As Ram Gopal Varma has time and again tried to prove – Mumbai has a vibrant underground scene. Illegal activities which god-fearing citizens such as Nimeshbhai and me will never get a whiff of…unless we unknowingly wander into the grimy heart of Dharavi. But there is something decidedly illegal, I have to shamelessly admit, I have become a part of. City car racing.
Now, Mumbai, for those unenlightened has two major arteries running through the city. These parallel multi-laned roads are the Western and the Eastern express highways. Though not complete – these roads are pretty much world class, with flyovers and underpasses ensuring that roads do not choke. This also means, during non-rush hours there are stretches of pristine 4 laned tarmac which would send N Kartikeyan into a adrenaline fueled tizzy. Now there are some rules of city racing which are not written but are inadvertently followed by those how have discovered this sport.
- Racing will happen only during non-rush hours: i.e. not during morning 7 to 11 and evening 5 to 11 on weekdays. (this one is auto enforced. the sheer amount of traffic is not conducive to any kind of frenetic activity.)
- You shall only challenge cars of same or bigger power for a race. (Or else you are a loser and a bully.) But you are welcome to beat the crap out of a smaller car if challenged by one.
- You shall not race with two-wheelers.
- You shall not drive in a way that puts two wheelers and pedestrians in jeopardy.
- You are allowed to downshift at all times – in fact the brave will downshift to second at a speed of 90kmph to win. 😉
- You are allowed to overtake from the left (that’s where the illegal comes in). Otherwise, really, there is no point.
- You shall not jump red lights – but you are allowed to attain speeds which will enable to cross the light while it is still at yellow.
- You are allowed to take alternate routes (for eg. under a flyover than above it) if you know that there will be less congestion there.
- There will be no racing during rains – until every car in India has ABS.
So it was with these rules in mind one Sunday afternoon – when the Swift (petrol) I was driving was overtaken from the wrong side by a spanking new Fabia (1.6 PD Diesel), on the Andheri flyover. I decided to throw him a challenge by quickly cutting in from the right while downshifting for the extra burst. This is how you challenge. Many people, sane ones, ignore these challenges. But this guy picked it up in a flash! He again stepped on the gas and overtook me again, expertly driving through the narrow space between a BEST relic and a dumper.
Alright! Game on! I quickly jumped a few tracks on my car audio system to “Danger Zone” – corny, but great for adrenalin rushes – and jumped forward in response. He was on the lane to the right of me and traveling really fast. I pushed my Swift – she responded beautifully as she always does – and I was catching up with him. Uh oh! Rickshaw ahead. Now Rickshaws are like pawns on a chessboard. There are more of them than any other vehicle on the road, they are slow but can be highly effective in slowing you down too. I had to cross into my opponent’s lane before the rickshaw. I downshifted to second – at a speed of 80. My RPM needle jumped to 7000 – very close to the redline. I was thrown back in my seat as she surged forward, overtaking the Fabia…but the Rickshaw was too close. I slammed on the brakes – and the Fabia zoomed past me on the right. I checked the rearview, saw enough space to swerve into his lane and resumed the chase. This is where I love the Swift.
Her transition from 20 odd to 100 is so smooth – in no time I was sniffing his tail. He tried to shake me off by swerving to lane on the left of him to overtake the rickshaw in front of him…I did better, I moved two lanes to the left and soon was overtaking him. He must have been in two minds then…new car…should I downshift? As I pulled up next to him, we looked at each other, I smiled at him. He downshifted! I followed and soon we were travelling at undisclosed speeds, nose to nose – the Fabia in lane 2 and my Swift in lane 3.
Now there were two trucks, one in his lane and one in mine. I couldn’t go left because there were a slew of two wheelers… he couldn’t go right because there were all kinds of trucks and buses moving pretty slowly. I had a slight advantage as the truck in my lane was ahead of the truck in his lane. My only chance was to squeeze between them and come into the Fabia lane, ahead of the truck. I pushed the Swift – 120, 130, 140. She is remarkably stable at such speeds…I am actually leaving the Fabia behind. We reached the trucks…he slammed the brakes and turned left into my lane behind me. Kenny Loggins was screaming “Highway to the Danger Zone…” as I aimed her nose into the gap between the two trucks. She made it quite comfortably…but so did the Fabia behind me. But now I had a lead. I maintained my speed – as I approached my exit. He swerved to the lane to the left of me and tried to catch up. Now the lane was empty in front of me…but there was a rickshaw in front of him…quite ahead though. The Fabia proved it’s premium tag by managing to pull up by my side. He was drawing closer to the rickshaw – his only chance was to downshift, overtake me, and squeeze in between the rickshaw and the Swift.
Will he do it? The rickshaw was damned close now…he had to take a decision. He slammed on his brakes – I could hear loud screeching as I zoomed past, took a sharp left and took my exit. I had won. 😉 Only just.
My heart was thumping like the bass on Danger Zone…as the song ended and Berlin started singing “You take my breath away…”
Of course, most of the above is fiction and I would never do anything as crazy as this. After all I am God-fearing aren’t I?