Friday, July 14, 2006

Saggy, Baggy King of the Road

You know that scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Luke’s snow-speeder crashes and he has to reach into the back to grab his light-sabre before the Imperial Walker stomps on top of him? The camera shows a close up of the metallic foot as it’s about to come down on top of the young Jedi-to-be, but thankfully for the peace of the galaxy, Luke gets away just in time.

I guess I’m not the first person to recognise just how much attention to detail these Star Wars producers dedicated to their craft, but I never would have suspected that that dedication had brought them to the streets of Delhi some time in the late 70s. I now know otherwise.

Let me try to paint a picture for you of what the streets of Delhi are like at 8.30am. Take the Delhi Ring Road, for example. This main arterial in and out of the city is officially six lanes wide (three in either direction), but lanes don’t mean anything here, so you usually have five lines of traffic going each way. Actually, when I say ‘going’, I mean it in terms of the direction the traffic is heading, because, thanks to Indian efficiency, they’re already building underpasses, overpasses, innies, outies and round-a-bouties for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, so these wide expanses of road regularly converge to a mere trickle as they squeeze through the numerous road works. In short, this traffic doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere.

And in the midst of this twenty-four hour a day catastrophe, you don’t just have cars parked side by side, you also have auto-rickshaws darting in and out of every available gap, massive busses chugging along the side and moving directly into the line of cars without signalling (because they’re the biggest object on the road, and in this country, that means they have the right of way). You also have bicycles, cycle rickshaws and handcarts which literally move AGAINST the direction of traffic (just because they can), and you have tractors as well, usually with about 10 men piled on top of them.

As well as all of these, on one particular day at least, you also have elephants! On that day, Donkey was fortunate enough to be walking to work along the side of the road (it’s faster than the alternative!), and was somewhat taken off-guard as he was forced to step aside for an enormous, saggy beast. And I mean it too – she was massive! Most of the Asian/Indian elephants I’ve seen up close have been disappointingly small in comparison with what I imagine the African elephant must look like, but this old bird, she was a big ‘un.

As she approached, I was astonished by the bulk of this leathery giant, and by the way she just plodded along, one foot in front of the other, while her oblivious 'driver' reclined lazily on her hairy back as if there was nothing unusual about riding your elephant 300 miles across the Rajasthani desert and then just moseying on into one of the world’s largest cities during peak-hour. The pace of this unlikely pair was not what you’d call fast, but their momentum was … I dunno … deliberate! Nothing was going to stop them, not even the buses who very quickly adjusted to their new subordinate place in the ‘right of way’ pecking order.

But it was her feet that most amazed me – and I’m talking twenty-plus umbrella capacity in each one! Their enormous strength was evident as each step clopped against the road with a dull thud, and as she got up really close (and bear in mind I was close enough to reach out and touch her saggy hide … which I did!), I suddenly had flashbacks of Luke Skywalker as he was about to be squashed by a giant, metallic foot. There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind that those guys had definitely studied an elephant’s gait for that effect – it was just so precise and perfect. It’s a pity they couldn’t have employed the same attention to detail for the last three schtinkers – but don’t get me started!

And as for old Jumbo, I think The Force truly was with her on that morning, because that usually impenetrable wall of traffic just got right out of the way of her deliberate, unstoppable march.

Man this city amazes me sometimes!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very pretty design! Keep up the good work. Thanks.