Lessons from Road Signs


You had your ‘cul-de-sacs’: the road-rage teen years, tail-gating into a mid-life crisis, marriage commotion and hitting 40 with a pot-belly.

And then finally, retirement with a pit stop!

Just think about it. Lurking behind the excess of traffic, the noise, and talk radio ? those road signs tell a story. Forget the incapacitated cop at the junction with his empty hand signs. And how much do you remember when your ‘head-lightless’ vehicle broke down rather incidentally in front of the cop and he was glad to accept your moolah?! Don’t worry about it. Just pay attention to road signs. 

Remember the first warning signs —  when you wasted your childhood with play-stations and zoo-tycoons,  and your dad took you aside and enlightened you to clich?s such as  ‘guideposts‘ and ‘milestones’?  Where did those pearls of wisdom come from? From road signs.

We spend half of our lives in the roads?.trying to get to a place — to spend the rest of the half?.and yet as we drive how much do we think on the greater philosophy of road signs?  

Your journey began when you passed those initial driving steps??. when you mistook the break for the clutch, and the clutch for the accelerator?.jerking away on that ‘stick shift’ and the verbiage you received when you took a ‘short left’ and ‘long right’ — instead of the other way around and in either case you had dents on your fender or hit a curb?!

You remember when you first took the road and got booked for not having license?or rather a license that had to be decoded as it was  crumpled and beaten back to papyrus ? the lame excuse being you gave the ‘dhobi’ your pants with the license hidden in your back pocket?.!

And then they made you mug those road signs through sheer rote learning and when you eventually learnt the signs you didn’t understand how to apply them and instead twisted your axle at the place called ‘bumps ahead.

You were a young professional then trying to make something out of your life, and your parents asked you to ‘speed up’ worried whether you could get a decent job with your ‘bullock-cart’ speed. And how did you respond? You accelerated to 30, 50, 70 and 90 mph and by the time you knew, the speed gun had broken.

Then they reversed course and asked you to ‘Move slowly. Humps ahead’. You got the hint and got married. (Just on a side note, I have never seen a sign that says ‘humps ahead’ outside India. Whether it reflects our own charitable endowment I’m not sure).

"" They provide rehabilitation to your mistakes. At times you weren’t even aware that you were ‘in’ a cul-de-sac….""

But there are other trivial signs too. One called ‘slippery when wet.’ Thanks for that warning, road inspector. Show me one road that isn’t.

But once in a while the ‘road of life’ throws in a crooked turn and you surprisingly end on a scenic highway — basking in your Brylcream and a new Lamborghini. You pass those beautiful neelgiris and the ocean breeze in your hair and you travel like a wanderer without a destiny. Do you remember those carefree youthful days when it was your way or the highway? And you went on and on until your gas was exhausted and you had no clue where the next gas station was, until your car sputtered, and finally surrendered to the towing company! 

Ready to roar again, you fumbled on the changing traffic lanes. Every lane lead to an exit and you needed to go to the other side because you feel breathless and stagnated in the one you were.  And just when you take the turn you see a ‘one way only’ sign and you were heartbroken. You missed that chance. The whole road now seemed like one gigantic median.

But that’s what life is about. Road signs are not straight-forward. You need to understand them through years of scholarship. They are the hieroglyphics of your life.

When you get married, you should be aware that you are in the ‘merging Lane’ and all is well when children enter your lives. You better learn newer road signs like ‘yield on green.’ There is no second guessing about that. Children can make you drive on ‘hair pin bends,’ and ‘sharp turn ahead’ and ‘dangerous curves.’ Or, put it bluntly, they drive you ‘nuts.’ Well, what did you say. You don’t have children yet? Just be careful of that ‘zebra crossing!

And that’s when you need ‘cul-de-sacs.’ 

Cul-de-sacs allow you to come back to where you started. They provide rehabilitation to your mistakes. At times you weren’t even aware that you were ‘in’ a cul-de-sac, because you kept turning in the ’roundabout’ and wondered why you kept reaching where you started. 

So next time you drive remembers this. Road signs can be more than what they are. Pay attention, especially when you ‘enter’ an ‘exit’. And when you take that ‘exit’ know when to. And don’t take any ‘exit.’ But the one that does not have a ‘Shell’ or a MacDonald’s!

And prepare to be surprised. When you slow down on that deceleration lane, just cruise on that gravel road that leads into the lonesome dirt track.


In that countryside, next to that hay-stack.   Look around. And in that moment of ‘gyaan’ just know this : without ‘Cul-de-Sacs’ life would indeed come to a ‘dead end.’

Author: Newton DSouza- USA