from a dream ...
by Fred Glick
of domestic pleasures-rearranging the furniture,
I think-and get dressed in the cold pre-dawn air of our guest
room. There will be weather stripping before the arrival
of our first guest, I promise myself.
The meter on the taxi that takes me to the bus station runs faster
than an American gasoline pump , and though I'm irritated at being
overcharged by 20% for the twenty minute ride, I am soothed by
the thought that the ride has still cost only US$ 3, or about
three-quarters of my ticket for the fourteen hour bus journey
The taxi ride is fast-not much traffic this early in the morning-and
takes me through Old Delhi. The pollution everywhere in
Delhi is bad, but Old Delhi is the worst, and even at this empty,
early hour it makes my eyes sting.
During the day this road is clogged with traffic of every imaginable
sort: pedestrians, rickshaws, scooters (most carrying two or three
people, but sightings of families of four and five are not uncommon),
three-wheeled auto-rickshaws belching smoke from their two-stroke
engines, taxis, horse-drawn tongas laden with cargo and passengers,
the occasional marching band (complete with tubas, and uniforms
that would do any American high school proud) heading for that
evening's wedding gig, and even, if one is really lucky, the occasional
The bus terminal is benign enough during the day, but in the predawn
darkness it becomes a vision of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic
hell. A stage of concrete, dimly lit, with piles of rags
in the corners that sometimes turn out to be people. All
of it the same brown: the walls, the light, the people,
the rags they wear, and even the ever-present cow is the same
As I board the bus, I am faced with the question of where to sit.
This is always an issue for me no matter how I am traveling, but
especially when preparing to ride a decrepit Indian bus
for fourteen hours.
After much deliberation I settle on the single "shotgun"
seat, beside the driver. The advantages are many:
ample legroom; space for my pack beside me; and no earnest young
Indians sitting beside me, anxious to practice their English ("Where
are you from?" "What is your job?"
How much do you make?"). What can I say, I'm an only
The roads here are miserable. No shoulder, lots of trucks,
livestock, bicycles-and in most cases only two lanes. We
share the major northbound highway out of Delhi with overloaded,
buffalo-drawn carts of unthreshed rice that dwarf even our mighty
bus. Each attempt to pass is an adventure and is preceded
by several blasts of the horn, followed by a quick veer into the
opposite lane to see if there is any on coming traffic.
The horn is a critical driving tool in India. The drivers
of those vehicles with rear-view mirrors don't seem to use them,
and those ox carts don't even have horns.
No road trip would be complete without hourly sightings of horrible
accidents or their remains. At an average speed of about
30 miles per hour that's a lot of accidents.
This trip is no different from usual, and aside from the usual assortment
of overturned trucks from the previous night's journeys, we are
stuck at the site of a fresh accident for forty minutes. That
it seems much, much longer does have something to do with our being
behind a gaily decorated truck that's wired to play 'Jingle Bells'
everytime it's put in gear to creep forward another two feet.
Three lanes of traffic have formed on each side of the two-lane
road and it's every man, woman, and cow for itself. School
must have just gotten out because there's even a school rickshaw
fighting its way through. (The school rickshaws are one of
my most favorites: imagine a guy on a bicycle pulling what
can only be described as a cage, complete with barred windows. Ever
As we draw near the scene, it is obvious that two trucks have had
a head-on collision, one apparently trying to pass the bus lying
up the road 100 metres like a beached whale. One of the trucks
has run off the road and now rests at 30° from the ground against
a large eucalyptus. That it was carrying a load of liquid
petroleum gas cylinders and is NOT on fire gives me a renewed respect
for the cylinders, the same ones that we use for cooking at home
and are delivered to our door by, yes, the (bicycle-mounted) gas-wala.
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