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Honk when crazy

Put men and their machines on the roads and we have the basic ingredients of road rage. Ruchir Joshi on this deeply desi hormonal phenomenon.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2011 19:53 IST

We don't need drugs, we don't need alcohol and we really don't need guns or rifles or other fun, lethally explosive devices. As a society, we don't need any of these things because we have, like, cars.

Our middle-class has millions of cars, and since we are a democracy that tries to be inclusive - at least about the important things - we've made sure that many members of our working classes, millions of them, are also settled behind the steering-wheels of buses and trucks. An overwhelming percentage of people driving internal combustion vehicles in this country are male. So, really, if you actually think about it, we don't even need penises, at least not for sexual pleasure. Because we have power-steering and the clutch and accelerator pedals that give us our thrills.

These kicks come to us in waves despite that entirely idiotic, obsolete thing that sticks out between clutch and accelerator, the kabab-mein-haddi, one that always gets in the way of our busy feet, the thing they call a brake, the one that's about as useful as an appendix or a sixth finger. Which is why only the weakest among us have ever learnt to step on that thing. For every smart Indian knows that the point of a car is to drive it fast - very, very fast no matter where you are - and surely not to slow it down or stop it.

Slowing down a car is just like slowing down the economy. So, yaar, why do it? Braking the car and bringing it to a stop feels like a total market crash. What are we, Wall Street or the City in London that we should, like, suffer crashes? We don't mind a few accidents here and there, but we over here don't like crashes.

If car production goes down or highway construction slows then that's a crash, a few hundred thousand people dying in road accidents is, well, an accident. Do you see what I mean? No? Never mind. Anyway, it's not right to make too many jokes about the Sardarji, so I'll tell you a Santa-Banta joke I recently got on SMS.

So, Banta was one night having marriage-relations with his wife. They were moving along happily when Banta suddenly froze. Then he resumed. Then he froze again. This got Bibbi-ji puzzled and angry. "Oy, ji, what you think you are doing!?!" She snapped. "Arrey chup karo ji," replies Banta, "I have seen this on computer when I'm downloading the porn. It is called buffering!"

The fact is that being in a traffic jam in this country, city or highway is like being trapped in a very bad porn site: you're surrounded by unmoving, plastic bodies of foreign design, if not manufacture; your money is burning like over-priced petrol; you're breathing in your own bad smoke; your palms are sweaty as you search for any gaps ahead while you are, simultaneously and constantly, straining your neck looking over your shoulder. And, at the end of it, when you get out of the freeze, you can only hit about 30kmph.

It's so frustrating, it's enough to make a man want to drive over someone.

Alternatively, say you're caught in the frozen buffering that is the parking at Khan Market, which could also be described as one large aneurism in the clogged veinous network of New Delhi traffic. Like a lethal blood-clot, it's something that could, did and will again burst through to cause fatal damage, in which direction you can't be sure.

Because, one of the things that we Indians are psychotic about is the 'look' or 'show' of our cars - we treat them as more sacrosanct, more precious than our most intimate bodily parts.

It's strange, this: on the one hand we treat our cars as an extension of our bodies and use them like we do our hands and shoulders, "Bhaisahab, thoda sa hatiye!" we say as we jump the queue and take up space and priority on the wrong side of the road, "Hatt bey, mujhe jaldi hai!" we say, as we nudge forward on red lights, jumping them at the last second before they turn green. We thrive on the crowd and the melee, but unlike our complete disregard of any Western concept of bodily space, we demand by some lunatic logic that another vehicle must not touch the delicate extension of our being, our four-wheeled petrol-persona, our pride and joy.

So much so, that if someone (as is inevitable in this constant pilgrim-rush of traffic) does scratch our door or knock a hole in our tail-light, we become homicidal.

We Indian men have the same reaction to minor accidents as we might have if someone was molesting our daughter or sister. We beat them up and we keep beating them up. When they get into their car to drive away we don't stop, we grab their steering wheel and we hang on, still trying to beat them up. When they stamp on the accelerator in panic and we get pulled under their car and when we then get our skull smashed, we call it 'road rage'.

Which is, of course, the wrong phrase. What we should be calling it is Parking Psychopathy or, if you like, Buffering-Bloodbath. It's very important to label actions correctly, especially actions that are about to become ever more common and frequent in the near future.

Ruchir Joshi is a writer, filmmaker and the editor of Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories. The views expressed by the author are personal