin in my direction, just to let me know that he drove to impress. Even in our language-barriered relationship, we became friends with a few common gestures and the phrase "no problem." And, at the end of this afternoon, I discovered that he takes it very personally when he is not allowed to rule the road uncontested.
We were on our way home, passing all other vehicles as per the norm, when a motorcyclist stubbornly refused to let Driver pass. Driver's eyes narrowed into a determined squint, and it was on like Donkey Kong. The Bolero revved, my host laughed in the backseat, and our afternoon turned into a Bollywood remake of Bullitt. Driver attempted pass after pass, but the canny motorcyclist cut him off every time, his purple plaid shirt flapping in the wind around his slender frame. A hint of peevishness played over Driver's face, but it was obvious that he was enjoying the race immensely.
I pride myself on my ability to relax in Indian traffic. I mean, when you're not the one driving, what can you do? Indian roads are best driven by resident Indians, and if I spend all my time second-guessing their every move, I would be wrinkled and gray-haired long before my time. However, as the race escalated and we roared through tiny villages, careening around women, children and animals in a series of closer and closer calls, I was forced to confront the true bounds of my comfort zone. I decided to remain silent and see if Driver was as good as he always seemed to be. And, to his credit, Driver may have caused a few people to drive out of the way, but he didn't hurt a soul. He still ranks as the only person I've ever seen who could drive 40km through a crowded street market without causing any damage to person or property.
Driver never did overtake the motorcycling son'v'gun. The cyclist drove on past our own final destination, and Driver was forced to pull up to a sharp stop. If he hadn't been a consummate professional under a verbal agreement to stop at the appointed coordinates, we might have chased the motorcycle until the Bolero coughed on its last fume of petrol and ground to a halt in the grey space between somewhere and nowhere.