Is the transport in india a cross between Vietnam and Kenya? What a ridiculous question to ask, but sometimes I think these things. Sometimes I am amongst the various wheeled objects on the road and I feel like I could be anywhere. People are pushing forward in one way or another, there is noise, vehicles, movement and bitumen. But maybe this is just me trying to reduce the beauty and culture of the road to something I don’t have to think about, because to be honest there is just too much to think about. Subtle difference are everywhere but some of them are so hard to explain and that’s why I’m going to have to try and show you in a film instead (and then perhaps you can explain them to me after) :P.
Beyond the physical appearance of the people, the vehicles and the streets, it is what is going on in people’s head that seems so diverse. In India I found a place where people seem to be in touch with how they are feeling and relating to their environment and community. This consciousness which I had only had glimpses of in other countries, was both beautiful and a little intense. While I did see some people have little realisations while I was asking them about how they felt on transport, for many it seemed to flow from them naturally, like it was something they had already thought about.
People would be considering the whole transport system as well. This happened both at a strategic level and a street level. Interviewees were keen to describe Pune’s transport, the changes that have happened and potential ideas for the future. The people of Pune were also willing to help others get out of ridiculous intersections, which were like a computer game that involved reversing multiple vehicles, putting steering wheels into full lock and directing traffic to come within a millimetre of others. People literally got out of their vehicles to solve the puzzle and get the traffic moving again. So people do think about other people on the road from time to time. It is not all a self-centred race to wherever they need to get to. In Hanoi and Qingdao I feel like these considerations of other people also happen but at a less conscious level.
But in every city I have visited there is definitely a lot of reflection that takes place on transport. When I asked what people think about while traveling around their city, people would often describe thoughts that go beyond the mundane. While in transit people have time and space to think and their environment, the dynamics and the community gives them inspiration to bring back memories, solve problems and perhaps dream or plan their future. Seeing people of different walks of life were reminders to think about family and friends that you might not give the time to. One girl told me that sometimes when she would see an old woman on the bus it would remind her to talk to her grandma more often. A motor bike rider in India said he preyed when he passed temples, while another told me she thought about the environment as she passed beautiful nature on her bike.
There is also the opportunity to clear the mind while traveling. The speed and intensity of riding a motor bike has allowed people to ‘breath’ after a stressful day at work. I guess the bus feels like a cocoon to others as they just let the world pass while they are protected and passive to it. I guess I am having the most distracted and distorted mind of everyone as I travel trying to understand and capture the experience of transport. However, I have to admit that I too feel my mind becoming free while I glide through traffic in one form or another.
I wonder what the impact of the iPod/ electronic devices has been on this reflection. I have been using London’s public transport system for the past month and it seems that almost 100% of travellers do so with earphones in their ears, listening or watching or gaming on their various electronic media devices. Perhaps there is still an element of reflection in some cases, but I expect that it would be difficult to reflect on the day or on life in general while a movie is blaring in your face!
Also, apart from the opportunity to notice other people using the transport (eg the older person who may remind you to call your grandmother or the sick person that may inspire you to be more charitable), public transport like the underground rail system provided fewer opportunities to look at and reflect upon the natural environment around us. The temples and trees are missing from this transport experience. You’re in a tunnel! You can only really look at the advertisements on the wall or the other travellers. I wonder if perhaps this contributes to Western ideals and lifestyles, which focus on efficiency and the individual’s needs being met – and there is more emphasis on the practicality of moving from one place to another on transport, rather than the experience of using it as a whole?
Hi, I definitely agree with you. I have noticed the obsession with screens in a few places I have gone to and I think it’s an interesting phenomenon. I actually saw a seminar which talked about how smart phones etc where making public transport more attractive and therefore it was a good thing (to get people out of cars etc). But I do think it’s a little sad that people are finding ways to avoid the natural and unplanned exchanges that take part as part of being in a community and travelling around it.
Also the underground phenomenon definitely does aspire to efficiency rather than enhancing one’s experience and connection to place. I think this really affects people’s psychology. From my own experience when I was mainly taking the metro in Paris I actually started to become down and disorientated. When I got a bike and started traveling above ground and seeing the world around me I felt much better. I think putting mass transit underground is reflective of one of its purposes as part of the machine to get workers to be efficient without too much consideration for their wellbeing (like they were a cog in the wheel). I’m hoping my film might start people and planners thinking of the importance of experience as well as efficiency. We’ll see ….
Thanks so much for your comments. Hopefully I’ll get to see you in the UK later in the year.