December 17th: On Adaptation

Visitors to India rarely say anything positive about Indian roads. At anytime the roads could have a zoo of animals and small children practicing ballet along the road. Overstuffed garbage trucks hang a tail of swerving motorists who trail behind dodging the falling excess. There are no rules. Without rules for people to depend on to create a functioning norm people are dependent on their wits to get to their destination safely. The only norm that exists on Indian roads is the rules of the wild. The largest rule and the smallest squeeze to get by. If you had to drive in India you would have to accept that there are no rules, then survive.

In countries with road rules the drivers are lulled into dependence by the security that the rules provide. The driver is ill prepared for anything that is outside the rules. This is why J-walking is dangerous in countries with rules, the drivers depend on the rules rather than their wits. When something happens outside of the rules they don’t notice it quickly because their wits were busy snoozing on cruise control.

Even if statistically speaking driving with rules is safer, if a driver came to India and tried to follow the traffic rules they would instantly become the most dangerous thing on the road, because they are not following the wits-first driving norm. This is an example of how important it is to adapt. Even if science and your gut tells you that safety is in the rules, you’ll need to surrender to the Indian norm to reveal that there is a layer safety in the wits-first approach as well.

Indian driving will improve when the people collectively decide it should. Visitors could see that safety hasn’t abandoned the Indians, Safety, a master of yoga, has contorted from rigid rules into a flexible shape that can squeeze an unlit car through two cement mixers on an unlit bumpy highway with no speed limit. It is hard to recognize familiar ideas when they bend into their exotic Indian postures.

Indian roads are an abrasive, smelly, and insurmountable hurtle that no one can avoid. Unlike in other places were the cultural adaptations can be put on hold because they aren’t life or death. India presents the newcomer with an adapt or die ultimatum right away. Depending on which side the coin lands on defines your impression of India.

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