I’m coming to the conclusion that one can tell a lot about an area by its roads.
Not just the physical state of the web of asphalt laid across its face, but the way the people and vehicles interact with the laws and lay of the land that govern the streets. All infrastructure says something about the way a city is run, but roads reveal integral aspects of the priorities and attitudes of the people driving over them. Nowhere, in my opinion, are the roads more indicative of an area’s culture than here in New Delhi.
The winding, hilly roads of rural Pennsylvania were beautiful and sparsely populated, if a bit monotonous. It is friendly driving, and though the scenery is beautiful and open there is not as much to do as in a city. Like the roads, life in rural Pennsylvania is simple and sweet, with nature and your neighbors to keep you company.
Chicago, as a big city, has traffic for much of the day. Just like Chicago’s neighborhoods, though, the styles of driving on different roads vary widely. There’s the drag-race friendly Edens, the commuter-friendly lanes of 294, the scenic and hectic Lakeshore Drive, and the dark, mysterious, and distinctly Chicagoan Lower Wacker. In a city where a large proportion of denizens use public transportation, the variety and personality of the el and the Metra are also revealing.
Much more similar to my current locale, the streets of New Orleans are unkempt at best. Like the people, New Orleans streets are always messy, sometimes beautiful, rooted in history, often littered with signs of alcohol, and always lead somewhere interesting.
In a maddening metaphor, Delhi’s roads are a microcosm of life in this city. First of all, they are crowded. Like the people in any Delhi crowd, the cars on Delhi streets are uncomfortably close to each other. Drivers are not shy about touching bumpers, or pulling into an impossibly narrow space between a bus and a wall. For everyone at home who thinks I am a less-than-perfect driver: come visit me here. We’ll take an auto down the highway and you will never fear again on an American road. Coupled with the densely crowded, law-of-the-jungle driving, there is a soundtrack of a million different horns. At first the sound of so many horns, beeped for no apparent reason beyond perhaps greeting every single car passing by, was funny. When I am tired or frustrated the constant beeping is annoying. But now I barely notice it, like a ridiculous parody of birdsong in a forest. And yet somehow the “look-I’m-driving” honking and the “they’re-more-like-guidelines-anyway” driving has some sort of organization to it. The way that incongruous shards of multicolored glass become a recognizable image in a mosaic, all of these cars somehow know when to turn illegally, and when to stop on a dime at a red light (for once). There is a method to the madness, it appears. I just have yet to find it.
The other thing about Delhi roads is the contrasts seen everywhere. Between a chicken cart and a colorfully-painted truck, one is liable to see anything from a woman in a sari on the back of a motorcycle to a Lamborghini to a pedestrian deaf to the honking around him. Rich cars are cut off by rickety auto-rickshaws and silk-clad women walk by as working men packed 20 to a truck bed stare. There is so much…everything. Noise, smells, sights, every possible sense is stimulated as I hold on for dear life to the rickshaw I paid too much for.