Saturday, March 25, 2006

Highway Star

Yesterday I survived an 8 hour drive across Kerala. Well yet another drive, considering I would have driven tens of thousands of kilometres by now, of which atleast 50% has been within Kerala. Here are some resourceful points that I want to share from my rich experiences.

The Truth About Highways in Kerala: Lessons you might not want to forget

You realise, very rarely, that a highway means a two lane stretch, but most of the times it is just one road with traffic in two, and sometimes even more directions. But who wants an expressway anyway. Anyways.. Be Alert!

You realise it is truly God's Own Country that you are driving in because here people believe in sharing. No matter how many lanes we have, we all share the lanes and preferably go through the middle, if not in the opposite side of the road. Share!

You get trained for a lot of situations in life. Some day, God forbid, India is at war and we will have a lot of trained Keralites ready for dog fight. Because attack comes constantly here in Kerala, in the form of pan masala (ground and liquidy red) delivered covertly from inside the KSRTC buses (sometimes you escape one and smile to yourself, when a second delivery hits you. surprise!!), banana peels from cars, spit made with lot of effort from passing scooterists, fishy salted water from fish trucks, sand grains from lorries.. the list is never ending. Bottom line - You have no escape. Please keep your windows up for your own safety!

You understand that not everything changes with time. You pass through certain stretches and see people walk across the road like they are going for their evening stroll, at snail's pace. I mean, we are talking about a highway!. And if your vehicle is fast approaching and you dare to look into their eyes, you will get the stare of your life so that you dare not make the same mistake again. The ground they walk on once used to be the land they walked on not so long ago too, the one they took their stroll on, so they dont care if its a highway or super highway today. You just need to stop and let them pass. Like wildlife. I remember doing the same once in Bandipur, when I had to wait for more than an hour for a lone tusker to move from the road. You just have to learn patience!

You firmly end up believing small is beautiful. The smaller your vehicle, the more your chances of reaching home safely. Small vehicle owners are kings. If you own a scooter you can go on the dividing line, right in the center of the road. If you end up in an accident, it doesnt matter who's fault it is, the smaller vehicle owner is the king - the larger vehicle owner gets beaten up, along with his vehicle. (And its even better if you dont have a vehicle and you are involved in an accident). Small is in!

You will realise, if you have driven long enough, that 60% of the people driving on the road are driving under the influence of alcohol. Just yesterday I saw an accident happen, probably a few minutes before I reached the spot. Two trucks collided, both the drivers were badly injured and taken to the hospital. Along with the wreckage, and among the glasses, I noticed atleast 3 liquor bottles and playing cards scattered. When you talk about Kerala, you talk about in-house entertainment.

You will see signs saying speed-limit is 30 and 40 kilometers per hour, which means you have to keep your engine going atleast at 60-80 kilometers per hour, or you risk being hit by fast moving vehicles. Always look for the real truth!

You might see trucks and lorries with the sign "sound horn"and "keep distance" behind them. The first, that's purely for your own entertainment, and the second is what will happen to you. Sound horn, and you will always be kept at a distance, behind!

You might, as an experiment, want to just try honking when you want to overtake, the next time you are in Kerala. You will realise what a mistake it was. Because 99 out of 100 times the vehicle in front will, slowly, veer towards the center of the road and ensure you eat your honk before they let you overtake them. But strangely, the horn is the most important tool in your armamentarium as well. Honk with care!

You would not want a medical check-up for a couple of months atleast after a drive in Kerala. The very fact that you are still kicking-alive is proof of a strong heart, good senses, good reflexes etc. Check your medical fitness before driving!

You realise the single important thing in your vehicle are the horns - thats the thing you will use the most in Kerala - not your brakes, accelerator, engine, wipers etc. Check your vehicles horn before you start, always!

You are always fraught with danger. But alas, never underestimate the danger, coz it comes in many forms. Pedestrians dancing along the road, children darting across, scooterists turning abruptly, cars changing lanes without signal, trucks stopping on the middle of the road, buses moving on your lane - towards you as well (the good thing about KSRTC buses is that you wont be able to identify the front or back of it - both look the same and the headlights wont work anyway!). Dangerous is the danger of driving here!

You will get to see, along with the green fields, serene backwaters, blue mountains, some of the most gruesome accidents. Seeing is believing!

You dont want to argue or justify yourself in case of an accident or a dispute, unless you are a thug or goon material yourself. It wont matter what the truth is or is not. Even if you are right, you will be argued with, shouted at and stared away! Doesn't matter what you believe, but attitude is what matters here!

You might not want to drive if you have motion-sickness. Chances of a road straight for more than 100 meters is very unlikely. Head spinning experience! Literally!

You understand that when a two wheeler rider turns his head to the left or right, it means only one thing. That he is going to turn left or right. And remember this, because this will be the only indicator, there wont be a blinking amber or a hand sign. Always look for the small signs!

You learn the tricks in night-time warfare. You may see a scooter with a single headlight moving towards you with great speed, but be warned, for it wont take long before you realise it was a bus with a single headlight working. Similarly, when you see two headlights approaching you, dont get worried, it could just be two scooterists chatting and driving side-by-side. Night vision goggles will soon become a necessity.

You end up thanking the person who taught you to drive. In my case it was my father, and the first thing he told me was "Anticipation is the most important thing while driving". Today I realise how true it was. I am always wondering what next. what if. will he? wont he? Anticipate!

You become a believer. You believe that God exists. Especially when you reach home safely. Always say your prayer!

So next time dont be surprised if you hear this annual news headline: Kerala continues to have the highest accident rate (number of accidents per thousand vehicles) in the country. The last few years have seen over 45,000 recorded accidents every year in the state, a big jump compared to the previous years.

We can blame the government, the roads and the vehicles, but most of all, we should blame our citizens.


silverine said...

Hilarious !!! I am guffawing and my Dad wants to know why. So a printout is on the way. And what is uncanny is that my next post is about learning to drive and for a moment I thought that this post about my driving skills :p

You learn the tricks in night-time warfare.........two scooterists chatting and driving side-by-side. ROFL

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - whoa..thats an honor..thank you.

your driving skills will be interesting to read about :)

KT said...

Goodness, driving in India is quite task. I dont think I'll ever attempt it.

Jiby said...

great post...laughed a lot. years of driving on our roads and all these things from the paan-spitting to the horn are something we learn to live with...we just accept it and dont make an effort to change.

my few days in kerala last year i tried to make an effort at following rules but i realized i was putting myself and fellow vehicles more at danger by becoming a lone ranger. i have taken a resolution to drive in kerala only at that i dont start hating it. rest of the time i will just take the "good" old ksrtc buses and trust my life to their hands.

and to stop everything from going to the dogs...i believe we need a traffic school to send offenders to for atleast a week and cause them to miss work and pay and that shud teach them a thing or two abt road safety.

wonderful post...i'll forward it to all my friends...especially they ones who got their expensive shirts soiled by paan-chewers!!!hehe.

Brijesh said...

Nice one. For me I started driving in Kerala and now I am confident that I can go and drive anywhere in the world.

Babin said...

Haha.. this should be the Bible for drivers in kerala.. Good summery Mind.
I haven't driven in kerala (well, little bit) but I am an expert jeep passenger (Who i think should get equal credit for their braveness as drivers in kerala) Hanging outside a tightly packed jeep cruising to take over the bus ahead is literally like hanging on to life under a thin piece of thread...
Good point brijesh, if you can make it kerala... you can make it anywhere:)

Mind Curry said...

@ keerti - welcome to Dog's Own :) you should attempt driving and everything else here..its challenging and fun.

@ jiby - hey brother! you are like a pop-up. hope nobody's blocked you.

i will just take the "good" old ksrtc buses and trust my life to their hands. - you got balls man! :) but yeah, in a way its safe and only the other people on the road are at danger. if we have say 1000 KSRTC buses, its like having 10000 drunken salman khan's :)

p.s. i love salman khan :P

traffic school is a brilliant idea. but then we will have a strike for that i am sure. i just wish the cops would start imposing fines and book offenders..even if it is simple offences such as cutting across a lane or jumping the stop line/signal. that would do plenty good.

thank you for forwarding a link to your pals.

@ brijesh - welcome here. you are spot on. driving in kerala trains you for many things in life.

@ babin - lol..thanks. jeep passengers now thats a category i can blog a full post on! :)

Brijesh said...

I accidently come across this website about VS.

This is created by some Malayalis in US.

Just see the comments section in that. Every one has only good to talk about him. His opposition to Smart City, Express Highway are all glorified. I wrote a comment crticising his anti development policy of VS and it never came in the comment section.

Maybe this website is also union-ised. The view they believe may only get published- like the local trade union leaders in Kerala taking law in their own hand yet no one opposes them.

Mind Curry said...

@ brijesh - thank you for the link. i am glad to know it was purely accident that you landed there..accidents do happen i guess :)

from the site itself it is obvious and silly that a person educated till Grade VII (which itself i doubt) is talking about Digital Divide and Digital Literacy. that he criticizes Akshaya a program that is slowly but surely transforming kerala and has won scores of awards of recognition, is then a matter of even more absurdity.

and the biggest absurdity is the fact that there are still people to support clowns like these and follow them in herds. the recent political stunt of him being denied a seat in the elections and then finally being offered a seat due to "public demand" is all another farce in my opinion. but then thats just my opinion.

silverine said...

@mindcurry: LOL on that comment to Jiby and Keerti. its challenging and fun and instantly qualifies you to join the Black Cat commandos (if you survive):))

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - absolutely. if not the NSG, better still, it qualifies to become a jeep passenger like babin said. lol..

Let said...

Ok Mind Curry, if I ever go to India you are picking me up at the airport and renting a helicopter . There is NO WAY I will make it to destination given the description you have just described without asking every five minutes "Are we there yet?"! every two minutes.

Mind Curry said...

@ let - lol..thats really funny. ok it will be my pleasure to pick you from the airport, as well as let you drive my car for a while - at my own risk :) hows that? just make sure you travel with adequate insurance though.

quills said...

Mind curry, this has been the funniest, most accurate portrayal of travelling on Dog's Own Roads. I have been sitting here and vigorously nodding to each and every statement and suggestion and I have forwarded it to a few of my friends whom I am sure will agree with it wholeheartedly. :))

God forbid, India is at war and we will have a lot of trained Keralites ready for dog fight. Because attack comes constantly here in Kerala, in the form of pan masala (ground and liquidy red) delivered covertly from inside the KSRTC buses. LOL

(sometimes you escape one.....
Alas I never did. :(

But as you said most of us are certainly trained for dog fight or learning fast the hard way at times, and I am sure the Special Operations unit of any army would be glad to recruit any one of us.

After reading this post, as a responsible citizen, I intend to distribute this to as many people in Kerala that I know so that they shall also be trained in the art of Kerala driving.

Excellent writing MC! :)

silverine said...

@mindcurry: "if not the NSG, better still, it qualifies to become a jeep passenger like babin said"

er.... I don't think so. To be a jeep passenger is a higher calling....NSG is a fairly simpler course.LOL

Keshi said...

I know that driving in SL can be quite fatal! I didnt realise that Kerala is the same...goshh!

Anyways, we can never blame the govt, vehicles or the's always the driver's responsibility to drive SAFE!


Shinu Mathew said...

Did you see the Private Bus operators competing each other to get to the destination? And the parrallel service Jeaps running amok on our roads?
I saw an accident happen once. A teenage girl was just getting down in my place, Ranni, from the bus and she crossed the bus from the front to get another bus that will take ger to the school. The driver, while chatting to his collegues, put the bus in motion and the poor girl was trapped under the front wheel. But the most horrifying thing that I saw was not this. I got near to the bus to get a closer view, and by then she was taken to the hospital by nearby shop owners and drivers, and I saw a piece of brain lying there in a pool of blood.
Just till that moment, that piece was thinking. Thinking about a tomorrow that is filled with hope; thinking about her family. filled with love. Hope. Thinking about the forthcoming examinations. Oh God! I was literally weeping at that site. I even tried to search that small lump of flesh for some mathmatical symbols. I don't know what IO was doing but I was just out of my mind I guess. Then the police arrived and everything was cordoned off.
That poor girl, later learned, was a brilliant student and from a poor family. The hopes of a family ruined in a moment's recklessness.
But that piece of brain is embedded in my memory. Forever. It makes me cry even today, long after it happened.

Mind Curry said...

@ quills - thanks so much. i mean, its after years of getting bugged of the driving in kerala that i decided i have to blog on this! now i am glad i did :)

@ silverine - NSG is a fairly simpler course haha..imagine the NSG sending their commandos to kerala on a monthly basis for training. "BOYS!! GO DRIVE!!!" and some of them, will break down.."sir..please..i cannot do this"..interesting.

@ keshi - SL as in Sri Lanka? really? :)you are very right, we the people are to blame for these things.

@ shinu - gosh shinu!! thats sooo horrible..a shock ran through my spine as i read sad.

talking of ksrtc..they are the worst! they are so wreckless and half of them drive under the influence of alcohol. why? rather why not? nobody to book them, even if they cause an accident nothing happens to them. its not their vehicle. nobody can suspend them because the union protects them. and worst is, the people inside the bus will also support the driver irrespective of the fact that its his fault.

Arjun Ramakrishnan said...

great post. it's accepted that indian drivers are the best in the world and we mallus can take 'pride' in tht fact we r first here too, just as in literacy and suicide rates.

quite surprised that the issue of 'tipper lorries' hasn't been referred to by anyone. i guess these tipper lorries have become a kind of menace on roads in kerala today.

and while the experienced albeit sometime-drunk KSRTC drivers can be trusted to some extent, the private bus races in northern kerala like thrissur, kozhikode, malappuram etc where the buses are mostly driven by young, hot-blooded youth and the race to keep strict timings is so fierce, it's a virtual roller coaster ride to travel by these buses. anyone going from kozhikode to thrissur by NH 17 (the same route where the Pookiparambu disaster happened sometime back) by a private bus would agree. i thouhgt the recently released Mammooty -starrer Bus Conductor movie depicted this rat race well.

Mind Curry said...

@ arjun - hi, welcome here.
you are right..i didnt specifically mention about the tipper (dipper in mal) trucks in particular. they, along with the fish trucks, are known killers on the roads. and its funny how the proposal to put "speed controllers" on them also were met with strikes and resistance in kerala.

well said.

silverine said...

imagine the NSG sending their commandos to kerala on a monthly basis for training. "BOYS!! GO DRIVE!!!" and some of them, will break down.."sir..please..i cannot do this"..interesting. ROFL =))

... hope O'Sammy does not read this and get ideas :))

aria said...

Wow .. very nicely written! heh .. very witty.
Though I havent travelled much in kerala (just stayed in Trivendrum once for 2 days - long back and I preferred to stay only on the beach!) most of the things are so true for almost everywhere in this country. One of my friends used to say - motorcycle dudes drive like mosquitoes. Its tough to decide whos the bigger culprit .. the lorry drivers or small vehicle drivers .. Its a pity all the awareness drives is going waste and erratic driving rules.

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - OSammy!! lol..i am sure with such skills his men will find it easier to get the visas. And do their job. wonder the intel says Kerala is soon to become a breeding ground for insurgents.

@ aria - thanks aria..nice to see you around here.hope you are doing well. motorcyclists, truckers, bus drivers, car drivers..all to be blamed.

nishad said...

intersting and enjoyable..At the same time ..remember
1.our states terrain,geography
2.V r a consumer state-which can also b seen in the rising no of vehicles on the road

Shinu Mathew said...

People drive on worser terrains like the deserts and "Vaadis" in Middle East. Vaadi is something like a flash current carrying tons of sand and water along with it and a common phenomenon in Middle east). Or the rugged terrains of Africa and the heavily snowing areas. Geography is not the best excuse for Our behaviour on road.
True we are a consumer state and even school going children are learning to drive. Our infrastructure is not expanding as it should have. But at the end, it is the one who is at the wheels had to control the vehicle. When one drive through a slicky roads, wouldn't they be cautious? THen what makes them drive recklessly on highways and other narrow roads. Those two reasons you gave should work as a deterrent in fact. Every driver must bear in mind that since our roads are crowded and terrain is rugged, so the driving should be with utmost care. Instead we go ballistic and cause many accidents.

Mind Curry said...

@ nishad and shinu - shinu, thank you for the sensible thoughts. you are absolutely right.

nishad, here is a small example of something that happened to me some time ago.

i was on a three lane road, at the extreme left lane which was congested, waiting to turn left, when a bike guy comes and starts honking continuously. he wanted to go straight, and the despite the middle lane traffic moving he kept on blaring the horn. finally he comes next to me and starts shouting!! i try to explain to him as calmly as possible that the three lanes are there for a reason! but no, our man doesnt want to listen to it and just keeps on shouting and starts using even abusive language!! man..i got out of the car so angrily. by which time he took his bike and disappeared.

i mean forget the incident, but its attitude like this that makes kerala truly Dog's Own Country. this is not a one off incident, but one thats prevalent and so common, one that reflects the attitude of keralites. even when they know they are wrong they display such arrogance and crudeness. i can describe such people with just one word - pathetic.

despite all these negative feelings about the people, i am still hopeful of a new resurgent kerala with people becoming more friendlier and cultured. i keep thinking we the youth can make a difference, if not today, tomorrow for sure.

Anand K said...

Paaaah! Kerala roads, especially in the wretched cities of Tvm and Cochin, are critical real-life proving grounds of the Indian defense forces. With pass rates as low as 4.2%, these institutions of advanced warfare are the pride of the nation! Let an old veteran ejjukate you...

NBC (Nuke-Bio-Chem) Warfare: East Fort bus station
Evasive Manuevers: Ernakulam North, 'specially that fr1ggin bridge over the railroad!
Suppression of Enemy Defences: South Kalamssery Junction at 4 PM on weekdays (when the hordes of CUSAT are uncaged)
Seamanship: Thampanoor Junction
Submarine warfare: Thampanoor Junction
Deep-Sea Diving: Thampanoor Junction
Low altitude Flying: Kesavadasapuram Gradient
HALO(High Altitude Low Opening) drops: SMV school wall @ Overbridge Jn
Urban Combat: Chenkal Choola road
Artillery and Armoured Combat: Chalai Market

Now you see why our grunts are the toughest in ze world? :P

Keshi said...

yes Sri Lanka where the annual road toll is unbelievable.


Browser said...

Interesting thing happened to us a few years back on NH47. We were driving from EKM to TVM and there was a "Super Fast" coming in the opposite direction. A dog took this moment to cross the road and ended up under the wheels of the bus. The windshield of our Astra was covered with blood and GOD knows what else. I was cursing the driver of te bus while cleaning the windshield when realisation dawned. The only other option that he had was to have severed and run us over to save the dog. I think he took the right decision then and saved our lives. Also taught me a lesson because I always used to give priority to the animals on the streets without looking at the consequences.

Mind Curry said...

@ anand - are really hilarious..where do you come up with such stuff? :)

@ keshi - really? thats news to me.. i have never been to SL, though its something i really really wanna do in the short term. have heard so much of its natural beauty. this RTA thing is news though!

@ browser - yeah i am glad the driver had the right senses. i am also happy that what crossed the road was only a dog and not a man. most of the times, its people that do these idiotic crossings and then i wonder what the driver would have done. anyway glad you and your family are safe.

silverine said...

@mindcurry:no wonder the intel says Kerala is soon to become a breeding ground for insurgents case you forgot we mallus are insurgents. It is when we go out of Kerala that we join the mainstream society :)

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - you are right! :) an insurgent kerala instead of a resurgent kerala. my hopes are dashed! :)

silverine said...

@mincurry: And that's why we have 'Save Kerala Blogspot' :)

KT said...

Lol I live in the USA and I've visited in India many times because of fam but ..honestly.. I don't think I'd ever yes you're right everyone "SHARES" the roads.. and taht includes the cows too.

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - sweet..that gives a glimmer of hope.

@ keerti - haha..yes, them cows too..but the cows and dogs have more road sense.

silverine said...

them cows too..but the cows and dogs have more road sense

If you happen by 100 Feet Koramangala at 6 pm or therabouts you will see an unique spectacle. A herd of buffaloes cross this dangerously busy road and a lot of pedestrians use these gentle creatures as a shield to get to the other side of the road safely. Crossing this road takes at least 10 minutes . The buffaloes cross the road so intelligently. They will inch together slowly till the traffic starts avoiding them and then slowly ( all this in heavy and fast moving traffic) cross the road and wait at the median. Then step onto the road and stand in a group and do the same routine till they have crossed over to Shanthi Sagar side and then head for home. They do not wait for a break in the traffic like the scores of people waiting to cross the road.I had photogrpahed the spectacle on my mobile cam but deleted it later. This is a must see.

Thulika - My pen said...

Thanks for dropping by at my Blog, Thanks a lot for your comment. Really feel encouraged to write when you get a comment like that.

Potholes filled with water so deep they could really be wells, 8 legged 2wheeled 1/2 km per hour bullok carts, infinite processions of political/ relegious/ nothing/ everything else motives, infinite barriers of straw laden stretches, enthusiastic 18 years old taking driving lessons...the list is long. May be it is all these that gives one time to breath, to slow down in life, to feel alive, like a pause of perfect silence in the melody, really God's own country.

Vinod/Kakka said...

Dont forget that the government is working hard to improve Road Safety.
Did you not see the shimmering "international quality" signage in front of schools saying "School zone: 25 Kmph"?
Or the other "advisory signs"?
The Kerala govt and ADB and some consultant decided that it was the lack of signage that created accidents. And they gave an international bid to find out a supplier for quality signage, which was 3M [So this should be WorldBank]. And signs got splattered all over the place.
Some of it is good. Curves are marked better now, and there are cats eyes on some dividers.
But most of it is just waste. Borrow money from X to get consultants from country X to suggest solutions from country X and get stuff supplied from country X.
Writing about Kerala makes me depressed most of the time.
How foolish are our leaders, and how slavish their thoughts? If they cannot solve our problems within a framework that is suitable for us, who made them our leaders?
As another election nears, we do not actually elect people. Selected people come before us, and we choose a lesser evil.

Sarah said...

Crazy as it may sound, I would love to take that "nightmare" drive one more time.. God I miss Kerala with all the honking and auto rickshwas and naranga vellam..

CyberRowdy(Q8TechDrive) said...

God's Own Country...Devil's Own People! hehhe! I love this blog..

visit me at

Mind Curry said...

@ silverine - you know..that incident reminds me more of people than bufallos or cows. though i cannot really call them intelligent people, instead of intelligent buffalos :)

post that pic! :)

@ thulika - thanks for dropping by. all those things also make it dog's own country ;)

@ vinod - thank god this time your comment has come.
well, i am not sure about the costs of signages and if any scam was involved, but definitely the new signs look good and are effective. i drove a lot night and day recently in kerala, and these signages and reflectors made a lot of diffference. these will really reduce accidents in my opinion, provided our people are more sensible. i hardly see anyone keep lanes or not overtake at bends etc.

@ immigrant in canada - well, just catch that flight and visit :)

@ q8techdrive - thanks and welcome here. will check your site..sounds interesting :)

Babin said...

Interestingly the government has come up with a vision document for Road Saftey. Here is the newsclip:

vicky said...

All I can say is that this is an total over exaggeration. I too have extensive driving experience.Am from bangalore and have driven extensively in all three states kerala, karnataka and Tamil nadu

And I feel kerala is relatively the best in terms of traffic sense with tamil nadu THE WORST.

There wont be any sort of problem if you ride with discipline.

What is different about kerala is that 4 wheelers here tend to drive faster than in other southindian states.But many of them do have really good driving skills too.

Driving a bus in a ghat section at speed i have seen around munnar takes needs some talent.

Otherwise its like any other place in karnataka....

As to why there are so many accidents is because the vehicle population is so very dense. There is hardly any place in kerala where you dont find ppl..The highway starting from kasargod to Kanyakumari itself is like one big city. Even when you pass out of a town there will be as much traffic....and as many ppl...just a start of a new town.that explains the number of accidents....otherwise ...i must say your roads, traffic sense and driving skills are far far better than karnataka and definately 1000 times better than Tamil nadu

Mind Curry said...

@ babin - thats an interesting link..but the efforts from the govt were criticized as being wasteful.

@ vicky - thanks vicky for the long comment.

you are right..what is worst or bad is very relative..but anyway we always need to compare ourselves to something better in order to improve.

one thing i disagree is about discipline! thats something totally ABSENT in Kerala. this is not just about traffic, but about anything!

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Anonymous said...

Wishing a happy and prosperous onam.

Once upon a lifetime in kerala

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