“My name is Vishnu, like the god. But I am not a god, sir. I am your driver.” And a good driver he was, effortlessly navigating the chaos of India’s roads.
The thing about driving in India is that you never know what might come at you next. It could be an auto rickshaw, a handcart laden with bricks or a dozen people on broken-down bicycles. Or it could be something potentially more dangerous: An elephant, a camel, a cow, a rhesus monkey.
You just never know.
Vishnu stayed calm and collected no matter what appeared in his windshield, perhaps because of the symbols of two Hindu gods that rested on the dashboard of his van. Before we left Delhi, Vishnu explained them to me.
First, there was Ganesh, The Remover of Obstacles. “He is very important,” Vishnu explained. “Ganesh will help get us to our destination safely.”
Next to Ganesh was Hanuman, the playful monkey god. “Hanuman is my personal god,” said Vishnu. “He supplies me with strength and courage.”
Vishnu clearly took great pride in his van. He kept it spotless and would immediately sweep out any dirt we tracked in. Once when I tried to open the door to let myself out, he scolded me: “Sir, I will open the door for you. It is my duty.”
Throughout our trip, Vishnu was very protective of our large group, helping to fend off local touts whenever we made a stop. But he was always polite, even gentle when he came between us and the hawkers and beggars.
On the third day of our road trip, Vishnu executed a driving maneuver rarely seen in the United States — the U-Turn into oncoming traffic.
We were traveling on the largest dual carriage freeway we had seen in India. Vishnu was trying to take us to a particular restaurant on the other side of the road but there was no place to cross over.
That didn’t stop him. He simply did a U-Turn, heading back towards the cars, trucks and rickshaws coming straight at us.
The kids squealed as we drove directly toward oncoming buses and tractor trailers. “Do not worry,” Vishnu said as cars and trucks swerved out of our path. “This is India.”
After he had found a place to cross over the highway to get to the restaurant, Vishnu asked: “In your country, police catching for driving wrong way?”
When we said yes, he told us: “In Delhi, police catching. In Rajasthan, police not catching – drive where you want and people, they get out of your way. Besides, Ganeesh will protect us.”
On the fourth day of our trip together, there was one rather odd moment. As we boarded the van to make the trip from Jaipur to Sariska, Vishnu asked, “Would you like to go shopping this morning, sir?”
I said no thank you.
“There are quality clothes and gems, sir.”
“No thanks, Vishnu, we just want to get to Sariska.”
“Are you sure sir?
“Yes, very sure.”
“I am sorry I had to ask, sir,” Vishnu said with a slight smile and a twinkle in his eye. “But it is my duty.”