The Honkaholics

We Indians just love honking. Day or night, busy road or empty, we just cannot do without pressing our fingers on the horn. And no, a brief, one-time press will not do; it has to be a continuous, ear-splitting noise that warns all fellow motorists – ahead and behind – that you are on the road. Not happy with the horns provided by the auto maker, many prefer to fix their own metallic ones – the shriller the better. While the cops tend to be hyperactive when it comes to booking helmet-less drivers, honking far, far beyond the prescribed decibel levels seems to be nobody’s business.

Having observed the phenomenon for ages, this columnist thinks the motivation behind the penchant for honking can be of two kinds; it can either be an exercise in ‘self-defence’ to make sure a motorist doesn’t run into your path from somewhere or a bid to scare the man ahead of you to make way. A biker speeding away on an empty city street late at night with one finger constantly on the horn is an example of the first kind while a passenger bus driver merrily pressing away at the fancy – and shrill – horn belongs to the second. Passenger buses, in particular, can be a real test for your ear drums. But there is precious little you can do except to give way given its monster size because even a minor dash can kill or seriously injure you if you are on a bike or leave a deep enough dent on your car to cost you a fortune in getting it fixed. [How one wishes the government made it mandatory for buses to use those rubber horns with a metal funnel attached to it one grew up hearing!]

While honking is a pain in the ear at all times, there are times when it really gets on your nerves. Just recollect the last time you were caught in a traffic jam and you would get the drift of what I am hinting at. Everyone knows that there is nothing that the man ahead of you can do no matter how hard – and long – you press your horn. But that would not stop you from honking away in gay abandon as if it would miraculously clear the road. With everyone thinking and doing the same, the resultant cacophony can leave the most patient and tolerant man on earth exasperated.

Of course, there are times when it is the other way round. You honk because the man in front refuses to give way for no valid reason. This too can get on your nerves as it happened once with an uncle long back. An officer of the state government, he was driving his office jeep on a narrow, single road when he found a truck driver refusing to give him passage. He started honking – first intermittently and then non-stop – but the truck driver would just not budge an inch from his path. After running behind him for some 4-5 kms – with his hand on the horn all the while – my uncle finally found some space on the right to overtake it. What happened next was completely unexpected and left me dumb-founded. Having overtaken the truck, my uncle, normally a man very much in control of his emotions, stopped the jeep in front, rushed back to the truck, force opened the door, dragged the driver down from his seat and then started thrashing him mercilessly! This was my first exposure to the phenomenon called ‘road rage’ though the term itself came into circulation several years later. Notorious for its highly skewed human-vehicle population ratio, Delhi witnesses dozens of cases of ‘road rage’ every month, some of them even ending up in death. Bhubaneswar is not in that league yet, but it is getting there.

I have often wondered if our obsession with honking has something to do with what we have grown up reading on the back side of four-wheel vehicles. “Blow Horn,” says the writing and we follow the order diligently! I also wonder if the ear-splitting noise doesn’t get on the nerves of the person who is honking. S/he, after all, is the closest to the source of the noise and should be affected the most. But it doesn’t seem to affect anyone – except me, that is.

May be I am complaining too much. May be the membranes in my ear are a little thinner and more delicate than others. But the closest I have come to emulating my uncle in my life has almost always been when incessant honking by the driver behind has left me at the end of the tether.