Friday, March 30, 2007

Bombay, Bikes and Class Distinctions

Often when I ride on Bombay's choked highways and ringroads and linkroads, I wonder how car-drivers tolerate driving in such conditions. How could they endure moving at snail's pace and still be so patient? Being on a bike, I find it much easier to manouver through the crowded streets and traffic-jams and it takes almost half the time as it takes in a car. So why don't these car-drivers/passengers start using bikes?

The reasons are manifold, one reason leading to another. Historically, Indians have been a rather rigid class conscious bunch. Car has always been seen as a symbol of high status. To the extent that hatchbacks imply a lower class than the sedans. Therefore, you might also observe that people with hatchbacks aspire to graduate to sedans to show that they've arrived in life. This class consciousness could prove ominous for India and it's growing cramped cities, especially Bombay.

Now, if such is the perception towards smaller cars/hatchbacks, how do we expect people to adopt bikes? Bikes are further considered to be a sign lower class.

In the hierarchy, it's like this:

Higher class - Sedans
Higher-middle class - Hatchbacks/small cars
Middle class/Lower middle class - Small cars/bikes

And then we say we have traffic problems, pollution, environmental issues and other problems. Once these meaningless class distinctions are rendered useless, we might see people adopting bikes/smaller cars which are much more fuel-efficient than the sedans/big cars. This in turn would also ease the traffic situation on roads. Not just that, even pollution would reduce to a considered extent. There won't be driving-related stress too if the commuting time reduces... Also, if acceptability of bikes would be greater among higher classes, bike-manufacturers would make bigger and better bikes; bikers like us would have a lot to look forward to. Ample benefits.

However, all said and done, India is still a country which hasn't matured (mentally) as a automobile market and my ideas would sound nothing more but utopian.