In case of a car accident in India, many of the travel guide books advise you to flee the scene.

In rural areas, it’s possible your car may be burned. While such extreme action is unlikely in cities, car accidents are treated seriously across India.

I learned this lesson as we were riding uptown in a cab on Raja S.C. Mullick Road, Garia’s main thoroughfare and one of the few ways to head north into the city. As we passed through an intersection in Jadavpur, I noticed things were a little crazier than normal. Traffic was standstill but it wasn’t because of gridlock.

In the center of the intersection, a squat middle-aged man was beating the hell out of a still-seated cab driver. The middle-aged man, whose vehicle had been damaged, was throttling the cabbie’s throat with one hand as he systematically beat him with the other. Remarkably, though, the cabbie didn’t fight back. He sat there and took the beating, probably realizing that escalating the situation would only land him in jail. It was an impressive demonstration of restraint.

This was only the second display of public violence I’ve seen in India.  A week before the cab driver incident, we had been visiting Digha, West Bengal’s version of a seaside resort. During the monsoon season, relatively few tourists – Indian or otherwise – visit Digha, so our presence drew the usual amount of attention.

As two of my friends were swimming in the Bay of Bengal, two young men – probably about our age or a little older – continued to walk toward them with arms outstretched. Repeatedly, they told my friends, “Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you. Don’t worry we won’t hurt you.” Of course, greeting someone by telling them you won’t hurt them is a surefire way to freak them out. 

So what ensued was a slow speed, water borne chase where the two guys followed my friends through the water assuring them they wouldn’t hurt them. At this point, my friends headed toward shore. The guys were in hot pursuit until they ran into a group of local fisherman who were bringing in their day’s catch. One of the fisherman – a short, elderly man wearing a purple turban – who had seen the guys following my friends began to yell at them. Then, suddenly, he grabbed the bigger one’s throat, slapped him several times and then yelled at him again. Then, without a second thought, he moved on to discipline his companion in a similar fashion. Neither of the young boys struck their elder, or even really said anything in response; they just tried to walk away.

In my time here, I’ve been amazed by how much restraint people here have in tense situations. While things are often chaotic, I’ve seen very few people lose their cool. And when things have become violent, one party has always backed down.

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