Whisky is risky: The wild, wild world of road signs

Of all the things I enjoy about being on the road in India, the signboards from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) come somewhere at the top of the list. The BRO itself is one of my favourite agencies in the country, the way they make travel seem so easy and comfortable in some of the highest, steepest and most dangerous roads of India. In Himank, the project specific to Ladakh, the BRO personnel work in extreme cold temperatures on risky terrain laying and maintaining these roads. The least that we owe this is to stop for a moment and offer a silent thanks for their hard work.

The other reason for gratitude are their quirky, funny and some downright baffling signboards. I like to imagine that there is an extremely creative mind trapped in a dull job, writing up these slogans (never mind the occasional typo) to bring some cheer to life (his own and ours). On long desolate stretches in areas like Sikkim or Ladakh (where the BRO is omnipresent), my favourite activity is to watch out for and make note of these signboards. Often, I offer silent rejoinders to them (silent because – as BRO is quick to remind me: "Don’t gossip, let him drive").

Here then are some of my personal favourites, arranged by theme.

On long desolate stretches in areas like Sikkim or Ladakh (where the BRO is omnipresent), my favourite activity is to watch out for and make note of these signboards. Image by Ajay Jain

The most common ones are those that warn you against speeding: 'If married, then divorce speed.' Or ‘Speed is killing not thrilling’ and ‘This is a highway, not a runway’ (and the scarier version – 'This is a highway, not a dieway!'). What about this one – ‘Be Mr Late than Late Mr?’ The absolute winner though is, ‘Darling, I like you but not so fast.’ Who would have expected something so cheeky from a government body? Also in this list is ‘Make love not war but nothing while driving.’

Then there are signs that caution against giving in to the lure of the er, curves – ‘I am curvaceous, go slow’ – declares one in a spirit of complete abandon. Also hitting the same note: ‘On the bend, go slow, friend’ and ‘Steady your nerves on these curves.’

Drunk driving is the other prominent theme, and they even have different slogans for different types of liquor: "After whisky, driving risky’ or ‘Drive on horsepower, not on rum power.’

Most of these warnings are stark and direct, baldly talking of accidents and death: ‘If you sleep, your family will weep’ or ‘If you dream, then you will scream.’ Sprinkled in between are the cheerful, more optimistic ones, as in ‘Safety on the roads is safe tea at home.’ Another declares, ‘Today is my No Accident day." Also: ‘Alert today, Alive tomorrow.’

Sometimes, inscrutable Oriental philosophy too finds expression in these roads, like this one: ‘Sense of life is the essence of living.’

Ajay Jain, who runs the fabulous Kunzum travel café in Delhi has actually published a book on these road signs, called Peep Peep Don’t Sleep. As he says on the website for the book, these road signs “shower you with words of wisdom, keep your mind sharp as you unravel their cryptic messages, tickle your imagination, amuse you and entertain you… Who needs comic strips in this country?” Ajay made multiple journeys over 10,000 kilometers across the country to compile this set of road signs.

Talking about his reason for choosing to write a book on these road signs, Ajay says, “…also to archive for posterity something we may never see again. Many of these signs don't even last a season - they get destroyed in snowfalls and other natural phenomena. Or when roads are re-built.”

On Indian roads, never a dull moment.

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2012 13:00:43 IST

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