May 7, 2009

Systems work differently in the US and in India, and when one gets used to them,life becomes easier. A simple point of illustration is driving in both countries.

Everywhere, one must have information for driving…how do I get to where I am going? What’s the best route to take?

In India, information is almost always oral. Yes, perhaps Google maps has now covered many cities, but still, most drivers use their window for information…by putting their hands out of it, waving down passers-by, and asking for information. Of course, very often, this information could be wrong…but in the absence of signposting or reliable maps, this is the only kind of information source that one relies on as one drives to a new destination.But this also allows one to take off for totally unknown destinations quite blithely! “Alli kEL bhavuthu” or “ange kEttukkalAm” (we can ask there)is our refrain!

In the US, however, a lot of information (accurate) is there…but it needs tremendous discipline and alertness to be able to get it. If one casually drives off the way one would do in India, finding one’s way to the destination would be impossible. But of course, one would usually look up one’s destination, or get a set of navigation instructions from the person-at-the-destination

But even with this information, it can be quite daunting to find one’s way. A little inattention, and one can miss the correct exit, and will have to loop back for miles, wasting a lot of time, instead of the convenient U-turn one can often take in India! (Well,that’s happening less these days, with the new highways.)

Even as one drives, there is a lot of information that has to be picked up and followed on, on the road….speed limit signs, “yield” signs, lane closure signs….the locals are totally used to doing this, but it requires a fair amount of training for someone newly driving here.

But when one HAS got used to the fact that there will be NO “asking the passerby”, and starts picking up the information, one realizes what an extraordinarily good sytem is in place. Exits, merging lanes, signposting…these are all very good.

In India, we certainly need to take our signposting more seriously….we tend to assume that someone, somewhere, will have the information we need to guide us to our destination; or that everyone knows the route!

In Bangalore, at one point, on Bannerghatta Road, there are signs to “Koramangala” or “Banashankari” etc, but no detailed signposting at all, no information on closed or dug up roads, no indication of approaching speed bumps….it’s so chaotic that some of my American friends have asked me HOW I drive there!

What tickles me the most is the sign, when we are driving in south India, from Chennai to Bangalore, that says, “Ahmedabad” (in the state of Gujarat) and gives the distance..over 1100 km! :)

Getting information is a very different process in the two largest democracies in the world…and it’s good that we are comfortable with both!

Thoughts, because we are driving to Indianapolis today to fetch a Bangalore friend. Now even this, I would say, was an impulsive decision by KM. It’s a 4.5 to 5 hour drive each way, and we are coming back the same day…not a great idea on these monotonous highways…particularly when there is an excellent bus service from Indianapolis to St Louis!

So, I decided that I would also go along, and spell KM with the driving (navigating is no big deal, it’s a single highway all the way.) I only wish highway driving was like India, where there’s always something interesting and unexpected to see…the freeways here are sooooo monotonous, with cars and trucks speeding past, and the added danger of one’s being lulled into a moment of drowsiness, that could be deadly dangerous….

OK, I better go to catch some sleep now…