India And The Art of Honking

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What is it about us in India and honking? This is something we have perfected as a skill over the years. The Art of Honking. My quiet neighbourhood has transformed into a busy lane with cars honking at all hours of the day & night with scant regard for it’s residential status. What’s worse is that the horns have gotten louder & shriller & are guaranteed to cause a pounding headache should you so desire to leave your windows open. In most countries, it is considered rude to honk and is only done in the case of emergencies. But here it’s non-stop. I have now learned to distinguish these from the countless cars that disturb the peace every second.

The Vuvuzela Rival Honking

Even before the World Cup happened, we had Vuvuzela equivalents – lean on the horn all the way down the road you are driving on, trying to get a hapless auto or other slow driver to give you space, where there is none. The belief is that honking non-stop will make the driver in front of you abandon his vehicle out of fear of debilitating damage to his eardrums. Invariably these honkers also have the loudest & most shrill horns and leave you with a repugnant feeling that’s equivalent to nails scratching a blackboard. This is why the Vuvuzela is so popular in India. There are already practitioners here.

Horn OK Please Inspired Honking

We have all grown up seeing this great sign painted on the back of every truck. Many of us seem to have taken this to heart as ‘it’s OK to honk’. in fact, says Wikipedia, “The popular ‘Horn OK Please’ seen on almost all trucks in India bears its roots in the second world war where the trucks were run on kerosene engines. Kerosene, being highly unstable in nature, would cause the trucks to explode at the slightest accident. Hence a warning would be painted on the back saying ‘Horn Please,On Kerosene’.Gradually this became a norm and is still seen on most trucks even today.” There are other explanations on the same wiki. But I am going this one.

I suppose, somewhere along the way, the part about kerosene got lost, and it became only about honking. So it’s OK to honk, and because it’s OK, it must be done at the slightest opportunity. Traffic slowing down? HONK. Traffic jammed & nothing moving for miles? HONK. Person crossing the street? HONK. Cyclist in your path? HONK. Building gate closed? HONK. Don’t like that you have to yield to “right of way”? HONK. Want to double park your car on a busy street? HONK. It’s all OK, please.

I Am Behind You Honking

There’s another set who honk for no apparent reason even if the traffic is moving smoothly and no pedestrian is jumping onto the road. The motivation for this appears to be purely as a warning for the car in front. In case, for some freakish reason that car is not equipped with a rear-view mirror, or it’s there but the driver forgets to look into it, this constant beep-beep is to remind them that there is a car behind them. After all, it’s so unexpected in our traffic, isn’t it?

Just In Case Honking

There’s another breed that believes that one should honk just in case… after all, life is unpredictable, you never what will happen next. So keep honking just in case someone or something materializes out of nowhere. I believe that this nifty trick is taught in our driving schools (as narrated by a friend who’s mum learnt driving) – just keep honking, to be on the safe side. Nevermind if no one else can understand what’s got your goat.

Watch The Signal Honking

This honking occurs the maximum within the 5 seconds before & after a signal turns green & is meant to test the reflex actions of drivers in front. Heaven forbid the driver has managed to relax for 20 seconds at a red traffic light, this incessant honking is a public service to alert him/ her that the signal is about to turn green & to prod them into moving their car at the very instant the light changes. Even a miniscule forward movement (that achieves nothing because no cars are moving yet) is enough to assure these drivers that you do in fact intend to move your car & are not just waiting at the signal for the joy of it.

Do you know more such honking traits? Feel free to comment!

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  1. Wow, you must be really mad at them to write this one. I can almost imagine you seethe! I wrote something like this a few months ago after a few cars honking together right outside Phoenix almost beat my eardrums to death. Have shared the link above.

    • Namrata B
    • August 9th, 2010

    nice. i read that. very descriptive. as for the post, it’s years of listening torture!

    • gregorylent
    • August 9th, 2010

    holy shit dont get me started … ok, it is an oral culture, sound carries so much more weight than sight … made a video once in bangalore of people pulling out into traffic NEVER LOOKING for anything oncoming … but let me tell you it is sooooo refreshing to go to singapore, or most any other country, and not hear a single horn for days, weeks, ever …

    and then there is the metaphor, the figurative use of the term, sound horn … and boy is that irritating too, how great india is, over and over ..

    heh, cultures and their differences …


    • Namrata B
    • August 9th, 2010

    hi gregory, thanks for reading my blog! you are right about the oral culture, but i sincerely wish we had even 10% of the order of the organized streets of singapore. in the race to get ahead (especially since you are surrounded by so many people all the time), everything has become a race.

  2. Nice, descriptive read. Honking indeed is a menace. Here in NCR there was this wonderful campaign by – an NGO – the massive reach of it in each and every corner of NCR was quite impressive but still not enough for the population to keep their hands off!

      • Namrata B
      • August 9th, 2010

      Hi Brijesh, thanks for visiting my blog. i really wonder if any of these kind of campaigns will help. i think it should start at the beginning, when a person learns to drive – unfortunately people who don’t know how to drive can even get a licence. but if our laws become more stringent in that regard, that’s the only way things can change. sometimes i wish car companies wouldn’t install horns at all!

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