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.


Our excursion to the Hare Krishna center never materialized. Instead, we spent our weekend making our way around Kolkata.

Getting around the city isn’t easy, though. Most major roads are completely gridlocked, even off peak hours. This – combined with the fact that Indian traffic is much like a game of Frogger mixed with playing chicken with a Tata truck – makes getting around an adventure. Every person forces their way. To pass you go into oncoming traffic and swerve back at the last second. Somehow, though, there aren’t too many accidents.

Here’s a guide to Kolkata traffic. Each conveyance has its own perils:

Private Car: This by far the most expensive and posh way to get around. They’re usually fixed rate so you don’t have to worry about haggling with the driver, and the ride is relatively comfortable. You still have to deal with the gridlock, though, and you still will be a tourist completely insulated from the local culture.

Cab: Expensive but often the best point-to-point transit method. Warning: your cab driver probably has no idea where you’re going either, and will probably pull over to ask for directions several times. You won’t be able to tell if he actually doesn’t know, or if he’s just strategically trying to run up the meter. Also, your cab driver may pull over to pee on the side of the road (see previous entry) or stop to buy chewing tobacco. This is par for the course. Also, don’t be too shocked if you play bumper cars a little bit with other cabs – minor accidents are no biggie. Once, our cab driver actually pulled over to change a tire; we helped much to the amusement of all passers by.

Auto(rickshaw): Autos are cheap, fast and usually run on standard routes. The bad thing is you can’t take them point-to-point, but they can be useful for getting to nearby places. These three-wheel contraptions wouldn’t fit more than a few people in the states, but the standard number seems to be six or seven here.  In the rural areas, that number can be bumped up significantly to accomadate . On a visit to a village last week I was in an auto with 9 other people: five in back, four in front with the driver sitting on the middle two. I had one cheek hanging outside the vehicle and watched as the ever-present Tata trucks passed on the right with less than a foot to spare.

Bus: Buses are cheap and they go everywhere. It might just take you a long time to get there.

Metro: Efficient, cheap and cool. Definitely the best way to get around. It’s too bad there’s only one line.

Bicycle rickshaw: cheap and surprisingly fast, but you are being pulled by another human being.

Everywhere you go, no matter by what method, you will attract attention. Staring isn’t considered impolite here, and people will often turn completely around – no kidding, 360 – to gawk. 

I have a friend who is blonde and has had more than her fill of unwanted male attention. Regularly, guys will stop in their tracks six or seven feet away, stand there and stare away, often while biting their lip. I know that sort of thing isn’t unique to India, but it’s defintiely frustrating for all the girls in our group.