The City of Pearls, as one of the more insouciant of regions, has jerry-rigged its own traffic system. And its inhabitants give “driver’s licence” a whole new meaning.
Driving is a skill. Riding a motorbike is an art. We will help you master the art. If you are among the lakhs of infotech workers who moved to Hyderabad lately, or are moving to the city from the surrounding villages of Telangana, or have just landed from Hawai for a spin in the city, this nifty guide will help you drive like a native hero.
A traveller to Vietnam wrote a dummies guide for foreigners for motorbike riding in Saigon and coined the phrase ‘cone of consciousness’. A similar rule applies in Hyderabad. You can call it the ‘zone of zombies’. It is an invisible square space in front of you, about the same size as you while you are riding. Nothing exists beside it or behind it. No car, truck, bulldozer or zippy two-wheeler exists outside of it. Become aware of it and you can drive like a true-blue Hyderabadi. People will never discover that you have grown up in Chennai or Nagpur or Chipurpalli.
It is the one thing that can save your life in the city of gold where the civic officials are forever digging to discover it. BTW Hyderabad is the capital of the newest state in India called ‘Bangaru Telangana’ or Golden Telangana. Instead of digging deep, the civic officials believe in digging parallel to the road. After digging for a considerable distance, they cover it up. They begin afresh within a few days, like a surgeon who forgets forceps during a surgery and begins the search afresh with another surgery.
The ‘zone of zombies’ involves being aware of what is in front of you and what is likely to come in front within a moment. It can range from a cow, to a buffalo, to a drunk, an old man, to a policeman or a hawker selling mangoes. Sometimes, inanimate objects like hanging wires, lamp posts, Metro pillars, uncovered manholes or trees can appear in your zone and you have to act quickly or you lose the game of life.
Hole or pole
The ‘zone of zombies’ can save you from a hole as well as a pole. Recently, a minister’s son died when he slammed his SUV into a Metro pillar. A few days later, a young man died when he drove his bike into a hole dug for a flyover. Hole or pole, there is an air of temporariness about both of them. They can appear out of nowhere. And that is the critical reason to become aware of ‘zone of zombies’.
Mindset of a student
To drive perfectly like a Hyderabadi, you have to be a scholarly motorist. You need the mindset of Class VII student where the main trick involves memorising the potholes, manholes, pillars and their locations. And after every monsoon, you are in Class VIII and have to learn another set of potholes and manholes. Their number and location keeps changing like the last digit in multiplication table for 7 and 8. But once you are aware of the ‘zone of zombies’, you quickly memorise the number and locations and voila! You can zip through the city like PacMan in the maze.
You may’ve heard of Stop-look-and-go or Slow-and-go. Hyderabad has no stop signs on its roads. They are there, but only for symbolic purposes. In reality, there are only two signs: slow and race. A Hyderabadi never stops. Not even at a red light. He keeps inching ahead and sideways into the next lane till the light changes colour. Then it is vroom.
Anyone who can differentiate between an accelerator and brake can drive anywhere, but it requires a heaven-born genius to drive in Hyderabad. It includes, sociology, psychology, autology (which usually means ‘study of oneself’, but equally pertinently ‘study of autorickshaws’), and mechanics (a three-wheeler requires less turning space than a four-wheeler). Throw in the knowledge about ‘zone of zombies’ and you are ready to ride like a Hyderabadi. Of course you need to have a basic knowledge about para-linguistics. If a rider wants to take a left turn, the first thing he does is move to the right and then there will a glance to the left. Then zip. No use for those useless small orange bulbs on either side called indicators. If you ask a rider if the indicators are not functioning, he will glare at you as if you asked for a date with his wife.
Hyderabad is a multi-lingual city. Nowhere is it more apparent than while riding. You are likely to be called out to in English in Jubilee Hills, Deccani near Charminar, Hindi in Secunderabad and Telugu in Chilkalguda. The language becomes more eloquent and colourful during peak hours but soft and courteous during off-peak hours. Learn the words. Use them. The bloke driving next to you will smile at and respect you once you show your knowledge and command over colourful language.
For Hyderabadis, people who walk on the road or use footpath, are cretin. They have to be threatened or run down. During a traffic congestion, if there is a pavement in the vicinity, a Hyderabadi’s first instinct would be to get on it in order to zip ahead. People are so helpful that some of them lend a helping hand to raise a bike and put it on the footpath. A similar thing happens when a pedestrian is run over. People collect in large numbers, do tsk… tsk… crib about footpaths and then drive away (Last year, 469 people were killed in road accidents in the city. In contrast, 382 people, including paramilitary personnel, died in various terror attacks in the whole country).
Racing with an ambulance
A radio channel has been running a campaign about what to do if you hear the siren of an ambulance. It suggests you move to the left to let the ambulance pass. What poppycock! Hyderabadis clear the way for the ambulance by zipping ahead of it at full speed or racing behind it. This is quicker. So what if sometimes, the rider completes the ride in the ambulance itself?