Travel: Please fasten your garland of marigolds: Indian drivers keep to a strict observance of their Highway Code, based on an ancient text. Peter Hughes offers a translation

Peter Hughes
Friday 12 August 1994 23:02

Travelling in India is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable - and, when you are on the roads, extremely dangerous.

To the Westerner, the behaviour of drivers seems to cross Space Invaders with a profound belief in reincarnation. The Ambassador cars, Bombay-built derivatives of the Fifties Morris Oxford, rattle tourists to palaces and temples like time- capsules in a game of virtual unreality. There is an explanation for this behaviour. Most Indian road users observe a version of the Highway Code based on a Sanskrit text. These 12 rules of the Indian road are published for the first time in English.

Article I

The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.

Article II

Indian traffic, like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to: cows, elephants, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, camels, light trucks, buffalo, Jeeps, ox-carts, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, pigs, pedal rickshaws, goats, bicycles (goods carrying), handcarts, bicycles (passenger carrying), dogs, pedestrians.

Article III

All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers' mantra.

Article IV

Use of horn (also known as the sonic fender or aural amulet):

Cars (IV, 1, a-c): Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, ie in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, ie to oncoming truck, 'I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die.' In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic). Single blast (casual) means 'I have seen someone out of India's population of 870 million whom I recognise'; 'There is a bird in the road (which at this speed could go through my windscreen)', or 'I have not blown my horn for several minutes.'

Trucks and buses (IV, 2, a): All horn signals have the same meaning, viz, 'I have an all-up weight of approximately 12 1/2 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could.' This signal may be em-

phasised by the use of headlamps (insouciant).

Article IV remains subject to the provisions of Order of Precedence in Article II above.

Article V

All manoeuvres, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.

Article VI

In the absence of seat belts (which there is), car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times.

Article VII

Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So does traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle.

Lane discipline (VII, 1): All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the centre of the road.

Article VIII

Roundabouts: India has no roundabouts. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function. Any other impression should be ignored.

Article IX

Overtaking is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you.

Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable locations, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centres. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing - one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.

Article X

Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

Article XI

Reversing: no longer applicable since no vehicle in India has reverse gear.

Article XII

The 10th incarnation of God was as an articulated tanker.

(Photograph omitted)

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