06/14/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

Horn OK Please


These are the famous words you will see etched on the back of trucks in India, across the length and breadth of the country. You could be driving in any part of the country, on any highway between the various cities and towns in India and you are bound to come across these famous words imprinted on the backsides of the trucks. You wonder, What do these words mean? .

Why are they there?

Are they encouraging people to horn?

Umm... well, not exactly. I believe they were intended for the faster vehicles to horn at the slower moving, bulkier vehicles to let them know they were coming and allow them a chance to overtake and go through. Now of course, we are such an obedient society in India that we took those three famous words Horn OK Please quite literally and employed it everywhere, anywhere and all the time. It's sad though that when it comes to other signs and rules, we conveniently ignore or overlook them. What makes one sign better than the other? Or more likely for us to adhere to it than another? The fact that it is posted on a back side? But then what's attractive of the backside of a truck... A supermodel, sure, but a truck?

Maybe its the only sign that says "please"... and so we obey!

The other day, I was riding home in a cab and during the early part of the ride, the driver continued to honk incessantly. When I asked him why, his response to me was, "Sir, I'm trying to get you where you want to go quickly, and I don't want anyone to be in the way." While appreciative of the service, I pointed out to him, "But there is no one in your way... and I never told you I want to get anywhere quickly." Sheepishly, he pulled his hand off the horn, even though once or twice through the ride, he couldn't resist the urge. It was as though I had pulled an addict from his vice... a smoker from his cigarette... an alcoholic from his bottle... Too bad we don't have an HA (Honker's Anonymous) anywhere in the country.

We then got into a bit of a discussion (I was actually surprised he was willing to chat despite me calling him out for his bad habit). I was [as usual] lamenting about how people failed to adhere to traffic rules here, how honking was such a disease and how the same people that went abroad became the most law-fearing and law-abiding citizens ever. He was amazed when I told him that no one ever honked in countries like the U.S. and Englaaand. His jaw dropped; it was almost something he couldn't fathom... "Do they even make cars with horns there?", he asked me in disbelief. "Of course they do," I laughed.

Why don't they use them then? How do they navigate through all the traffic and people?

"It's just that they use the horn sparingly and only in cases of emergency probably. And unlike you they don't have to deal with zig-zagging cars, people crossing when they're not supposed to and all sorts of other hurdles."

As I talked to this cab driver, I wondered then whether it was just a case of misinformation? Of being uneducated? Ignorance is bliss, they say, and so too maybe it was the case with this cab driver (and the thousands of others in the city). He didn't realize that in his attempt to provide a service to his passengers he was doing a disservice to the many others outside. In a country where getting a driving license is not a major challenge or task, it is no wonder that traffic rules take a back seat (if they even get a seat in the car). Therefore, a word of advice or a kind word from those that know better may go some distance in altering the situation. It may not change things overnight, but it surely could help eliminate one form of pollution. Or maybe it won't; maybe people will still think it is OK to horn, please!

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