This is why Sundar Pichai says self-driven cars are not for India

Image source: Daily Beast

Each time my wife and I have to travel on the road, we come back feeling blessed that we don’t have to commute to work because both of us, very fortunately, work from home. Every drive on our roads can be a near-death experience.

People driving their cars, motorbikes, SUVs, tractors, auto rickshaws, tempos, bicycles, buses bullock carts and trucks drive as if there is no tomorrow.

They zigzag, they speed up, they slowdown, they stop, they hop in and hop out, they overtake, they switch lanes, they cross over to the other side, and they stretch out their necks and unleash streams of spit, whenever they feel like, wherever they feel like.

Dimensions of time and space cease to exist in the realm of the Indian roads: both these concepts become metaphysical. Any time can be “the” time, and any space can be “the” space.

Ever heard the phrase “dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening”? The drivers on the roads have internalized this nugget of timeless wisdom by adapting it to “drive like no one else is driving”.

Really, if you look at their expressions, their gaze, you can immediately make out that the object of their attention is something somewhere out there in the universe. The earthly concerns of trying not to run over people or not to bang into other vehicles, don’t seem to ruffle the cosmic ruminations going inside their heads.

Whether they are driving on a 4-lane road or in an alley with hardly enough passing space for a single car, some of these prodigal drivers are determined to give every F1 racing driver a career-ending complex.

It’s like, their safety is totally in your hand, or if not in your hand, then in ooper-wala’s hand.

They couldn’t care less if you banged into them head-on. They have this surrealistic talent of suddenly popping in front of you. If you cannot put on the brakes, it’s your problem, they’re not even going to throw a glance at you. At the most they will give you a spectral look, you know, that other worldly stare that makes you think, “Gosh, have I just had a paranormal experience?”

This alarming chain of thought becomes more alarming when you go through this chimerical experience while hitting the breaks under that gigantic hoarding with Monty Chaddha’s creepily smiling face.

And they are specially going to be extra rash on the wrong side of the road, just to make sure you don’t get the wrong idea that they are feeling apologetic about letting themselves loose on the wrong side of the road.

So there you are, driving, lost in your own twisted worldview that deludes you into thinking that since you are driving on the side you should be legally driving and hence, you should have no worry in the world, bang appears the angel whose sole purpose is to bring you back to reality. No matter how empty and sublime the road ahead of you appears, this angel is going to appear out of that tiny opening in the divider, or drop from a harmless-looking tree, or simply materialise from thin air, and you will be hitting the breaks or swerving like mad, and as unthankful as you are, cursing and fuming for the next couple of kilometres.

It’s your problem if you don’t expect people driving in full speed on your side of the road, coming towards you. They feel more secure and more in command driving on the wrong side than they are driving on the right side, maybe because they would rather have other vehicles coming from the front than from the back (which makes sense, actually).

Driving on the right side is for wimps, foreigners and the physically disabled. If you want to rule the roads, the right thing to do is drive on the wrong side with full speed and rattle the life out of those who are miserable enough to follow the road rules.

And when they are out there, on the wrong side of the road, unleashing their glory, don’t ever dare to judge them. Don’t look at them incredulously. If you are naïve enough to give them visual cues of anger or frustration, they look at you as if you should be arrested for expecting them to follow road rules. In fact, if they see a cop around they may even report you to him or her for nurturing criminal thoughts of following the rules, and worse, trying to drag the others to your filthy level, and for all you know, the cop may even confiscate your driver’s license.

Talking of cops, the worst scandal you can pull out on the road is to expect the cops to follow the traffic rules. There is no right side or wrong side for the guardians of law on the road; for them, it’s just the side. Remember that Big B line “Hum jahan khade hote hain line wahin se shuru hoti hai”? The same goes for our cops. The right side is where they are driving. The right speed is the speed at which they are driving. The right traffic signal is…well whom are we kidding? There is no traffic signal for them. The traffic signals are for common folks, not for the super beings such as the cops.

Whether the cops are coming from the front or from the back, don’t rake up your limited intellect figuring out which side they should be driving. Just give them the side and thank your stars they’ve allowed you to give them the side instead of hurling abuses on you for making them ask you to give them side.

Google CEO Sunder Pichai is quite on the spot when he says the Indian roads are not going to see self-driven cars in the foreseeable future. No artificial intelligence, no computer algorithm, no teraflops of processing power can foretell the next move of that biker, that autowala, that Marutiwala honking behind you in a traffic jam and that Gujjar unleashing his Honda on the road. Self-driving cars need to learn rules, and primordial rule on the Indian roads is, thou shalt follow no rules.

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