And the slightly more curt ‘sound horn’ on the back of every three-wheeler (that’s tuk tuk to most Europeans and auto rickshaw to most Indians).
I’m not entirely sure why everyone’s so terribly keen on hearing horns. Perhaps it’s an early warning system to say ‘hello, I’m here, don’t be surprised when I appear on your left, or your right, or alarmingly close to your steering wheel’.
As I’ve mentioned before, and is hardly a well kept secret, driving can be rather rash in India.
Over the years I’ve developed a way of dealing with the whole anarchy of the road business. It’s a simple thing, but it does save me screaming in terror on most car trips. It’s very, very basic – but don’t discount it for all that. My simple tip for calm time in India, is this – at no time whilst in a car, look straight ahead. I cultivate a lovely passing side view from the passenger window. Much safer, then you only see the chaos as it bounces past the sides of the car. You rarely yelp in terror as you see an enormous bus bearing down on you showing no signs of stopping – and frankly why would it stop? After all they’re on the right side of the road – it’s our car that’s chancing a six lane over-taking manoeuvre on the wrong side of the road.
As you can tell from this sage advice, or at least I hope you can tell, I do not drive myself here. I’m not simply driving along staring out of the passenger window, no, that would be foolish. Even here.
No, I am lucky enough to have a driver. A lovely man, though communication is sometimes confusing. He’s pleasant, a reasonable driver, fairly safe (as long as I don’t actually look through the windscreen), and speaks what we both pretend is English.
He also has the two, let’s call them ‘skills’, that sadly not all my recent drivers have had – he is mostly punctual and he is always clean and freshly presented. India is a hot country yet sadly deodorant seems to be in its infancy here. One doesn’t wish to be harsh, but due the lack of deodorant there are many people you do not want to be in a confined space with for any length of time, or indeed, at all.
Before I washed up with my current lovely driver, there were a slew of other candidates, some more or less qualified for the job. One chap seemed to have a very unfortunate glandular problem – utter rivers of sweat flowed from the poor man. So much, that there were slight squeaks from the steering wheel caused by the sweat sliding through his hands… eeew. Sadly we had to get rid of him, as he also had the directional sense of a lemming. He has of course, ever after been referred to as ‘you know, the sweaty one’. Terrible to describe someone like that – but really it was his most distinguishing feature. .
Anyway, to return to the matter in hand – horn ok please. You see it particularly on the back of trucks – the big, largely wooden ones. Well the super structure of them is wood, one assumes the actual engine is something more hardy, but you can never really be certain of such things here. I assume these great hulking behemoths have very large blind spots – as every one of them has the ‘horn ok please’ sign. There is also an assistant to help in loading, turning, reversing after doing something stupid whilst turning and gently wafting their arms out the window to augment the turn signals. Arm wafting is something I shall return to later – it’s a beautiful thing. Well as long as you’re far enough way not to be able to smell any attendant armpit odour, as I said, this is to a large degree, the land untouched by deodorant.
Incidentally, this sort of folksy graphics are having a bit of a moment in trendy shops in Mumbai, Delhi and of course Bangalore. There are fridge magnets, bags and lamps of the fancy design conscious sort, and currently they’re often using images featuring these graphics. There was even a Bollywood film called Horn Ok Please.
Personally I think it’s about time India developed a bit of love for its homespun distinctive graphics style. Urban types can be a bit sniffy about folk from ‘village’ – it’s a start to love the graphics and work up to embracing the whole glorious mismatch of culture at every level. Or perhaps I’m expecting too much of kitschy graphics painted on trucks…
The lovely image of the elephant on the back of a truck? That’s by my delightfully talented chum Abhishek Dasgupta. More of his work here.
And more of why an elephant might be on a truck in the first place… in a soon to be written blog post!