GAME OF CHICKEN

Picture a road. Picture a winding road with a divider down the middle. Picture gnarled, tropical trees casting their cool shade on the road.

Now picture cars, small Maruti Zens that look like little boxes on wheels. Picture cool Honda Cities and Mercedes Benzes cruising around like eggs encasing cool, clean air and dapper businessmen. Picture a window opening a crack, a slim forearm extending, a crumpled piece of trash falling from the hand. Picture the window closing.

Picture an auto rickshaw. Picture the three wheels, the rounded yellow top, the open sides, the headlights that make it look like a startled bug. Picture the auto driver, wearing a khaki safari suit, mouth stuffed with dip, red streams of spit erupting from his mouth. Picture honest eyes.

Picture a motorbike. Picture 2,473,000. Put them on the road with 51,513 auto rickshaws. Add the cars. Add the pedestrians. Forget a sidewalk. Forget the rules.

Picture a passenger, a girl, sitting in the backseat of a rickshaw on her way to work. Picture a dupatta thrown across her shoulders to prevent unwanted attention. Picture the girl pulling the scarf up, covering her nose and mouth to filter the exhaust from her air. Picture a car, inching closer and closer to the divider, leaving less and less room for the auto rickshaw.

Picture a motorbike squeezing into a space so tight that the bars skim the side of the adjacent car. Picture a pedestrian holding up his hand, gesturing the cars to STOP as he walks, leisurely, across the road. Hear honks.

Hear the put-put-put of the rickshaw’s rickety engine. Hear the baritone honk of a bus, two buses… Picture two buses hemming in a motorcycle, the motorcycle pulling back in defeat.

Picture four boys running behind the bus. A boy runs up to the bus, catches the handle, hoists himself on. He jumps off. He has won the game. The next boy tries. The bus moves faster.

Picture a family of four balanced on a motorbike. Picture a women riding sidesaddle, clutching a baby. Picture the pallu of her sari whipping behind her as the bike accelerates. Picture her pressing her nose into her husband’s back.

Picture an intersection. Picture 2 lanes being made into four. Picture an illegal U-turn. Picture a million illegal U-turns. Picture chaos. Picture order in chaos.

Picture the girl, tumbling out of the rickshaw, thanking the heavens that she is still in one piece and that she gets to ride again tomorrow.

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