Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lane driving in India

Another serious topic to ponder about driving conditions in Indian roads is lane driving, besides of course honking and high beam driving. Lane driving is something which either has to be properly taught to people or they have to be well educated to have some typical common sense towards driving. However, some people still have that common sense without being educated as well. When I was a kid, that time lane driving was hardly important as there hardly used to be any lanes what-so-ever. But now situations are different. In city almost all main roads have demarcated lanes. Highways have really improved and almost all 4 lane highways have properly demarcated lanes. Thus, it’s imperative that people know about lanes. 

A lane is a division of the road which is 3.5 meters as per NHAI. If there are 2 lanes side by side without a road divider then it’s called a single lane road, although visually you will be able to spot 2 lanes side by side. Since only one lane is used to move in one direction hence it’s called a single lane road. However, if there is a road divider and on both sides of the road divider there are 2 lanes, then it’s called a 2 lane road although there would be 4 lanes combined on both side. 

Coming to the basics, ideally a vehicle when moving on the road should stick to a single lane as far as possible. This I’m mentioning in Indian context. In the western world, there are completely different rules and some really strict rules for lane driving. But for starters like us, one needs to stick to one lane and keep his vehicles limited within the boundaries of that lane. 

Surprisingly, I once overheard somebody saying that the line on the road should be kept in the middle of your vehicle. I don’t know who taught them that, probably they are descendants of pilots who take that line on the runway and keep the nose of the aeroplane on it. Well that is runway and that is surely an aeroplane. But when on the road with a car or a bike, all the vehicle tyres should be between the two lines of the lane. The moment your tyre is touching or crossing any of those lines, as per laws you are violating lane driving principle. In India, where there are no laws yet for lane driving, let’s just maintain our sanity and be conscious about our tyres and lanes on the road. If and when we are changing the lanes, just ensure no other vehicle is coming from behind, look into the rear view mirror and then change lanes. It will probably take 2 more seconds for you to change lanes, but it will help cultivate a good lane driving practice in this country and its countrymen. 

If proper lane discipline is maintained the roads become so perfect to drive, any vehicle can so easily overtake the other one without any hassles. No need to honk while overtaking as well. Accident rates come down drastically, traffic becomes highly predictive. So many advantages with one small discipline, unfortunately in India, people have to come a long way to understand this fact. 

Every day I see so many people in Hyderabad hitech city, driving their cars, with no idea where their tyres are running. These people are least bothered where the lane is and where the tyres are going. The problem is we have started taking our country as granted – “chalta hai” type attitude. Same IT crowd visits the western world so many times in their career. When the same people drive in the western world, they are completely aware of all rules of lane driving. They just don’t bother to follow the same discipline here, because there is no law enforcement mechanism, nobody is fined for doing this, hence people are least bothered and they don’t care - sorry state of affairs. 

With traffic multiplying exponentially in every town and city and our inefficient government far behind all schedules of infrastructure management or plans, I believe it is high time we adopt some good practices, so that we can set some examples for our kids. Atleast when they grow up, they should be aware of what lane driving is. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Honking in India

A couple of weeks back, my colleague asked me to drop him home on the way back from office. Incidentally, a shorter route to my home goes through a residential area. This particular residential area is a kind of colony composed of primarily single storied houses with people taking a leisure walk on the road in the evening, away from the major hustle of the city traffic. Through this colony I was driving my car peacefully and it takes about 5-6 left and right turns to reach my destination. 

All of a sudden when I was taking one of those left turns, my colleague said “USE YOUR HORN, WHY AREN’T YOU”. Now this was a complete shocker for me. He is well educated, belongs to a cultured family, himself probably practices many ethical things and also is against honking (as I heard him saying) but even after all this he was insisting that I blow my horn in that turning of that peaceful residential locality. 

In retrospect, I think it is not about the culture or the education, it is more about how you are taught driving in the first instance or how you have learnt driving over the period of time. I did a thorough analysis to find out the root cause of honking in India and to my surprise the revelations really bothered me. 

All motor driving schools, be it the branded ones or the local ones, teach driving in a completely flawed way. That’s the core reason why people learn all the wrong things. Because when they are novice drivers they are literally forced to learn the wrong things. This is a first-hand experience of mine, the trainer is saying to the student in a turning, “Madam / Sir, please honk, otherwise how will people know that you are coming”. Aghast! I feel sorry for this country. Here the real culprits are these trainers, how can you expect a road free of honking if they teach in the driving school the above things. It will take ages for people to have a self revelation that they are doing something fundamentally wrong. Unfortunately these people, when they drive around with their kids and honk in glory in every turning, their kids also learn this to be the correct way of driving. 

Undo the learning: now let’s be realistic and ask ourselves a few questions. Is it really required to honk at every corner / turning? NO – ABSOLUTELY NOT. If it is a turning, I’m 100% sure that you will not be driving fast. You have to slow down to take that turn. I’m also sure you won’t be driving blind-folded; hence if somebody comes in front of you, you can surely apply your brakes. So why exactly do you need to honk? You just don’t, simple as that. During the turning if you see somebody in front of you just calmly apply your brakes and when that obstruction goes, continue driving, simple. There’s no real need to honk, believe me! It’s just in your mind which you have to undo. 

Population of this country has been the biggest roadblock for any development, precisely the reason why 99% of the people cannot survive in this country without honking. All the roads are filled with humans and if not humans then dogs, goats, cows, buffalos and what not. There’s no respite, one needs to honk. But even after all this; I still feel one can consciously avoid honking if one wants to. Another incident with another colleague of mine is worth mentioning here. One fine day she said that she was not able to go to market because her car horn was not working. I was flabbergasted, when I asked her why she so desperately needs that horn, she said there are so many cars and 2-wheelers on the road and in the market people walk on the road as well, hence can’t drive without a horn. The issue actually has been bred into our DNA. The moment we see people on the road we honk, the moment we find a car in front we honk, when we turn we honk, when we start we honk, when we stop we honk, unfortunately, it has been a part of our life-style. We can’t survive without honking. Most people have grown up believing that honking is mandatory. 

Another situation where you will find Indians honking needlessly is the traffic signal. It’s a fun to watch people go mad at the click of the light from red to green. This incident repeats itself without fail in every signal in every city of India. Wait for the golden moment when the signal turns green, all the vehicles standing at the signal start honking in an uncanny rhythm. Why we have such low level of patience, why can’t we just wait a few seconds for the car in front to move? What exactly is going on in their mind? Do they think that if they honk the vehicles in their front will start flying or only when they honk will those vehicles start moving, otherwise not? This is truly ridiculous. 

In the western world, if anybody honks on the road, all people turn back and look at him, possibly to ascertain what’s the emergency. Honking is embarrassing there. I know, in India we might take another 100 years to reach that level, we might even never reach there, but we need to atleast consciously give it a try – NOT TO HONK. 

When is honking needed? 

In those traffic signals, if somebody slept on the steering wheel in is just not moving, then you need to honk. Otherwise, usually even though people realise late, they do realise that signal has turned green and they start moving. Just be patient and wait for a few more seconds before you hit your hand on that horn. Every time when your hand moves towards that horn, just ask yourself this question, is it required immediately, and believe me you will yourself get the answer NO. Just be conscious when you honk and your honking will come down by 80%. 
Honking is only mandatory when you have just NO OTHER WAY to let the person or vehicle in front of you to know that you are behind him and want a way. Only when there is no other way, then you honk, otherwise there is no need and it can be avoided. 

My dear brethren, let’s take a pledge not to honk, let’s atleast start from the signals, take a pledge today not to honk at signals and then take it to the next level where you just don’t honk ever. Today I’m in the 8th year of my driving experience, sometimes I even forget how my car horn sounds, sometimes I don’t even know whether it is working or not, but still I do absolutely fine on the road. I have developed a lot of patience and virtue and I think I can claim that I honk just once in a few months. That’s my run-rate; hope to bring it down even further and hope to give a quieter India to my next generation. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

High beam driving in India

As a kid my dad used to make me stand in the front leg space of our scooter. Until about 10 years of my age, I used to commute with my parents like that. I think those were the formative days of my life and my learning of driving or road sense also emerged from there. 

Thanks to my dad, that I actually learned my driving etiquettes since my childhood and moreover, the correct rules and etiquettes. Otherwise if I would have been dependent on the so called driving schools then I would also be amongst those innumerable ignorant mortals who believe that it is mandatory to honk at every turn and imperative to use high beam in every instance. 

The peril of high beam driving has taken significant proportions of late. There are innumerable instances when I feel pity for our next generation. The driving etiquettes that I got from my dad are hardly visible anywhere these days, obviously nothing is going to percolate down to the next generation. Standing in front of the scooter I used to see my dad ride that scooter with all the correct traffic rules. 25 years back there were hardly any roads with road dividers. The oncoming vehicles used to cut across you just right beside. Those were the days, if my dad used to find a vehicle coming from the opposite direction with high beam; he used to flash it with his own headlamps by switching between dipper and high beam 2-3 times. And voila! The oncoming vehicle used to switch his lights back to dipper. That was the case with cars, jeeps, Lorries, buses, any and every vehicle you name. 

It clearly suggests that our previous generation knew the rules of driving better than us. Somehow those etiquettes never really came down to this generation of drivers. Now even if I flash it hundred times nobody cares. Some don’t care; some don’t know that the flashing means something and some of these people are so adamant that they don’t switch back to dipper purposefully (even if they know). It’s absolutely certain; we are living in a world full of self possessed egoistic people. 

I can understand people using high beam on the highways, but in city driving where there is ample street light available, still high beams glare in front. Forget even city driving, inside the community township where you are not allowed to drive more than 20 km/hr, there also people drive down with full high beam and even fog lamps. I really don’t understand why!

Why do people use high beam? 

When I casually enquired some of my friends and general public at large that why they prefer to use high beams, below were the responses I got. 

  1. What is high beam? 
  2. Can I switch it off as well? 
  3. How can I drive without headlights? 
  4. It tells people that I am coming, hence avoids accidents. 
  5. I can’t see. 
  6. I have a hi-tech car hence I make use of all the necessary gadgets that are provided to me alongwith that, be it high beam or fog lamps. 
  7. Is it a crime?
  8. What if somebody jumps on the road all of a sudden?
  9. The other car coming from the front is using high beam, I get blinded. 
  10. Who cares
  11. Mind your own business 

Well, what else can you expect from these kind of people? They all are inglorious fools. Just for the sake of clarification, I will try to comment on the above responses. Hopefully the respondents read this and change their attitude towards driving. 

What is a high beam? It is a part of your head lamp which gets activated with a lever near your steering wheel.  It results in making the light rays from the headlamp fall absolutely straight ahead instead-off on the road. So, although it helps you see to a long distance compared to your dipper or normal headlamps, but unfortunately it is too irritating for the oncoming people unless it is absolutely dead necessary for you. 

Can I switch it off? Sure you can, with a minor twitch in your lever beside the steering wheel, high beam can be switched off. Switching off high beam doesn't switch off headlights, you can still see the road clearly with your normal headlamps. 

How can I drive without headlights? You still have headlight, don’t worry. 

It tells people that I am coming, hence avoids accidents. It doesn't tell people anything, it simply irritates them. Please avoid using high beams. To avoid the so called accidents you have brakes in your car, please use them as and when required. 

I can’t see. Well... get your eye sight checked. If in normal street lights you are not able to see the road and you need high beam for that, you better not sit behind the steering wheel, it’s not only dangerous for you but for others as well. 

I have a hi-tech car hence I make use of all the necessary gadgets that are provided to me alongwith that, be it high beam or fog lamps. Every gadget has its own use and there are specific conditions for which the car manufacturer has provided that to you. Just because you have Airbags doesn't mean you drive rash, isn't it. 

Is it a crime? Legally - NO Morally - YES (have some empathy) 

What if somebody jumps on the road all of a sudden? Under city night lighting condition if such an incident happens you have your brakes to use. And if you say that I was driving so fast how can I stop all of a sudden, well, the point is that in city night driving you shouldn't be speeding at all. You can speed in highways and nobody is stopping you from using high beams on highways. 

The other car coming from the front is using high beam, I get blinded. YES! It’s a catch 22 situation. The oncoming vehicle is using high beam so am I, c’mon grow up now. You are not kids anymore. Charity starts from home. Isn't it? Let’s take a call, make a pledge that we won’t be driving in high beam even if the oncoming vehicle does. In such a case when you get blinded, just slow down and flash your lights and indicate him to use a dipper. He may or may not dip, but we have to do it. “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”. 

Who cares? Mind your own business? You can’t make them change. So just change yourself, and make them the odd one out in this world, they will be forced to change themselves. 

So my dear brethren, let’s take a pledge that we won’t be using high beam under normal city street lighting condition. And even if we do, we will be compassionate enough to switch back to dipper immediately when we see an oncoming vehicle / human being. Let’s have some empathy and make India a better driving place. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Driving with Polarised Sunglasses


Sometimes I feel we are so ill-equipped in India compared to the western world. Here in India simple technology is also defined as a premium which is considered to be a standard in the western world. Take for instance, ABS and Airbags in cars. We are so much bothered about the cost of the vehicle that manufacturers are forced to cut down on these technologies to reduce the cost of the car. 

Surely the car is now significantly affordable and we hardly bother about ABS and stuff, forgetting the fact that it is such a useful technology. Moreover, even the car dealers and the salesmen also don’t portray ABS and Airbags as life saver technology. Forget Airbags, there isn’t much technical about it. Everybody knows that in case of accidents, airbags come out and save you from the impact. But ask the people what ABS is and you will find that hardly 1% of the car driving people actually know what ABS is. 

Well let’s leave this discussion here and come back to the subject matter. We are ill-equipped as far as knowledge is concerned. Same goes for the Polarised sunglasses also. We are still cost conscious and prefer to go for cheaper sunglasses which suffice the general purpose. Even those who buy Ray-Ban without a second thought hardly know anything about the advantages of polarised lenses. So the problem doesn’t lie entirely with disposable income. People do have money to spend but they are ill-equipped as far as knowledge is concerned. 

The sad part is none of the sunglasses shops and salesmen sell the idea of polarised lenses to their customers. Rightly so, unless one knows the actual benefits of something, why should he / she invest in that? Let us first discuss what are Polarised Sunglasses and then the advantages it has. 

What are Polarised Sunglasses? 

These are just normal sunglasses with a chemical coating on the surface. This chemical coating allows the light to enter only in one direction which is the straight line direction and cuts off all other lights coming from all other different directions. Resulting in an image which is crystal clear, soothing, without glare and unnecessary reflections cut off. 

I came to know about polarised sunglasses through my hobby of photography. When I started using a circular polariser for my camera lens then I realised how important it is to wear polarised sunglasses during my long drives. Probably, these days because of more and more people going into DSLR mode, polarised glasses are gaining in popularity and awareness. 

Advantages of Polarised Sunglasses 

Ask any person who has a hobby of fishing, they can’t survive without one. They need it to cut the glare of sun on the water surface to see the fish underneath. 

Immediate advantage is reduction in glare – glare from the long flat street ahead, glare from the metal surfaces and glass surfaces of other vehicles, glare from the sun looking directly in your eyes, etc. People who drive long distances know exactly what this glare is and how it can strain your eye when you have to keep looking into that road ahead in bright daylight for 900 kms or more in a single day. For that matter now I’m so used to wearing it that even if I drive to the nearby grocery store, I can’t stop myself from wearing it. 

For driving long distances, these are a must have for the drivers. However I would insist that people should demand for these sunglasses from their opticians even if they don’t drive long distances regularly. It is really worthwhile to pay that extra sum and buy a pair of polarised sunglasses. However, you may or may not notice the advantages by wearing it for 5 minutes in a day but the advantages definitely do exist. 

Personal Experience 

I have a distance vision problem and use correction lenses. I went to my optician to give me sunglasses which are correction lenses as well. Besides this, I also asked him to make it polarised. Until a few years back I thought people who wear correction lenses can never wear sunglasses. Ill-equipped with knowledge, as always. But then I came to know about the fact that even sunglasses can be custom made as per your vision requirements. Add to it the polarised aspect and you have your own custom made personal vision corrected polarised sunglasses. And to state a fact here, it is not prohibitively expensive. It costs somewhere between 4K – 5K. Normal polarised sunglasses are available for 2K only. 

I have used them for driving 900+ km in a single day in the month of April in extreme hot condition. Not to mention, I was thrilled with the benefits. 

I hope one day we are also well read and knowledgeable like our western counterparts and atleast the companies and sales people would know how to sell their products. If not sell atleast make the customer aware about the product and let him take a more informed decision. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Road trip with a dog

Parenting a dog has opened my mind to so many aspects of life, which might not have been possible otherwise. There are so many beautiful aspects associated to owning a pet and so many of them otherwise that remind you of the fact that this country is not for pets and pet owners as well. 

One such aspect was leaving your pet behind when you go for a vacation. 

Firstly, in India it’s impossible to find a dog-sitter. Forget a dog-sitter, even a baby-sitter concept is non prevalent. I don’t want to get into the reasons why such a pitiful state exists. If I start listing there would be innumerable reasons for not finding even one dog-sitter or dog-walker. Apparently, you are left with no other choice than leaving the pet in a kennel for 7-10 days of your vacation. That again has its own horrific implications. 

Being a nuclear family and a DINK couple, every time we left our dog behind in a kennel, it was more of remorse than an enjoyable vacation at the end. Not so long, until this year May when one of our friends told us that they saw some guests brought their dog along inside the hotel in Pondicherry. It was the Dune Eco Village and Spa. We immediately enquired and planned our next vacation for Pondicherry and this time our vacation will not be a torture for our dog. It will be equally enjoyable for him as well. 

Logically, the next question follows. Since all our vacations are associated with a road trip, will our dog be able to enjoy the 900+ km of road trip in a car? To state the facts, dogs are better adaptive to conditions than humans. They are more resilient and can fit along with their family unless of course it’s too troublesome. 

Since his puppy days I have taken him along in many drives including some really long ones but never to a distance as long as 900 km in one day. He had once been to Srisailam from Hyderabad and back on the same day which is 500+ kms in a single day and a one-way trip of 250+ km. He also went to Kuntala waterfalls and pochera waterfalls just a year back and again it was 500+ km in one day with a one way trip of 250+ km. In all the above trips there were 3 human companions alongwith him, hence he got a good share of the back seat.  But while going to Pondicherry, we will be 4 human companions and he is now a full grown boxer breed. Ideally he would now need the entire back seat at his disposal but during this trip he will have to manage with only 1/3rd of the seat, since there will be 2 more people sitting with him. So this time before we hit the road for Pondicherry, we decided to go on a trial run. We decided to visit Kunatal waterfalls again and this time with the same companions who he will travel with while going to Pondicherry

This was more of a trial run for us than for him. I was pretty sure he will manage it, was not that sure about 4 of us. Hence we decided for 500+ km of drive in a single day till Kuntala Waterfalls and back, to check on the feasibility. Initially, we thought we would make him sit in the front seat and 3 people will sit in the back seat. I will obviously be driving through the distance. So we prepared his comfortable bed in the front seat levelling the foot space below so that he gets enough space and doesn’t trip down in case of sudden braking. We started off for the destination but unfortunately our dog was too scared to sit in the front, he was not at all comfortable and his muscles were stiff and he was not able to relax. Even with the AC on he was not lying down which he usually does. Then we realised that he actually never travelled in the front seat and hence was not comfortable there. We stopped after about 10 km and removed all cushioning from the front seat and shifted him to the back seat again levelling the floor so that he could lie down comfortably. And within minutes he got his comfort back and he was all set for this drive. 

Lesson 1: For a long drive the 1st choice of seat goes to the dog. Remaining people will have to adjust accordingly. So, 2 people along with dog at the back, me driving and one passenger in the front seat. That’s the way to go for us during the trip to Pondicherry. 

For the benefit of the dog owners I’m listing down a check-list which might help you when you take your pet along on a long drive. 

Checklist for long drive with a dog: 

  1. Give him the seat where he sits most comfortably in a car 
  2. Ideally back seat is good since front seat also increases chances of accidents as they won’t be wearing seat belts 
  3. Best seat would be the middle seating position in the back seat. That way he will get immediate air blow form the AC vents. (don’t forget they have a lot of fur and they need the AC more than we do) This position will cool them down well and they will be comfortably sleeping. Unless of course you have a high-end SUV with rear AC vent. 
  4. Always level the floor below with proper cushioning, this gives a idea of space to the dog specially if it’s a big size breed and restricting any chances of tripping down in case of braking 
  5. Make him relieve well before the start of the trip, definitely take him for a walk before the trip so that he finishes his business and his stomach is light while travelling. This will also avoid unnecessary flatulence which is a common problem with big size breeds, a very usual problem with breeds like boxer 
  6. Before the start of the trip give him very light food, some boiled chicken without any carbohydrate base will do fine. He will be getting the nutrition from the chicken protein and yet his stomach won’t feel empty in the lack of usual food. However a word of caution, never give your dog something to eat which he is not used to. So if he eats rice and vegetables then just give him 1/4th the quantity of what he has every day. The purpose is to keep his stomach light yet hydrated. 
  7. Take enough breaks – ideally after every 1.5 hours of continuous drive, take a break and let him get down from the car so that he could stretch his legs and walk a little bit 
  8. Never ever let him off-leash. This is very important because you will be stopping beside the highway and if something fascinates him he might just run on the road, putting his life in danger and also the life of many other people travelling high speed on the highway. 
  9. Have your AC properly tuned – your pet would need it more than you do. Open windows will result in dust settling in their eyes, hence driving with closed windows is recommended 
  10. Every time you take a break give him some water to drink and let him relieve if he does so 
  11. Don’t feed him anything while on the road except if he eats banana or cucumber both of which is light and cool for the stomach 
  12. Carry some of his favourite toys and chew bones or chew toys to keep him engaged 
  13. Avoid putting on the leash and collar inside the car, since it will be a long journey he should be free from all hassles and tangles, only put the collar and leash when you plan to take him out of the car 
  14. In case of flatulence switch-off the air recirculation mechanism in your car for a few minutes. Don’t open the windows at high speed, it might be dangerous. 
  15. Tip for the drivers – try to concentrate on the road, there are other people to see what’s going on with your pet. Many a times I felt a desire to turn back and see what’s he doing, very dangerous when on highway. Even if he makes unusual sounds which he might do, don’t turn back immediately rather watch the road and be cautious. 
  16. Ensure your pet does not smell foul, give him a shower one week before you go for the trip. In a closed car the smell might just multiply creating problems for co-passengers 
  17. Don’t play loud music in your car stereo – pets are more susceptible to noise than humans are. Play very soft music which is soothing to their ears and at a very low decibel 
  18. Ensure you put an anti-tick collar immediately when he reaches the new destination, this will avoid any infection if he plays in the gardens and lawns in a new place 
  19. And lastly, talk to him during the trip like you do in your home – this will help him settle down and forget the hardships of the journey 

So we ended our trial run successfully with a lot of learning and hopefully our coming road trip to Pondicherry will be a successful one.