Driving on Indian roads presents a unique unsurpassable joy – courtesy potholes. No, this is no sarcastic remark. Once you have adjusted to the idea of potholes, the whole thing suddenly metamorphoses into a game. And our clever road department has potholes for all levels of ‘players’. Infact, I am pretty much sure, though I am yet to verify this, we have a Special Purpose Task Force (STF) for potholes in India. This group works within the larger framework of road transport ministry. But lest you think otherwise, the pothole STF is not for greenhorns. Only the very best potheads get to work in it.
Below I present a handful of the many gems crafted by our industrious pothole STF.
First on the list is the easy to create and innocuous looking, but very naughty, ‘Jalapeno Miss Daisy’ pothole. It is found bang center of the fast lane and takes by surprise anyone new to the road. There is no way you can miss it unless you knew about its existence and changed lanes well in time. The formula is – create a pothole with diameter greater than the width of the widest production car and with lesser space on its sides than the width of the narrowest production car. Veterans NEED to be respected and this pothole gets you loads of respect from the rookie. Also, given the impossibility of missing it once you enter Daisy’s suction zone (like a black hole), this is also a great way of punishing the incorrigible honker. The idea is simple – keep the honker on your tail and have him getting so hot in the head that he is ready to carve a sunroof in his car. Then just before you enter the suction zone, sidestep into the slow lane and give the ‘please pass me’ sign. The honker, senseless with rage, will finally see victory and rush to fill the gap created by you; flooring the accelerator until he realises the trap. Too late. Plump Miss Daisy gives him a nice rap on the knuckle. To add insult to injury, if you are the violent types, look into the honker’s eyes (he will be looking at you) and smile as you cut back into the fast lane while he is still in the pothole. Justice delivered.
Then there is the ‘Scotch Bonnet Sandwiched One Tyre Passby’ pothole. Here you have two potholes so placed that the only way to avoid them is to put your tyre in the space between them. And the space between them is always equal to one tyre width (tread arc width for the technically inclined). For newbies this pothole is great fun. Because of the opportunity to learn steering precision control without too much punishment. The more your tyre overlaps the space, the less you feel the pothole. A perfect fit means you cheated the pothole of all its poison. It is not uncommon to see drivers pump their fists in jubilation when they do a perfect score on Scotch Bonnet. Now where in the world other than India do you get that kind of fun?
The next level is ‘Red Savina Sandwiched One Tyre With Swerve Passby’. Same as above, only that you cannot drive straight through the gap zone (gap refers to parts where the road exists!). Once you reach the periphery of the first pothole you need to swerve just enough to keep the tyre on the road and yet avoid one of your tyres (usually rear) entering the next pothole. Great fun! Who cares what happens to traffic on the other side? Maybe you just drove an old uncle into the pavement or worse, killed his chance of winning his own pothole battle. Don’t you fret one bit. Everyone’s a student on Indian roads because the potholes keep changing shape, size, location and number. I tell you, our roads department knew about road games before the word got coined. Are Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft listening?
Then there is the ‘Dorset Naga One Tyre Salsa Passby’. Derived from Red Savina but then you have three potholes and have to swerve twice to keep your car from getting dunked. Unless you are an expert on Red Savina, do not try this. Novices tend to overestimate their skills and jump into the Salsa action. Only to find their skills not matching the challenge and end up in one big mess at the third pothole (which is almost always the largest and deepest of all three). They either have to take their car to a garage or worse, take another road occupant to the hospital.
If you have mastered the above three types, welcome to the club of ‘front tyre masters’. Members of this club can put any one front tyre into any possible line. Even if most of them failed their colouring lessons in school because they could not keep the crayon inside the line. Infact most of them have failed art classes.
Next in line is the ‘Bhut Jolokia Front And Rear End Double Jiggle’ pothole. A deadly variation of above types but with the potholes spaced at distances less than the car wheelbase. Now when you swerve to keep your front tyre on the road, unless you keep within tolerance, your rear tyre will enter the pothole the front tyre just escaped. Not many front tyre masters realize the exponential challenge this represents until they have failed a couple of times. Power steering comes in handy here. And you really have to know how not to give a damn to other people right to the road. Basically, the rear end of your vehicle will twist such that Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie will look like an American cowboy practice session.
A unique kind is the ‘Capsaicin Meteorite Sucker’ pothole. Easiest to create – just dig up the whole road section. This is the mother of all potholes and will suck you in come what may. A true scorcher and amazing Zen teacher it is. There is no way you can avoid entering it unless your vehicle has an E.T. staring out over the dashboard. The only way to negotiate the Sucker is to enter slowly and exit slowly. Smart Alecs who come in fast, never leave. The Sucker is deep and dangerous and they take a day’s rest with broken axles, ankles and ego. Lately, I have seen some players managing to beat the Sucker. It is unfair outplay since they drive in the lane of the opposite direction traffic. But the road guys are catching up fast. Last Sunday, Mr. Patel, our local roadie (as we lovingly call our road planners), announced that the Sucker will now cover lanes in both directions. Take that.
Remember all this pothole fun is possible only when you have 4 lane roads with a divider to physically separate traffic into two opposite directions. In other words, potholes are signs of our growing infrastructure and justify our demand for a seat in the UN Security Council. Also, I wonder why we still do not have temples to pay homage to our roadies. Especially when they are responsible for so many people getting close, real close, to God.
Non-Indians will never understand how vital these potholes are to upholding democracy in India. Like when they decided to level all roads in the locality I live. It was mayhem on the roads. People accustomed to potholes went berserk, and started seeing imaginary potholes and drove their vehicle into the pavement, lamppost and what-not. A vote was held and people turned out in large numbers to vote for moonscape roads. The road department relented and came up with a new pothole plan. That has kept people busy and away from their frightening selves.
Last month, however, we were faced with a new challenge to our pothole democracy. Bajaj Tempo, the ultimate symbol of fast moving Indians, requested F1 central committee to give India a circuit and also introduce potholes to increase the excitement. Before a healthy debate could be had, the old boys (Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault, etc.) shouted foul and the request was buried. Cowards! they knew that with potholes introduced they stood no chance against Bajaj Tempo’s 3-wheeler entry. Man, we learn how to handle potholes at the age of 7. Remember standing in the space between dad and the headlight of your Bajaj Chetak and driving (in your mind) as your dad did the pothole routine? So, while the Schumachers of this world were learning to tie their shoelaces, Srivastavs of this world were negotiating potholes at the speed of scooter.
I hope to have brought some respect to our potholes and help you realise they are works of art.
Feel free to let me know if you have more pothole types or pictures to add.
Or maybe you have a pothole story worth telling…..
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Just in case you were wondering about all those fancy pothole names: