Continuing his series on Goa, the intrepid Daryl Pereira is now faced with understanding the Goan road system.
Of roads, Goa has no shortage. City, town, village and hamlet are all connected by and intricate web of tarmac. So, with there being no dearth of roads, where on earth do all the vehicles which manage to flood the highways appear from?
According to the law of averages it certainly appears that some people must be on the road all day; simultaneously driving at two vehicles. The fact that a certain minister had a fuel bill of Rs 53,000 for one month which equates to travelling over 400km a day, may help to explain this! Also, statistics reveal that fifty new vehicles are registered on every working day. For a State with only a little over a million inhabitants, these people are in a struggle to get across this dminutive State.
They are also in a hurry. Buses bellow, scooters bleat, autorickshaws 'oink' and bicycles timidly chime as the jamboree makes a vain attempt to move. Surely this goes against the laid back attitude for which Goans are renowned? Well, not quite. The 'more haste, less speed' doctrine which the motorists adopts is in keeping with sussegado, as no one gets anywhere fast. Everything is oblivious to everything else. There you have the workings of the Indian traffic 'system' in all its glory.
Well, not quite. The picture is not quite complete without the inclusion of the all-important personalities perched in the driving seat. No Goans in particular are renowned to be a fairly docile race. The average Goenkar tends to exhibit a certain placid quality when it comes to dealing with his fellow man as well as uncompromising hospitality.
This, however, hides a dark sinister undercurrent of pure base emotion. A car key is sufficient to release it. Whereas the Goan Dr Jeckell would give you his house, Mr Hyde is determined that you will wear tyre tread on your back. Are there really no laws governing the mad shambolic scramble from 'A' to 'B'?
In keeping with all modern thinking, surely there is some order commanding the chaos. And yes, there are some principles to which your average psychopathic driver adheres. Firstly, you must have an ego the size of Bombay to climb into the driving seat. Above all, whatever you do, wherever you go, whenever you don't brake, you are always right.
The horn is all-important in this and the most vital part of the vehicle. Rather than just used as an extreme warning or sign of disapproval, here it is the principle way of making your presence felt among the hordes. It is a form of self-expression which is utilised to the full and the only part of the vehicle which must have regular maintenance.
Any self-respecting Goan will tell you that procrastination and self-doubt are the major causes of all accidents in the State. There is one exception to this rule however: that of the cow. The cow is sacred, and the cow knows it. To see a cow position its rear facing the street and serenely dump its load onto the ground below is the ultimate form of abuse of privilege. Therefore cows cannot be trusted to follow the rules and should be avoided at all costs. Don't be fooled by that soft fleshy exterior. Dented cows you will never see. Furthermore insurance claims can be tricky as there are not many recorded cases of ruminents being sued.
Whether turning left, right, or going straight on, make sure that you keep to the middle of the road. This way you keep your options open. If you do at the last moment wish to make a detour then fine, go ahead! Never pull over to let any vehicle passed as this is the height of bad manners: have you no sense of sportsmanship? Play the game like every one else. After all, how much damage can a fifty tonne truck do to a bicycle?
The next guide for our intrepid motorist is that if you can go forward, then do! Brakes are for beginners. According to Newton's laws of motion, an object travelling in a straight line will continue to do so until some other force acts upon it. So it is with the considerate Goan vehicle which does not wish to upset the laws of nature.
One striking feature of all vehicles is the presence of some symbol relating to a higher being Whether a Hindu god or Christian deity, it will have pride of place in any car or bus. Scooters are plastered with stickers referring to a divinity to such an extent that even the exquisite churches of Old Goa must feel quite inadequate and jealous. Something that struck me as grimly ironic, given the number of fatalities on the roads of Goa, was a fluorescent sticker claiming that "Jesus saves lives".
Now, however, I think I have come close to fathoming the link between roads and religion. The road system proves so dicey that a deep-seated faith in the Omnipotent is the only certainty, and furthermore if something does go wrong then at least the final journey to eternity will be smooth.