<%-- Page Title--%> Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 123 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 19 , 2003

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DrivingYou Crazy

Nadia Kabir Barb


If your life needs a bit of excitement, come to Dhaka and drive around the city. Driving in Dhaka is not for the faint hearted. In fact even being driven around in Dhaka requires people to develop nerves of steel. Who needs extreme sports such as bungee jumping, skydiving or white water rafting? All you need to do is get in a car, bus or rickshaw and it will give you the same adrenalin rush for free. For those who enjoy video or computer games, it is almost like being in one. You have to make sure you do not hit any of the vehicles weaving in and out of the lanes haphazardly and take care not to hit the numerous pedestrians suddenly jumping onto the street. Who needs virtual reality games? It really has to be experienced first hand to be believed.

Apart from the sheer volume of cars, buses, rickshaws and scooters, the total lack of rules is a constant source of amazement. It is not to say that our capital is the only city in the world to have such a disorganised infrastructure, there are other places where the traffic is almost as chaotic. Take Rome for example, where people hoot as much gesticulate a little more and swear even more but the public in general still stop at red lights and they do have some semblance of law and order that is maintained. In Dhaka nobody ever seems to take heed of the fact that red means stop and green means go! Here traffic lights are almost comparable to the decoration lights we see at weddings. Now it seems that traffic lights have been replaced by traffic police. I am sure controlling traffic in Dhaka must be an unrewarding, tiring and almost Herculean task to take on but it would be nice to think that the men on duty were at least trying. It is not quite clear to me whether they are helping or hindering the traffic.

If you have an appointment anywhere in Dhaka, you are without doubt going to be late. Or you have to set out at least three quarters of an hour early just to make sure you actually make it to your destination at the given time. As punctuality is not at the top of the list of a Bangladeshi it is not an issue. In fact while you are sitting waiting in your car amidst a sea of traffic, it is worthwhile to catch up on activities that have been put aside for another time. A quick powernap revives even the weariest of travellers and it can be the perfect time to read that book you have been wanting to for the past few weeks. Never fear, even if you have not set off equipped for sitting in traffic jams, these days there is no shortage of street sellers trying to sell a bottle of water or some lozenges or even your choice of magazine to help you pass the time…

Then there are of course our Dhaka pedestrians who seem to be under the misconception that they are vehicles and therefore have right of way on the roads.

Call me chicken-hearted but every time I try and cross the road, I can see my life flash before my eyes. The question “will I, won't I make it to the other side?” is predominantly on my mind. I have yet to learn to use the “power of the hand”. One must not underestimate the “power of the hand”--it is essential that when crossing the road as you must put out one hand to stop oncoming traffic. To most people it would seem an almost suicidal way of crossing a road but to a Bangladeshi it is a part and parcel of living in the hustling bustling city of Dhaka. How calmly people stroll around on the perilous streets of Dhaka as if they were meandering through Ramna Park!

In most other places hazard lights are exactly what they claim to be i.e.” warning lights”. These may be used when your vehicle is stationary, to warn that it is temporarily obstructing traffic (UK Highway Code). Hazard lights in Bangladesh take on a completely new meaning. Here we indicate right when we want to turn right and we indicate left when we wish to turn left. And when we wish to go straight we put our hazard lights on. Logical? Yes, but completely incorrect. If these basic rules are not taught when learning to drive, it is hardly the fault of the driver of the vehicle to do as they see fit. To put things in perspective, when asked by his employer as to the significance of the lines on the road, a driver promptly answered, “Design sundor laage” (The design looks pretty). Not exactly the answer one would have hoped for. The idea seems to be to point the car in the right direction and drive. Thank goodness the lines in the middle of the road have now been replaced by concrete dividers. But one must give credit where it is due, people who drive in Dhaka are in general extremely alert as they have to be aware of the other cars, buses rickshaws, pedestrians etc. coming at them randomly from all sides and they also seem able to manoeuvre in and out of tight spots at times defying the laws of physics on my mind. To add to that they have the patience of a saint to put up with constant backseat driving from the passengers in the car.

Shakespeare would definitely concur when I say that there is definitely some “method to this madness”, one which I have yet to decipher, otherwise how would most people actually get from one place in Dhaka to another in one piece!