There are four things that you can find in abundance on the roads of Dhaka – people, potholes, cars and motorbikes. That translates to a disastrous recipe, worse than adding daal to kacchi biriyani and then feeding it to food connoisseur Matt Preston, claiming it to be the authentic taste of our most revered of dishes. It doesn’t work well for anyone.
In context, another factor adds to the mess on the roads in unimaginable ways. As demonstrated by you, the reader, probably plotting murder and systematic decapitation of me, the writer, for suggesting the heinous idea of kacchi with daal, the people of Bengal have a particular hatred for people who want to mess with the things closest to their hearts. They also like their rights, and will do anything in their power to get their way with things.
Its specially true on the roads of Dhaka, with its astonishing quantity and variety of vehicles all fighting for road space and cramming into tight spots and fighting neck and tooth to get ahead.
For a mega-city of Dhaka’s population and number of daily commuters, the recommended standard for percentage of road network in the urban area is approximately 50 percent of the total area within the city limits. In reality, Dhaka, with all its flyovers and the Hatirjheel project and alleyways, has only 10 percent. Not only that, the number of different types of vehicles plying the roads are unprecedented, with little to no regulation in coordinating their movements. We have rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, CNG autorickshaws, human haulers, covered vans, rickshaw vans, small trucks, large trucks, minibuses, microbuses, buses, long haul buses, private cars, SUVs, 4x4s, pickups, ambulances, and MORE, all on the road, at the same time. No separate lanes for three-wheelers, no regulation that forces people to move out of the way of an ambulance or fire service truck, and certainly no way of enforcing lane changing rules. It’s no wonder then, that driving in Dhaka requires a post-apocalyptic, survive-by-killing-or-be-killed mentality for you to reach your destination unscathed and on time.
Constant overtaking is perhaps the most common thing all drivers in Dhaka are used to, or at least expect to be something they’ll have to deal with. Whether sitting in traffic and moving ahead an inch at a time or zooming past, overtaking cars is in our blood and bones and in the air we breathe, to the point that we actually get angry at chauffeurs who try to take it easy and not go berserk, overtaking everything in sight.
Then there’s the constant, unnecessary honking. It’s almost unimaginable to the typical Dhaka driver that the car ahead might be slowing down or coming to a standstill because of some obstruction up ahead. This trashcan of a human being actually believes he has the right to press the horn and let out a barrage of this extremely unpleasant sound, all done in order to express his dissatisfaction at having to slow down momentarily, apparently on his way to save humanity through his stem cell research.
Which brings us to the final issue that Dhaka commuters have to face on a daily basis: the supreme ego of the average car/SUV owner/driver on the streets, the one that dictates how important you and your vehicle happen to be out there in the apocalyptic wasteland. People often consider their rights to the road and the road space to be greater than others because they have a private vehicle while others are on rickshaws and crammed together inside buses or CNGs. This sort of mentality is the greatest source of road rage that one can encounter in Dhaka – this feeling of entitlement can affect the most humble of car owners by virtue of the fact that a private vehicle has a significant cost involved in buying and maintaining, and if the yearly expense of commuting on Dhaka roads is to be considered a ticket, car owners often believe they have the VIP passes just based on how much more they’ve paid. So when a rickshaw swerves into the path of your expensive ticket, you’re somehow completely right to get out and land a couple of slaps on this poor guy’s face, who probably didn’t even see you coming. This is precisely what happens when too many people share too little.
Here are a few pointers, to keep yourself sane and safe and functioning at the end of a long commute:
- Always remember this one ground rule: everyone on the road is crazy, licking windows for absolutely no reason kind of crazy. So, as a precaution, it’s best if you’re always in a state of vigilance, looking out for what the crazies might do next. Obviously, its impossible to predict events occurring, but if you’re alert at all times, the chances of you getting caught up in anything are reduced.
- If you’re an experienced driver, you’ll know that most reactions out there on the road are automatic. You signal left, automatically glance at the rearview mirror and the left side door mirror, check for oncoming cars, and then turn the steering wheel to go left. It’s second nature to us. But what isn’t part of the reflex of turning is glancing to your right as well. It might seem counter intuitive, but it’s a worthwhile practice to know what’s going on in both sides of your vehicle before making a turn.
- Disconnect your horn for a day. Driving in Dhaka actually doesn’t require a horn at all if you’re alert and quick to react. Treat your lack of a horn to honk as a disciplinary exercise. Studies reveal that honking your horn actually makes you more agitated behind the wheel, so that unpleasant sound you make in the hopes of expressing your anger at other road users – is actually worse for you since you’re twice as likely to make a severe mistake after a bout of honking. Take it easy, learn to use the horn as the tool for warning that it is and stop using it as a weapon of ear destruction.
- Once in a while, let other cars get ahead of you. If you’re at an intersection and a car edges out of the left and wants to make a right turn, look at the driver of that car, smile, nod, gesture him to go for it. Try this at least thrice everyday, even if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. What this does is release serotonin into your nervous system, a neurotransmitter that determines how happy you are or what mood you are in. This is no joke – letting other people pass makes your brain think you’ve done something great and that makes you believe you’re a good person, which eventually makes you happy and upbeat. Compare that feeling with the negative emotions you experience when someone else cuts you off on the road, and how you’re in a foul mood afterwards – imagine what someone else would feel if you cut them off at an intersection. Which leads to the final point…
- What you give is what you get. Be nasty and aggressive and looking for a fight, that is the treatment you’ll get from others. So take it easy, be in control, and let the crazies on the road fight it out themselves.
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