September 04, 2009

Cycle gap

Observe a traffic jam on an Indian street, and you will find that it tends to follow a complex process of re-alignment over time. It all begins with vehicles lined up bumper-to-bumper. But as the minutes tick away and more and more vehicles enter the jam, impatience mounts and many drivers try to switch lanes to gain an advantage. Others drift lazily towards visible openings, having nothing better to do, and soon all the cars, buses, trucks and auto-rickshaws have interlocked themselves into a complex jigsaw, which will take hours to disassemble. You may think that the gridlock is now complete, but believe it or not, there is still some room left for new entrants. At this point, you will find cyclists blithely weaving their way through the narrow gaps between vehicles to move to the head of the queue.
The second gear is down and as you negotiate a pothole, a grand convoy of three bikes try to slip in on the left. There is just daylight between the car and the parked SUV. It’s whats popularly known as cycle gap. (Confessions of a Magnificent Mind)

(Auto rickshaws) run on three wheels and an engine that is mostly used for mowing lawns in the western countries. Other characteristics are they have a very small turn radius and can be turned in circles at the same spot. They are also known for pugunthufying (entering) and going within a cycle gap (A Gap just as wide to let a Bike Go). (Indian Cities and Riders of the Auto Rickshaw « 18,000 RPM)
'Cycle gap' provides a metaphor in South Indian English for an indigenous brand of opportunism. Where others may give up, a certain type of individual will discover a narrow window of opportunity and try to squeeze through. If he succeeds, chances are he'll also try to pull in all his friends, brothers, parents, uncles and what-have-you after him, and a mad scramble will result, till someone notices and slams the window shut. Hence, the local Chennai idiom, 'to try and squeeze an auto-rickshaw through a cycle gap'.
In Chennai I had the pleasure of taking the auto ride and I was reminded of a local saying "people drive auto in a cycle gap", no, no, now even a bus goes in a cycle gap! (Rattling Communicator)

Red lights and no-entry signs are just meant for learning boards in driving schools, as the popular saying goes we’d even fit an armoured tank in a cycle gap! (Dappan Koothu)
Wikipedia provides a brief (and rather inadequate) definition of this sense of 'cycle gap':
Cycle Gap: Tamil for trying to get things done without anyone noticing it. (Wikipedia page on Madras Tamil)
The following examples illustrate the figurative sense of the term:
See, we are a cycle gap country. If judgements and policies are not watertight and leave a crack in the door for exceptional cases. We will attempt to drive a 18 wheeler through that gap. (Reality Check India)

My cousin was here last week, looking to sneak through the proverbial “cycle-gap” in the hallowed doors of TCS, CTS, Wipro, Satyam and Infosys which would make her the financially pampered, mentally tortured, socially showcased, BIG 5 IT professional. (ExpertDabbler)