Horn Please – the art of honking in India!

If you go back to India after a few years of living abroad, the first thing that gets your attention is the noise from constant honking – the horn on the road. Now-a-days, they have even introduced some musical horns with so many different tunes, if that makes you feel any better. But, the annoyance of horn noise is something that bugs anyone who visits India after a while, or for the first time.

At first, one might think that honking of the horn is an indication of impatient driving or being overly aggressive on the road. After all, most of the vehicles have the rear-view mirrors and they should be able to tell that someone is approaching them from behind to pass by, instead of being reminded with a loud horn. But after a few days of stay I realized that most of the drivers use horn for alerting the other drivers as they take-over or pass by in the narrow lanes.

In America and many other countries, as you know, honking of a horn is rare and used only when someone needs to be reminded of his/her mistakes. In India however, the use of Horn is a part of driving etiquettes.

I also noticed that Indian drivers like to use their ‘driving space’ (most of the time, there are no marked lanes) totally for themselves. For example, a motorcycle rider prefer to drive in the middle of the road, taking the whole space, until or unless a horn from behind reminds him/her to move to the side. Instead of driving on the far left edge of the road or lane, the divers like to ‘own the whole road’ until a loud blast of horn.

Larger vehicles in particular, like trucks, prefer to be honked as someone passes by. You can always see big letter on the back of such vehicles reading , “Horn Please” and “Use Dipper at Night”.

On top of the driving habits, the sheer volume of traffic makes it impossible to use lane space properly. In many cases, you have to fight for your space; otherwise you will never get anywhere. The bigger the machine – car or truck, higher chances you have of claiming your right on the limited road space. The road is no less than a battlefield. You need to come out with all your might and a working horn! 🙂

The narrow lanes also add to the whole reason behind honking. Drivers often wander outside their lanes, as vehicles are crossing and passing-by from all over the places. If you have not driven in India for a while, and especially if you come from a country where driving is on the other side of the road – keeping to the right instead of left side, it takes a while to get used to the new madness.

If any countries be thankful for the invention of horn, India should be on the top of that list. The amount of traffic, the narrow lanes and the habitual nature of the drivers make it necessary to use the horns all the time.

Therefore, popular writing of ‘Horn Please’ on the vehicles is not in poor taste of driving, or bad manners by any means. It is the necessity of Indian driving; it is part of the road-side manners.

So ‘honk on’ my dear friend! Be brave, be creative! Buy a horn with a new cool sound if you can; after all you are stuck with it as long as you are on the Indian roads.

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5 Replies to “Horn Please – the art of honking in India!”

  1. I just got back from 5 months in India and while I understand that narrow roads can explain some of Indian road culture I think the vast majority of Indian road culture comes from Indian culture in general.
    case in point:
    In stead of entering the ticket queue at a rail way station I stood watching. I recognized right off that it was going to take my shy little white boy heart some time to study this rugby scrum of a line before I could think of entering it successfully. It took 10 minutes. Finally I realized that the man bent with his face to the window was not a friend or relation of the man embracing him – arm across shoulders and pressing cheek to cheek into the same window. In fact these two men and the rest of the embracing huddle of men were for the most part perfect strangers.

    “Oh” I realized “this queue is not a line but some kind of very tight spiral”

    Similarly Indian driving is also an amazingly tight (and cursedly noisy) spiral.
    But a queue is a queue and if the culture is orderly the queue is orderly and if the culture is a little loud and chaotic so is the queue.
    no judgment here just I don’t think its about the road itself I think its the attitude or even the socio-economic situation
    love to hear a comment as I’m working on an article on cabbies in NYC

  2. I think you are right John about your observations and the relation to the culture. Whatever we do or how we behave, or even how we think is always influenced by how we live. Our habits come from our day-to-day behavior. India is a very crowded country, so you will always see these tight queues. Similarly, the roads are over-crowded.
    However, and Indian driver in NY or other major US city follow the local (US) driving behavior, may be because they have no choice, and they get used to it over the time.
    So, I think we think, we try to fit into the local culture and behave accordingly. This is way over-simplification of complicated human behavior.
    By end of the day, we are greedy and selfish by nature and we try to exploit the local/existing customs to our benefit as much as possible…..now I am stretching 🙂

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