Thursday, September 8, 2011

Driving On Indian Highways - A Bit Like Cricket

The Indian highways are always seen as the territory of the big boys. When the city driver first gets on to the highway you can instantly make out from the diffident way the vehicle approaches the traffic, the polite manner in which it shies away from the big boys and cautiously keeps away from the mainstream. After a while it realises that one has to assert oneself, know one's places in the scheme of things and more importantly understand the others' place. There is give and take, the small ones taking care of the big ones, the big ones looking out for the small ones, compassionate ones, rogue drivers, irresponsible ones, youthful ones, fearful ones and so on. It is a bit like cricket in many ways, batting more so, specially when one makes the transition from school cricket to the bigger boys.

The best players respect the game. Similarly, the Indian highways are a dangerous proposition for those who do not respect the road. This is so because most of the highways are merely two laned - traffic zooms by in opposite directions without the comfort of a divider in between for most parts, and without much margin on the other side either. There is no comfort guaranteed for the champion either.

As batsmen deal with different pitches, different conditions, bowlers etc and look for an error free stint at the wicket so do the good drivers. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic, children from villages running about, wobbly cyclists, aggressive motorcyclists, sleepy truck drivers, careening buses, speedy small cars, cattle, dogs, goats, even mongooses, snakes etc. And then there are potholes, road construction activities which leave material hanging about, sudden diversions, narrow bridges, vehicles stopping in the middle of the road due to breakdowns, accidents that cause your eyes to widen etc. There is enough happening on the Indian highway that will keep you awake and alert as any reality show would.

Having driven on the comfort and luxury of some of the best Indian roads - Delhi-Jaipur, Mumbai-Pune, Belgaum-Pune, Vizag-Vijayawada, Hyderabad-Bangalore - the first thing that struck me was that driving on the expressways is boring in a way. Stick to your lane, stick to your speed and hang on to the steering. The biggest challenge on these six to eight laned highways is that of sleeping off. The two laned highway is any day far more interesting with its drama, danger. It keeps me alive and alert.

But there are certain rules that one can follow if one is not used to long distance highway driving for safety and comfort. I will try and list them down here.

1) Just as batsmen plan out the length of their stints and prepare accordingly so must you prepare for the length you can put in. In my opinion, on Indian roads one can drive 500-700 kms a day which could take up to 15 hours or so with a solo driver (provided the driver has enough rest the previous day) though 400-500 kms is probably the best (8-10 hours).

2) Preferably drive during the day unless absolutely necessary. Night driving has the hazards of drivers sleeping off which is the most common cause of accidents on the highways. Even if you do not sleep there are many overworked truck, bus and taxi drivers who have been driving non-stop for days and who fall asleep at the wheel at high speeds in the comfort of the night. They might head towards you in the dark of the night as if they are seduced by your vehicle and you may have big trouble warding them off.

3) Having good partners is important to keep you focused on your game and help you play longer innings. Similarly, is night driving, get some good company who will also stay awake with you, keep you alert, someone to talk, listen to music. If everyone else falls asleep roll down the window so the cold air keeps you awake - don't get too snug else you will nod off. And if you ever, even get a hint that your eyes are closing STOP IMMEDIATELY. Wash your face, walk around, get to the chai joint and ward off sleep right then with some physical exercise or go to sleep for a short nap. Don't even think of making it to the next 20 kms in that state because you could just nod off soon. Most cricketers call for gloves, make a change when they know they are tiring and are making mistakes.

4) Get to the ground early - so you are mentally and physically prepared when the game starts. Similarly start your journey early because you will save at least an hour in terms of the city traffic. I start at 5, some start at 430 even. By the time you get past the city limits it is about 30 minutes to an hour which would otherwise take almost two hours if regular city traffic starts from 7 a.m. on. The slow start saps you a bit.

5) They say Sachin Tendulkar checks every part of his kit bag every evening before the next day's game. Your gear must be in good shape. Always get your tyre pressure checked before you hit the highway, get the spare tyre looked at. If the front tyres (normally where the engine is) are worn out or bald, change them. Especially when on the expressway or on highways where you are likely to speed, bald tyres in the front are another common reason for accidents since they tend to burst at high speeds and there is nothing one can do if a tyre bursts at high speed on a highway. Except pray.

6) Most top players get a good night's rest before the big game for obvious reasons. It is best that the driver gets a good night's sleep and wakes up all fresh and refreshed. Many drivers work till 12 in the night or later and then report to work at 4 in the morning for another full day's work. Driving on the highway needs much concentration.

7) Get all protective gear in place - helmet, pads, abdomen guard, thigh guard, elbow guard. Use it when it is there. Similarly use the seat belts for all concerned, in the front seats, and if available in the back seats.

8) Good batting is all about keeping the head still and keeping the eye on the ball all the time. Refrain from too much activity in the driver area. Many times drivers themselves are doing too many things while driving eating, talking, looking back, picking up stuff, on the phone, and their co passengers are moving about and falling over - all things that could distract the driver. Keep the driver free. And keep children in the back seat and not hold them in the front for the view. They have no seat belts nor special seats here, so they are best at the back.

9) No good batsman slogs blindly because the percentage of getting out is high. On the road never overtake on curves or any place blindly. Many accidents occur because drivers tend to get chancy and overtake on curves blindly leaving no space for anyone if a heavy vehicle comes from the opposite side.

11) The best batsmen control their mind and don't give in to urges to play rash strokes. Similarly, never overtake unless there is a clear and comfortable gap between you and any opposite vehicle speeding towards you. Many small cars take chances thinking they can pull off the gap. It is not like city driving where you can squeeze in because this is all happening at high speeds and with heavy vehicles that cannot stop or maneuver themselves so easily and you may get into sticky situations i.e. sticking to the heavy vehicles bumpers or something like that.

12) Always look at the field, know the field before taking off for a run or playing a aerial shot. When overtaking also make sure that the road ahead is also clear and under control. Some of the trailers are extra long, some are in a convoy, so keep all that in mind before you start overtaking else you will be in for a nasty surprise.

13) Good batsmen always keep a sharp eye out to ensure they don't get any surprises - extra swing, spin or bounce - is taken into account by them. Similarly good drivers always keep a sharp eye out for people who could stray on the road especially near villages, settlements. Also for cattle, dogs that sashay across the roads. If the roads are narrow, specially more so because there is no space.

14) The best batsmen are extra careful when they face a part time bowler because they know that they will lose their wicket if they underestimate the bowler and relax. Slow down every time you reach a village or a town to as low as possible. It may look okay to course through at the 50 or 60 but one small scratch, one nudge and you are stuck there for the day or more sitting in the police station (if the locals don't send you to the hospital first).

13) Good batsmen are careful when dealing with maverick fielders who can pull of brilliant catches or run outs unpredictably. Watch out for youngsters on motorcycles who make U turns, sharp curves etc when near villages.

14) Keep comfortable distances from vehicles in front, at the side because you need time to react if they stop suddenly.

15) Keep comfortable margins on the side of the road as well. Keep track of the sides of the road in case you need to maneuver. Sometimes the sides disappear leaving you no space.

16) Good batsmen are wary of tiring and aggressive bowlers and fielders and keep out of their way. Similarly be aware of buses that carry passengers especially when they are closer to their destinations. Unlike the truckers, these guys have some deadlines and step on the gas and take some unnecessary risks. Don't be in their way as they overtake and take up all the space on the road. You may need to get off the road when they approach sometimes, so keep that space.

17) Don't assume anything about the wicket until and unless you have studied it well. Be specially careful of roads under construction because they cut off the sides of the road and leave gaping holes, drops of 10 feet or more with almost little or no protection. Any miscalculation and you could end up having a drop of 10 feet.

18) Good batsmen don't get distracted by sledging or any other side plays. Don't turn around and examine accidents because at 70 or 80 kmph you have little time too react to vehicles coming from the front. I find myself doing that every once in a while and realised how dangerous it can be. I should guess most accidents happen while stopping or looking at other accidents.

19) Good batsmen try to keep their eyes on the ball until it hits the bat - all the time. Keep your eyes on the road ALL THE TIME. It could be the difference between being alive or dead.

2O) Cricket is all about partnerships and when there are partners or team mates who share the load it is much easier. It helps if there are two drivers or if any other person also knows how to drive. Else take it nice and easy and don't push yourself beyond your limits.

21) A steady pace is always best and shows control to everyone including the team mates in the pavilion. A steady 80 kmph is best even on clear roads and covers for bad roads, quick changes and allows enough reaction time. Even on the expressway 80 kmph is recommended. With new cars it is easy to get carried away and I know drivers who do in excess of 140 kmph which leaves no room for getting out of sticky situations. Not only is it unsafe but all the others in the car feel unsafe and cannot relax.

22) The best batsmen stick to the old fashioned playing in the V because it is safer. Stick to the known roads, the bigger national highways, especially if you are with the family because you are likely to get some help there in terms of a breakdown. State highways have long stretches where you find no help.

23) The best batsmen play out the best bowlers and don't chance them. Similarly on the road, always respect the heavy traffic and give them way. It is always heartwarming to see truck drivers guiding you when you want to overtake - forbidding overtaking when there is opposite traffic or a curve ahead. Highways are about give and take. Same with the team.

24) The best batsmen know that they have to be at the wicket to score runs - safety comes first. So with drivers. Safety is most important so keep that top of priority. Speed and time comes later. Always be within yourself, keep the vehicle and the road under control. Never reach out or take chances, not even the smallest chance. It is like batting, one mistake is all it needs to send you back to the pavilion.

25) Enjoy the road, stop and enjoy the scenery. Go off the road. Smell the roses. Buy the village produce. Don't always look to go point A to B. Life is more than that especially if you are in your own car. The best cricketers also enjoy the game, the journey and do not see it as hard work.

Just as in cricket. As in life. One needs discipline, patience and control. With experience one realises when to give in, when to hold on and when to press forward the advantage. But mostly it is not about getting from A to B at the earliest only - it is about the journey as well and that is important to know. Happy driving.


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly explained. Thoroughly enjoyed reading. Useful tips that ensure safe and enjoyable driving.

Sumeet Mukherjee said...

Wonderful metaphorical usage. If i may ask, do you love driving more or cricket? I am really curious to know the answer.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Sumeet. I enjoy both in their own place really. Now I am beyond my active playing days so its more driving than cricket these days. Cricket is more for discussion and nothing much more than that.

But though I used cricket as the metaphor for highway driving in this article I really think that the road is a brilliant metaphor for life itself (as explained to me by one wise person I know). The danger is real and present and one must gather courage to go right into it.