Crossing the street in front of my para (neighborhood) is akin to a game of human frogger. It is equal parts excitement and fear of death. This particular section of Gariahat road—the main artery between Central (Park Circus) and South Kolkata— intersects with five different roads. You take on step forward and risk fear of being crushed by a bus, auto-ricksaw, bike, wayward schoolchild and in either direction. Now one might stop to look around for a crosswalk or even dare to wait for the Kolkata police men to halt traffic. Doing so would invariably label you a tourist. The seasoned Kolkata walker does not need to waste time looking for such trivial things as zebra crossings, crossing lights, or escorts.
No, there is an art to winning this game of human frogger. The first step is to take advantage of the time between gear shifts*, so neither human or vehicle will sacrifice any valuable time slowing down. Now some individuals walk with their head straight forward, calmly if not meditatively, knowing that they are one with the traffic. Others elect the famous “hand wag” as they jut their right hand out, hip level, willing the traffic to slow down. This is usually accompanied by an “aaste, aaste.” This can mean anything between a “wait, wait” “slow down” or “halt yourself kind driver while I leisurely stroll out in front of your moving vehicle.”
This practice is not relegated to pedestrians. Cars making turns across the divided two lane roads have an equal, if not more refined, art form of car frogger. Again, there is no waiting for the impending gap in traffic as you make the right U-turn. One car will slowly pull up to the opening in the railing. The edge of the hood will peak out ever so slightly, forcing the oncoming traffic closest to rail to slowly give it a wider berth. Now the second car, also trying to make a right U-turn, will pull up next to the first car. Pulling up behind the first car would again waste variable time. Instead, it assists the first car by pulling up next to the first car, but with its hood poking out just a bit more so that the oncoming traffic closest to the rail are forced to move over a full lane. This continues until this is a brigade of four or five cars, all making U-Turn, force themselves into the oncoming traffic, not unlike a rugby in a scrum. This is an exercise in the ultimate form of camaraderie.
Note: Traffic in Kolkata moves at a maximum of 15 km/h (10 miles per hour). It is a testament to the skills of the Kolkata drivers and pedestrians that no one gets hurt, ever (or so is the belief).