Runner versus Indian Driver

runner versus car

You are in a trance, running away in a dream. Good pace, breath in sync with your foot landing and your running buddy is sharing the latest gossip. All’s well with the world.

VROOOM! A maniacal driver just about misses knocking you off the road and maiming you for good. “Jaan le loge kya?” you scream. “Marne ke liye meri hi gaadi mili hain kya?” he yells back.

Welcome to road running in India. I can bet my last rupee that no Indian runner worth her salt would be exempt from this privileged experience.

Milind Soman’s Advice

Noted actor, model and Ironman Milind Soman once told me that everywhere else in the world one is advised to run on the opposite side of the traffic because you can see the oncoming vehicles and take necessary evasive action. In India it doesn’t work like that. Here, if you run in the opposite direction, the Indian driver will know you can see him and make no attempt to avoid you. He expects you to avoid him.

However, if you run with the traffic he will treat you like any other nuisance (a pothole or a slow kachua-chap vehicle or even a buffalo) and move aside and dart away while cursing you for good measure. What’s a few cuss words as long as there are no knockouts, eh?

Mayuresh Didolkar Runner and Standup Comedian

Mayuresh Didolkar Runner, Author and Standup Comedian

Mayuresh Didolkar, an accomplished runner, once narrated an incident to me. He would run in the morning on a particular route and would see a girl, also running, at around the same time. No acquainting, no smiles, no passes made, they co-existed through disregard.

One bright morning when our man was out running, the girl showed up in front of him this time on a bicycle. She just brushed past him almost knocking him over. He was jolted but recovered soon and ploughed along.

A few minutes later he was almost knocked over by a cyclist riding from behind him. Much to his astonishment, it was the same girl!

She went a little further ahead, took a U-turn and tried to knock him over, Again!

Mayuresh, his presence of mind still intact, made a quick call to the local police station. The cops demonstrated unusual efficiency and showed up within 10 minutes flat and nabbed the girl. After much questioning at the local police station it came to light episode passes that the charming girl was suffering from some mental disorder. Truth be told, this kind a situation is an outlier and a solution for it is beyond the scope of this article!

Runners never miss an opportunity to condemn rash drivers. Our ilk is very quick to yell at inconsiderate drivers who have no sense of right of way! One wonders if our virtuous running brethren behave any differently when they are behind the wheel.

I don’t go into a rage in such situations. Not because I sympathize with the reckless and senseless clowns in vehicles. I just have a different take on the matter.

Indian roads, us Indian drivers and our delusions about the concept of right of way (biggest vehicle first, pedestrian last) are here to stay. It’s simply not worth the effort to try and change that. As any dyed in wool management consultant would say, don’t try to boil the ocean.

I do my best to avoid the situation. Usually I run in places where there is very minimal traffic. This could sometime mean a boring route. But then I will pick monotony over mutilation, any day. I once ran a solo one km traffic-less loop 29 times!

Next option is to run on the footpath. Now this is a teda one, literally and figuratively. Our footpaths are never predictable. You could bump into an encroachment, an abrupt end to the footpath or humans sleeping on it.

A footpath is better than a road with all the vehicles zooming around. A vehicle climbing up the footpath and getting you is a very unlikely scenario unless Sal boy happens to be driving it, In which case, you simply curse your luck. Or maybe you won’t even be around to do so!

If nothing else works and I have to run on a trafficked road, I look for at least one companion. A vehicle driver is less likely to be tempted to take on multiple humans. Besides, I always seem to be running on the inside of the road while my innocent companions are on the outside nearer to the traffic!

A sane non-runner once said to me – while I am driving, you won’t believe how tempting a target an early morning runner really is.


Sudhindra Haribhat is a regular marathon runner and one of the founder members of PUNE RUNNING. He can be reached at

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45 Responses

  1. Amol says:

    Good one sudhi and great that I am not the only one…more runners have faced the same situation.

    Well written and continue writing your experience of running and meeting more friends while running.

  2. Mayur says:

    Very well written Sudhi .. You are a ROCKSTAR

  3. Good one Sudhi…. We all r once upon a time, are dashed by someone… Either a rash driver, or a beautiful runner ?

  4. Aparna prabhudesai says:

    Hi Sudhi
    Was fun reading your article. Brilliant idea to share thoughts and other stuff about all kinds of sport. I think all of us agree we are easy prey. 🙂

    I must at the same time share another view of what I have experienced at a race in our town.
    Runners, who participated in shorter distance, wanted traffic managed at junctions during their run, however, once they got into/on their vehicles post their run did not hesitate to run us, the 21k runners, down.
    I hope as a society we work at being more sensitive citizens.

    • Sudhi says:

      Absolutely true, Aparna. The drivers or us runners are products of this same society. Roles interchanged once in a while.
      Mine was a lighthearted take on the subject. Can’t agree with you more regarding citizenry sensitization.

  5. Mitali Upadhye says:

    Amusing writing ..truly loved the flow of narration. Especially the light hearted way in which a seriously annoying situation is penned .
    Well as a women u would also like to add the nuisance of Molester and eve teasers …Seeing a women of road ..sees to get the Devil out of them !!!

  6. Leena Chaudhary says:

    Sudhi.. too good write up.
    I too face such problems….
    I had an experience too… impatient rickshaw driver…with a sudden turn.. he almost missed me from injury…
    The most fearful vehicles are busses….
    Thanks for the happy traffic dodging…☺

  7. Sandip Naphade says:

    Amazing article Sudhi…..

  8. Pradnya says:

    You will be surprised to know being a women and solo runner since last 3 years i haven’t come across any nuisance to complain except drivers honking for no reason.

  9. Manjiri Deshpande says:

    Good writing sudhi……

  10. Rajnish Chopra says:

    Well written thoughts Sudhi ! Great going !

  11. Anand Swamy says:

    Good one, incidentally, this morning a lady in bicycle almost knocked me down!!
    Keep writing

  12. Arundhati says:

    Well said sudhi?

  13. Suyog says:

    Sudhi this is a very good article! I want to share my experience on 31 st Dec evening I wanted to sign off 2015 in style by a long run of 16 km in university campus in a regular 5 km loop 3 times and 1 km till Shivaji Putala! Traffic in Univ at that time between 6 to 8 pm was like a city road and instead of giving space to me I had struggle for inch and inch of space on road to run! Cars scooters And every vehicle were out to drive me out of road!

    Good article! Good initiative!


  14. Prakash says:

    Sudhi this is excellent & a very practical. We have always learned a lot from you this is on top of it. Language mentioned in this free flowing

  15. Shashikant Khandekar says:

    The idiom goes ‘My way or highway’. But on Indian Highways, it’s always Driver’s Way! Good observations, Sudhi!

  16. Suresh Patil says:

    Hi, Sudhi,
    Nicely written. The experience on Indian roads are so varied and if one compiles , it would be good book material or even telefilm. But sad part is that we never document the experiences. This is very good beginning . All the best to you

  17. Written very well sudhi. Now I will remember which side of the road in need to be when running with you. I run in residential areas so as not to get crushed by crazy drivers.

    • Sudhi says:

      Hahaha, we can take turns and stay on the safer side. University campus in the mornings is mostly incident-free too.

  18. Amol says:

    Sudhi, very well written! This applies to every one, including cyclist and pedestrians also.

    By the way, let’s have some sympathy for the stressed taxi/bus drivers. They are overworked, have to run against time; and compensated poorly for all this. If we keep this in mind, then (at least) we won’t be very upset (even though nothing will change on the ground) :-).

  19. Sudhi, super initiative and real time experience common for every runner. I agree with the feelings as a runner but also support most drivers because the roads are not up to the mark. Also how many and how runners behave once they are behind the wheel….

  20. Amit More says:

    Hi Sudhi… Nice article.. I myself had a bad experience, at early morning while running near my society on a wide road, two youngsters (probably school kids) knocked me from behind on a scooter and fled away. Running with a companion or group you definitely feel safer. I have also brought a safety jacket with lot of radium strips, though not used it yet. I hope as the runner community grows, police and civic authorities are awakened to create safe surroundings for runners.

    • Sudhi says:

      Dedicated and functional lanes for cyclists and runners would really help. As you say Amit, a sizeable group of runners and cyclists can compel the authorities to act.

  21. Harish says:

    What you have written about Sudhi, is sad but true. I have seen even in the wee hours of the morning, traffic is sparse but motorists treat it like a Fast and Furious 1/4 mile race and speed down the roads with no regard to others

  22. Mohammad says:

    One thing I don’t understand is why should one be running on traffic roads and gulping in pollution n harming lungs unless its actually a marathon. Our roads are not even designed for driving/riding….let alone for cyclists or runner ?. Just don’t run on roads please.

    • Sudhi says:

      Mohammad, for very short distances running in a limited space works. However, for long distance running there is no other option but to run on the roads. Having said that I am fully with you regarding the pollution and design of our roads.

  23. Jagadish says:

    Good ‘ne, Sudhi. You have the knack to keep the readers hooked with your actual tongue-in-cheek humour (not one to make reckless use of ill-timed emojis) while taking mild potshots at the rogue motorists too, in the same breath. Good work. Keep it up! I look forward to more. Good Luck…