Here in Bangalore the traffic is legendary, but in particular the motorbikes and scooters — or “two wheelers” as they’re collectively known — are what makes the difference.
Usually occupied by at least two people (and up to 5), the 2-wheelers make up a huge proportion of the traffic here. In a congested city with poor roads, the advantages are obvious: you can weave through gaps in the otherwise-gridlocked roads, you can go up on the pavement to overtake (and many do), and you can park easily. Plus you can carry things around.
When I arrived here I quickly noticed the huge range of useful services that a simple moped or scooter could provide.
Taking the kids to kindergarten/school. On a step-through scooter, you’ll often see a small child standing up on the step, while a parent takes them to their daycare or school. Sometimes the little kids are wearing sunglasses, which makes sense to keep the wind out of your eyes, but also makes them look cool and very cute. (Even with a balaclava.) Sometimes they’re sitting astride the petrol tank of Daddy’s large motorbike, with apparently very little to hang on to, which looks much less cute and much more alarming. I try to imagine what it must’ve been like to arrive at school like this every day.
Commercial Goods. It’s very common to see someone balancing full or empty water containers on their moped, or even to see a huge pile of stacked egg containers on the rear rack, full of eggs and tied down with bungies. Similar: large sacks of onions and potatoes. Curiously, green coconuts always seem to be moved around either by bicycle, or in a small 3 or 4-wheeler “van”.
Transporting dangerous objects. I’ve seen quite a range of things that made me shudder, usually when there are two people on the 2-wheeler, and the passenger on the back is carrying/holding something ridiculous – often sandwiched between them and the driver. A couple of examples here, some of which felt like really nasty accidents waiting to happen:
- A full-length mirror, about 2-3 feet wide, with no frame or edging at all. Similar: steel plate.
- A 32-inch crt-based TV set, cradled in the arms of the passenger. This must be really heavy, but seen it loads of times.
- One of my favourites… a ten-foot bamboo pole, with a large sickle on the front end, carried over the passenger’s shoulder.
I’ve seen most of these things many times, but today was different. As I stood on the central median in the middle of a busy road, waiting to cross the second half, a TVS moped approached with a very large load strapped down behind the solitary driver, covered in old blankets, and sticking out pretty far on both sides. As he got nearer I had to dodge out of his way slightly as he came up very close and then turned right at the junction. Then I saw that his load was the flabby pink carcass of a cow, minus its head and legs. It must have weighed a ton, and in a predominantly Hindu land with strict laws about cattle slaughter, was maybe quite a risky cargo to be carrying in the morning rush-hour.