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OK Tata Horn Please

Take one sample of the average driver and place him in a vehicle ? here?s the rub ? that has had its horn disabled.

india Updated: Jun 15, 2006 01:52 IST

The driver behind me blew the horn as soon as he saw the green light — never mind that I’d already taken off and left him a few yards behind, and so he was only hindering his own progress (because the part of his brain that should have been nudging his foot towards the accelerator was busy elsewhere). It was the fourth time in 20 minutes that this had happened and everyone, after all, has a breaking point. I pulled over, got out my notebook and hurriedly scribbled the following failsafe recipe for inducing a nervous breakdown in the typical Delhi driver:

Take one sample of the average driver and place him in a vehicle – here’s the rub – that has had its horn disabled.

Instruct him to drive this disabled car from point A to point B. For best results, the distance between points A and B should be at least 2 km.

Meet car at point B. You’ll probably have to extricate the poor man yourself. He’ll be incoherent, his hands will be making reflexive horn-blowing gestures. Pour cold water on him (this doesn’t help but it’s fun). If the above process is repeated with a large enough number of drivers, the flyovers can be left half-finished. We’ll all have to walk, but at least we’ll be happy, safe and fit.

You’d be right to sense a trace of scorn in my attitude towards Delhi traffic. However, a recent experiment I’ve been conducting threatens to shake my faith in the vileness of the typical Delhi driver. What I’ve been doing is this: each time the vehicle behind me goes into frenetic tooting mode, I slow my car and give the driver a purposeful, lingering look through the rear-view (just long enough to make the point), while simultaneously making a “what ho, dude”? gesture with my right hand.

The results have been shocking and suggest that all is not yet known about the human animal. All this while, we’ve been told that Delhi drivers have not a vestige of shame or civility. We hear stories of road rage, of the tiniest sparks creating vast flares of antagonism. And yet, of the 37 drivers polled in my experiment, as many as 27 – or 72.9 per cent – did nothing more than avert their eyes and look sheepish when faced with the knowledge that they had offended someone. They’d been honking not at sentient fellow beings but at moving cuboids of metal. Presented with a human face (or even mine), they cowered.

Of the remaining 10, the break-up was roughly this (it’s difficult to keep taking notes on a busy road, you know):

Three stared right back and mimicked my hand gesture while their eyebrows rose and fell like those of adept classical dancers. Nothing more vicious occurred.

Four kept honking, looking glaze-eyedly at the back of my car, altogether failing to notice what I was doing.

Two threw their hands up violently, glared and muttered (or lip-synced) imprecations involving family members. And only one actually got worked up enough to open his car door slightly and indicate he was coming across to have a word with me (luckily the lights changed).

Does this modest research prove Atticus Finch’s theory that people turn out to be basically nice when you really get to know them? I hope not, but some of my hidebound beliefs have developed potholes and will need serious repair. Meanwhile, next in line is an experiment that includes manoeuvring my car in such a way that nearby buses will be unable to suddenly shift lanes. If I live, expect a column about this soon.