Saturday, October 5, 2013

Stop Sound Horn OK

My Shabbas walk today had what I thought was a very modest goal. There is a large man made lake called Hussain Sagar with a large Buddha statue in the middle of it which I can see from my window. I thought I would stroll over there and walk the Necklace Road surrounding the lake, then back to the hotel. I thought wrong.
Before departing, I studied 3 different maps, all of which showed an easy path... really just a few streets away from me. I was working without an eruv, so I had literally just the clothes on my back, but could not conscience staying holed up on my hotel room, or even my posh hotel for the whole of the day. I scrutinized the most detailed map, memorized the few street names that I thought I would encounter, and set off.
Walking out of the gated hotel complex, I already drew the curious, concerned and bemused looks of the hotel's security cadre who pressed me with many offers of cab rides, not understanding why I was walking towards the hotel gates on foot. I assured them that I had not lost my mind and was just going for a walk.
Once emerging from the hotel, I sympathized with their confusion.
I was immediately disoriented. Banjara Hills, the ritzy area of Hyderabad where I'm located, is not only faithful to its name, but tremendously overbuilt, meaning that there is no visibility beyond your current street. I could not figure out which way I had been looking from my own hotel room. I decided to just head off in one direction and correct course as need be. The sidewalks were a crumbling mess, so I did my best to keep from sliding into the street, and the constant stream of noisy traffic that occupied it. The traffic had no such reciprocal grace, with motorbikes often using the sidewalk as a passing lane. I came to my first intersection and quickly realized that this was no cake walk. Despite 3 traffic policemen holed up in a tiny metal turret in the middle of the road, I could not discern a single traffic rule that was being observed. Motorbikes were using the outermost lane to go in the opposing direction of traffic. No vehicle was clearly in one lane, and generally meandered across lanes amongst a mass of others doing the same. A solid red light (which I assume means the same thing as in the US) was being universally disregarded, which is to say not one car, not a few cars, but EVERY car was proceeding as if neither the light nor the cops existed at all.
I made the strategic decision to walk on the side of the street I was already on, though I was completely unaware if it was the direction that I intended to go.
At this point, I realized another obstacle - no street signs. I walked for block after block with absolutely no indication of what road I was on or passing. I was leaving a mental trail of breadcrumbs, but didn't dare leave my straight path without seeing at least one official sign indicating where I was. I walked for about 40 minutes without finding one.
On this path, I entered what I believe to be the high end shopping district of Banjara Hills. I will make a meager to communicate in words the relentless assault on the senses that this represented. (I will have to go back there with a camera, because there's no other real way to capture it.)
It is so *busy*, a throbbing mass of economy. The closest sense equivalents I can summon are Times Square in New York and the shuk in Jerusalem, but run down compared to either. Every square inch of space is occupied by cracked signage, deteriorated posters, rubble and humanity. English is prominent, though both the spelling and grammar are horrendous ("Rash Driving Makes Thrills And Kills". The colloquialisms are botched (an eyeglass shop called "Spects"). Even when correct, the effects are often hilarious ("Genius College"). A disturbingly high percentage of the people pictured in ads, especially women, are white. The views inside the shops though confirm that this is a luxe destination. Some exclusive American and European brands poke through, and the tech advertising is extremely high end, with the largest spaces reserved for mobile technology not yet available in the States.
There is absolutely conformity or predictability in architecture with high end frosted glass behemoth malls overrun by decrepit concrete eyesores that their own architects would condemn on site. There is every style of business here, but the one that was the most jarring to me was small hospitals tucked into ground floor storefronts, sandwiched in between a luggage store and a dosa shop, complete with tiny ambulances smaller than a minivan double parked on the sidewalk and a guy on a stool with a machete selling papayas off of a card table sitting out front. What little sidewalks there are are devote to commerce or parking, which means the endless stream of people walk in the shoulder and first lane of the road, mingled with traffic weaving in, around and through them. There are many times at which moving vehicles will go around both sides of a pedestrian simultaneously. The dress of the pedestrians themselves varies wildly, ranging from modern fashion to full chadors to jeans and T-shirts to beggar's garb to florid saris. I am the only person in sight wearing shorts. Doh.
The noise never stops. Yes, there is chatter and construction and engines, but the horns. Oh, the car horns. They are loud and incessant and apparently quite versatile. Just today, I heard car horns used to express the following sentiments:
 "Hey, buddy, I'm planning to cut you off."
 "No way I'm going to let you cut me off."
 "Ha, ha, I just cut you off anyway."
 "I can't believe you just cut me off."
 "Hey everyone, my car horn is in good working order!"
 Every car, rickshaw and moped each used their horn more often over the course of 2 blocks than I use my horn in an entire year. I finally saw a bumper sticker on one rickshaw (every rickshaw sports between 20 and 50 bumper stickers) that said in bright red letters, "Stop Sound Horn OK", and I felt an immediate sense of kinship with this lone and lonely ally in my silent protest against the din. Finally, I thought, someone realizes the utter pointlessness of this racket! Somehow, the awkward phrasing of the message only made it more sympathetic.
 Of course, a few blocks further down, I saw another bumper sticker that said "Stop Please Sound Horn". Instantly deflated, I realized I had been duped by my earlier unknowing comrade, whose call was not
   "Stop Sound Horn! OK?"
    but rather
   "Stop! Sound Horn OK!"
 After 40 minutes of walking down Road No. 1, I decided I would brave crossing at a nominal crosswalk. I shamelessly positioned myself downstream from a young woman in a bright pink niqab and simply followed her lead, stepping directly into the traffic, and having faith that it would flow gracefully around me - or at least hit her first. Unfortunately, she abandoned me and went another direction halfway across the street. I panicked and broke into a jog across the rest of the street. I may have been honked at by a few drivers, but how is one to know? Emboldened by my success, I made one turn down another street, and finally caught the sign of a business that advertised its address as Road No. 10. I walked down it for about 20 minutes and then reversed course, braving a narrower section of the road when someone made a U-turn without warning, temporarily stopping traffic and giving me my big break.
 I retraced my steps and made it back to the Taj Krishna. Re-entering the lobby gave me stark contrast as to how peaceful silence could be and how heavily perfumed the air was. I retrieved my book from the concierge, read for a few hours on the patio and went back up my room. I immediately got out my map to see where I had erred, and realized not only that I had gone in the exact opposite direction of my goal, but but my two hour walkabout had made negligible progress on the map, and this city is a very, very large place.
 You win, Hyderabad. Tomorrow, I'll take a cab.

1 comment:

  1. Shavua tov. Do you need to bench gomel for this--sounds like it. Glad you are back safe and sound. Take care of our son! Love, Mom & Dad