23-May-2007

Rattling experiences

Chennai auto-rickshaw fellows have personal driving styles that are different from that of the rest of the civilized world. The only place where the same aggression may have been witnessed would have been in chariot races in ancient Rome as portrayed by Hollywood. They drive through cracks and crannies unmindful of the number of car drivers preparing for knee replacement surgeries in the future by hitting their brakes suddenly and frequently. However, even among this crazed lot, a few stand out as genuinely insane. P and I had the honour to ride the magnificent machine of one of these.

We emerged from Spencer’s Plaza and managed to find an auto to take us to Parry’s Corner. This area has a fairly complicated mechanism for keeping the traffic under check. Suffice to say, we should have headed straight down, done a U-Turn and joined the traffic like other law abiding citizens. But Mr. Genuinely Insane was in no mood for that. He did a 90-degree turn and plunged into the traffic. P looked very flustered but I was reasonably calm. Having been reading Asimov of late, I assumed that a time bubble would open up, we would go through empty ground in a parallel universe and then emerge on the other side of the road into our universe. Sadly, we did not. Neighing like a thoroughbred, the auto caused various buses and lorries to grind to a halt on purely humanitarian grounds of not crushing us. The auto for all its rearing was not something that would win applause in the Chennai Auto Driver’s race (now banned). Like an old and elegant lady, it did not hurry obscenely but slowly strutted the road to the other side. The race between man’s willpower vs. machine’s horsepower was on.

Halfway through the journey, however the auto had warmed up sufficiently and there was no stopping her. Even at signals. Luckily we made it through most but the final one was at a large junction. Our driver, straining at every nerve looked like someone who had suffered from a major attack of constipation and still waiting for the effects of Milk of Magnesia to commence. P and I clutched each other and watched his brow furrow while deciding whether to halt. Then abruptly deciding that such intense decision making better be done after halting, he braked. We hovered uncertainly in the air for about 30 seconds. Then the clouds of doubt cleared. Quickly calculating the mass, velocity and acceleration, the auto guy decided we still had time to plunge through. Even before we landed from the hovering-in-the-air state, we were off.

Do you remember the scene in Spiderman 1 where he has to stop this oncoming train from plunging down a broken bridge? The scene shows the train rushing at Peter Parker. That is how the PTC bus looked rushing at us. At this moment, the auto concluded its own ruminations of mass, velocity and acceleration and stopped. Metal would have contacted metal but for providence. Chennai PTC buses after years of bearing 5 times the passenger capacity they were meant to bear do not accelerate from 0 to 60 kmph in 60 seconds. They grunt and groan and gently turn lest the 40 passengers hanging to the windows and doorways fall off. Our auto driver had just about enough time to reverse back to a safer point.

None of us spoke much after this. P and I were glad when we were back in the cosy confines of our office and Mr. GI was back on the road. But hey, didn’t someone say every day you need to challenge yourself to do better?
p.s. Yet another post on autos. Too bad.

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