Crossing the road becomes a lesson about India

Dafna Bearson University of California, Berkeley

My head turns left, then right, but I remain frozen. Once again, I look both ways, then glance at my watch. I have been planted on the far side of MM Road for approximately six minutes now. Cars of all colors race past me, closely followed by relentless herds of motorcycles. Not to mention the auto rickshaws—those green and yellow three-wheelers are the most dangerous. The multitude of auto drivers whiz gracefully through the most perilous gaps in traffic. They don’t stop for anyone. When packing for my journey to India, I thought I had it all: sunscreen, malaria pills, the most recent edition of The Lonely Planet, cotton clothing, even a mosquito net. Crossing the street was not something I thought to prepare for. A block down the road, I watch as a woman in an electric-blue sari strategically wades through the sea of moving vehicles tugging along a small boy. He proudly sports an Abercrombie & Fitch blazer. A crippled beggar knocks on the windows of fancy cars, undeterred by the zooming traffic that practically engulfs him. A young man in a suit wearing headphones strolls into the street and crosses successfully. I attempt to follow, but a family of four on a motorcycle cuts me off from the right. As I watch in exasperated awe, an enormous cow meanders languidly along the overcrowded road. The wafting scent of Masala Dosa envelopes me as I cling to the safety of the sidewalk. The road is an intricate manifestation of the forces that construct India. From the curb, I am able to appreciate the juxtaposition of ancient Indus Valley civilization and the inexorable force of modernization. Another step forward, and I am witness to extreme wealth met by the most abject poverty. Two more steps: in the periphery is lust for economic success, alongside it a permeating commitment to family. I keep walking and encounter deeply embedded religious practices, rippling crowds, divine cuisine, diverse personalities, exotic sounds and thrilling smells. The roads of India are unpredictable, intimidating, vibrant and loud – and crossing is most definitely a life-threatening experience. (In part, because the chances of finding my way back are so slim.) But as I spot a rare window of opportunity and dart across the street, I understand that to embrace the road is to embrace the essence of India. And just like that, I have made it to the other side.