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     Volume 5 Issue 105 | July 28, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Driving Me Mad

Nadia Kabir Barb

It has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion that first impressions of me are that of a relatively normal, sane and rational person. Not only my husband, however, but also my friends and relatives are of the mind that as soon as you put me behind the steering wheel of a car, I manage to metamorphose into a scowling, aggressive, fist-shaking maniac! Not that I can argue with this rather unflattering description of myself. But, in my defence, when you spend half of your life in a car, stuck in traffic, it is not unnatural to find your patience levels slightly eroded.

You would think that in a place like London driving would be a relatively stress--free experience but let me rid you of that notion. It seems that recently people are driving more and more aggressively and the level of tolerance for other motorists is almost non-existent. On top of that we seem to be living in a city of road works. Everywhere you go there is either a diversion or a roadblock leading to a build-up of traffic in other areas. What exactly these road works are supposed to achieve is beyond me. Then of course there are so many roads in and around London that are supposed to allow two-way traffic but in reality are so narrow that only one car can pass through. These are the occasions where my Jekyll and Hyde persona comes to life. When you find yourself on a road where there is only room for one car to go up or down, you either look to see if any car is coming from the other direction and finding a clear stretch drive down as fast as you can without risking life and limb. The other option is to start driving and if you encounter another car coming towards you, you play a game of chicken where you keep going until one of you backs down and reverses all the way to the end of the road to let you go! No guesses as to what I end up doing.

I am also told that if I were to be reincarnated, I would come back as a traffic warden! This slur on my character comes from the fact that I am an excessively law-abiding citizen especially when it comes to driving and parking. Breaking any traffic rules or regulations goes against my natural tendencies. In the process I impose my excessive cautiousness on others if I happen to be a passenger in someone else's car. As I keep telling my husband and my friends, they should thank me for the numerous parking tickets I have saved them from acquiring. A lot of my irritation while driving also stems from the fact that I expect other people to abide by the rules as well while driving. This, however, is just plain wishful thinking.

Being a Bangladeshi at heart, I cannot resist the temptation to hoot at people the minute they do something to annoy me. It is funny but there are actually different types of hooting as well. One is a very gentle tap on the horn to remind the person in front of you that the lights have changed and they need to move, another is a louder but short and sharp horn which is a sign of mild irritation telling the other person you were not impressed with whatever they may have been doing. The last one is a steady and constant hooting, which shows exasperation and total frustration. This is probably the stage before road rage and is equivalent to much swearing and gesticulation. As I usually have children in the car, verbal abuse is definitely not an option. I have to resort to making exceedingly cutting and sarcastic remarks to the offender despite the fact that they are oblivious to my comments. Nevertheless it manages to soothe my ruffled feathers to a certain extent.

It is perhaps a very good thing that I do not drive in Dhaka. While I was sitting in the car today in the usual traffic jam that seems to be part and parcel of life in Dhaka these days, it occurred to me that if I can transform into Mr. Hyde while driving in London what would happen to me if I were to have the experience of driving in Dhaka? I shudder to think! As my son pointed out the traffic lights are really there for show as nobody takes any heed of them whatsoever. The traffic police do whatever they want to and in my mind seem to defy logic. Then of course the actual driving leaves me in total awe. It feels like being in a play station or computer game where you have to try and miss the vehicles around you. Nobody ever seems to drive in a straight line as the cars are constantly weaving in and out of lanes. As there are no rules while driving one has to be alert to everything going around you at all times and even anticipate what other people may do. Hats off to anyone who can drive here.

When you think that the traffic in Dhaka can't get any worse, it does just that. Despite the fact that there seem to be more cars on the streets of Dhaka, the infrastructure has not really changed or improved to sustain this increase. Nowadays it is impossible to get anywhere on time. You really can use the excuse, “Sorry, I got stuck in traffic” and get away with it. Stuck in the car near the flyover, I could not help but smile to myself. Had I not already read the Da Vinci Code, I could have bought it from one of the vendors on the road accompanied by a packet of popcorn and passed my time quite happily lost in the world of Robert Langdon, the Opus Dei, and The Knights Templar etc. A friend of mine has obviously figured out that as a large proportion of time is spent in the car getting from one place to another; it is worth his while to invest that time getting some work done. Armed with his Blackberry to reply to the numerous emails that seem to accumulate within that time it takes to get from point A to B, a mobile phone, some water and a few snacks, he has a makeshift office in the car! Not a bad way to manage one's time rather efficiently. On the other hand my daughter chose to utilise her time catching up on her sleep--also a useful way to pass the time, at least you arrive at your destination feeling refreshed.

I keep telling myself that every time I come back to Dhaka and experience the madness that ensues on the roads, I should be able to go back to London and feel grateful that people actually stop at red lights and manage to follow the basic rules and regulations on the roads. Sadly this never happens as I seem to suffer from short-term memory loss as I revert to my alter ego as soon as I sit behind the wheel of my car…

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