I love driving in Colombo. It is a truly liberating experience. Especially compared to the terrifying orderliness in the roads of first world countries. So many rules to remember and fines that inflate your insurance when caught. You only realise it when weaving through other chariots like a piranha in your 4 wheeled trishaw.
Such freedom can kill you. All it takes is one distraction – like trying to find YFM on the dial – and you fail to notice the on coming private bus. Less fatal but far worse is getting maimed. Or you could kill or maim someone else. And yes the are “fines” for being careless too.
There’s a definite ring of truth to Vogvib Slabotnique’s maxim “Colombo’s streets are a video game and all its drivers merely players”. Actually that’s the only interesting thing he ever wrote – a stationary bullock cart in Pettah fatally (some may say thankfully) immortalised him some time back. Yes yes I have veered off topic but that’s driving in Colombo, Sri Lanka or most places in the third world. Its all about veering swerving improvising amidst chaotic conditions.
Its all seat of your pants/sari/sarong/sari/skirt driving (nudist drivers – left out as I doubt there are many of you on Colombo road – correct me if you want). Road rules are merely rules of thumb. Points of departure for an open ended discussion about what side of the road you should drive on. Mostly its the middle. In a superficially Buddhist country like Sri Lanka, that’s about the closest most people get to the “middle way”. Mostly because half of each lane is taken up by pedestrian traffic and parked vehicles. There’s even a helpful white line painted on the road to centre you.
Yet such cheap religious symbolism rarely distracts from the fact that the only right of way is yours. But you must snatch it from the other vermin on the road. Cruelly and without mercy like Mongol capture of Baghdad. In a city where practically everyone seems to know each other this is one of the few occasions you can be anonymously rude. Unless you REALLY want to shock someone by being polite. Try it – its fun 🙂
Politicos naturally have their way with jeep loads of goons to shoo lesser beings off the road. Its a good thing to get out of their way since these thugs do get bumped off. It is inconvenient to get in the way of politician killing shrapnel which I have overhead as being described “good for the country”. Amazing what you overhear at parties when you stick to EGB. Anyway back to the topic.
Excrement like us have to rely on loud noise, beam lights and the girth of our chariots to bully our way through. A LOUD horn is as essential as functional brakes for Colombo’s roads. Particularly for the minority who value life over ego like you and me. Its not an option like fully inflated tires, working indicator lights or seat belts.
Without a horn, other drivers may not believe that you exist. Specially when they are Banzai charging directly at you. Flashing beam lights help but makes you look weak without an angry honk to back you up. Size has its drawbacks. A hefty gas guzzler might bully a tiny Maruti off the road but is hopeless when the road become a parking lot. Smaller chariots can squirm through the cracks of the traffic jams into those secret Colombo short cuts everyone pretends not to have.
Welcome (abrupt stops are part of the experience) to the end of this post – though not the topic. I’ll be posting more tomorrow or whenever I get around to (hopefully tomorrow). Till then, safe driving and thank you for reading this far down. You are one brave Colombo driver 🙂
Postscript: If you found the jerky swerving writing in this post nauseating, I hope it will at least discourage the Lakbmianews newspaper from lowering its standards to steal it. I know I know how naively suspicious of me 👿