Wednesday, January 25, 2006
One silent revolution across India that is getting less attention than it possibly deserves is the astonishing change in long-distance driving comfort. When I elected to make a business-cum-pleasure trip by road from Delhi to Mumbai (I still prefer to call it Bombay) last year, people told me I was nuts. http://www.ryze.com/postdisplay.php?messageid=1081283&confid=1199 (Open Road - an invitation) Hah! The drive was a breeze for the better part of the 1500-odd kms of actual distance covered - and it compared favourably with similar experiences in the US. Since then, I've done Baroda-Jaipur, Kolkata-Kharagpur, Delhi-Moradabad and Bombay-Pune - and each time the impact of the change in conditions has been amply reinforced. This does not, however, mean that roads everywhere have improved. Far to the contrary. In many parts of the country, especially in rural areas of the North and East that still operate in feudal-political structures, the conditions of roads connecting villages and smaller towns is poor at one's charitable best, and non-existent for many stretches if one were to be candid. The construction mafia takes a sizeable cut of the development funds earmarked for this critical infrastructure sector, as evidenced by the cold blooded murder of Satyendra Dubey in November 2003. http://www.skdubeyfoundation.org/index.php In spite of this, progress is for real. Toll booth operators on the gleaming six-lane stretches actually smile at you as you pause for a thirty-second chat. Village crossing areas are clearly marked and - wonder of wonders - everyone appears to follow a fair degree of lane discipline and road courtesy. Could it be the same set of drivers who display such rampant road rage in Delhi, just a few hours away? Tomorrow, I will hit the asphalt again and find out what the minor byways of north Rajasthan are like. For the moment, zipping down the Greater NOIDA expressway at a sedate ninety, the car sings in the wind.