The How and Why of Honking and Honkers in Mumbai

A couple of weeks ago I was in the city of Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada. Vancouverites are amazingly welcoming and polite, and more importantly, patient.

While not as laid-back as St. Lucians, (who will not honk even if the traffic is backed up because two friends in their respective cars have decided to stop and talk to each other in the middle of the highway), in the 7 days that I was in Vancouver, I heard the sound of a car horn just once.

I mentioned this to a psychiatrist friend of mine, H, who has been living in Vancouver for the last 15 years and loves to analyze everything around him. Apart from telling me more about Vancouverites and their behavioral patterns, he also started talking about the psychology of honking and honkers, especially related to Mumbai. My wife and I found it quite hilarious and we then added a couple of categories on our own as well.

The Aggressive Honker: Someone who uses the horn to try and get past all other vehicles in front, hoping that the sound of the horn will force all the other drivers into submission. This is a staccato honk, every 10-15 seconds, for about 3-5 seconds.

The Force-of-Habit Honker: Someone who honks…because…just…This is usually a lighter honk that comes every 1-2 minutes. A vast majority of cab drivers do this as well and when you ask them why they are honking, they will just turn around and look at you as if you are an idiot…after all, how can any sane person drive in Mumbai without honking!

The Angry Honker: Someone who honks when the aggressive honker cuts in front or when someone in front is driving badly or obstructing him/her. This honk is a long honk with the palm pushing the horn button in as far as possible so as to get as much sound out of it as possible, part of the anger redirected at the horn as well.

The Friendly Honker: Someone who honks while passing trucks and friendly cars, as if to say ‘thank you’. This is a short honk, sometimes a double honk. Often, the truck driver honks back as well.

The Taxi-Driver Honker: Someone who honks at every individual who is walking on the side or crossing in front. This one is also a staccato honk, but with no specific rhythm or regularity. This is over and above the “Force-of-Habit” honk, though often one can’t distinguish between the two, since these people honk constantly anyway.

The ‘Horn-Ok-Please’ Honker: Someone who honks when wanting to pass, but is not aggressive and will wait till the person in front gives way. This is usually a short honk with some waiting between two honks.

The Calling-Out Honker: Thankfully with the use of cellphones, this has reduced. Else, people would wait below or outside a building and honk to call their friends and relatives out. These were long honks, typically late at night or early in the morning, meant to wake up the entire neighborhood.

The Soundless Honker: This occurs when the horn in the car is not working, but the driver still tries to honk and continues to press the horn button in the hope that some kind of sound will somehow find its way into the outside world. These drivers are often flustered and some even refuse to drive their cars when the horn is on the blink.

Let me know if you have any more to add to this list.


  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    The Lipstick Honker: Limited to ladies when they want to make a turn :-))

  • Mr Chulani. Thank you for being so refreshingly honest about your feelings. You have proved that the men in 21st century India are not chauvinist pigs at all.

    P.S. Sarcasm is probably lost on you. I should let you know that this is it.

  • Trying to clear a traffic jam honker. Not that it ever works

  • M.V.Viswanathan wrote:

    Thanks for giving this awarness about various catagories of honking. It seems you have really done a thorough research on this to idetify various types of honking which is linked to the psychology of the honker.

    You have covered all types of honking, except the musical honking. Some honkers especially youngsters, do this type of honking.

    I wonder wheter the folowing two types fit into the definition of honking. it’s not really honking but it has real value and at the same time tremendous nuisance value also.

    Ambulance. This is not really horn. But for all practical purpose it is a substitute for horn. This is siren and has real value (rather it is unavoidable) when they rush an injured or seiously ill person requiring urgetn hospitalisation and medical attention. But many times I have seen empty ambulances continuously puttin on the siren. May be they are rushing to pick up some urnget cases or just for fun sake either to over take other vehicles or for getting a clear way amids traffic jams.

    Police siren. Again unavoidable while chasing criminals. But many times it is being misused (nuisance value) to scare other vehicles and is a signal to traffice police to clear the way for them.

    M.V. Viswanathan 993 099 2531

  • Khushboo wrote:

    Amazing write up. Me, too, while driving my car fall into more than 2 categories out of the above mentioned. 🙂

  • The Enlightened Honker – Those who honk just so because they believe that honking makes their vehicle move – the motion comes from the conversion of the sound energy into mechanical energy and not from the conversion of the chemical energy stored in fuel … (Could this explain the ‘Aggressive Honker’ – Wants to make his car travel faster and the ‘Force-of-Habit Honker’ – Just wants to ensure that his vehicle is in motion) 😉 😀

  • Following experiences that I would like to share:

    – I was in the UK for about a year from 15-Sep-1985 to 6-Oct-1986 – I did not hear a horn even once in the entire period I was there – Emergency vehicles and services would blare their sirens, but no honking.

    – Again in the UK about 14-Aug-2005 – stuck at a signal, third car in the line. The reason, the first car in the line had stalled and the lady driver was unable to restart her car. The driver in the second car kept on honking. The lady from the first car calmly got out of her car with her key, walked up to the driver in the second car and politely told him that she was unable to start her car and if he could, she would appreciate it a lot 😉 😀

    – In the US on multiple occassions, I have experienced that whenever an emergency service vehicle is on duty (ambulance, fire brigade, etc.), and is on the road with its sirens blaring, ALL vehicles on the road HAVE TO MAKE WAY, EVEN IF IT MEANS THAT THE CARS HAVE TO PILE UP ON THE FOOT-PATH, to allow the emergency vehicle to pass. If anybody is found to obstruct the passage of the emergency vehicle, that person is liable to loose his/her license if determined that the obstruction was intentional. HOW I WISH THIS WAS THE CASE IN INDIA.

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    And there is the ‘Pot Hole’ Honker! He/she honks involuntarily while negotiating a pot hole or obstruction on the road — in the fond hope that the pot hole etc will move out of the way!!

  • RAVI GADIYAR wrote:

    Being a constant traveller I feel that in India …unless and untill one honks the pedestrians are not in a mood to give way to traffic. It is sad that footpaths are taken over by hawkers and the pedestrians use the roads.Thanks for the insight of various honking.
    Jai Ho !!! Dr BJ.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    SV…I am assuming Chulani is having a light-hearted dig.
    Ajay…this is a good one.

  • I would like to add one category, the motorcycle beeper, they drive on left side of road hoping to clear everything in their way, car pedestrian bullock cart etc with constant intermittent beeping of their POWERFUL horn. In Mumbai now their horns predominate, stand on any main roads esp under fly-overs and you will know. I spent 8 days last year in Singapore and Langkawi- no horns there too.

  • Unfortunately, the average Indian lacks basic courtesy while behind the wheel. This again points to the lack of basic education imparted by the so-called ‘motor training institutes’, who emphasize the use of the horn rather than brake.

  • People just fret!

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