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Where the Streets Have No Name

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Mapping Indian roads can put the intrepid 21st century men who undertake such missions at serious risk. Surveyors armed with sophisticated equipment have been mistaken by locals for terrorists, municipality’s demolition officials and other anti-socials, and treated accordingly. Cops and Naxalites, too, have gone after them. Recently, two surveyors, chased by gunmen, managed to flee in their car down a highway which, to their disbelief, led straight into a river. The duo had to hire barges from fishermen to get to the other side, where the highway continued, says one of the survivors, Sagar Patil, a senior manager at Genesys International Corporation.

“Mapping India is a painful exercise,” says Shivalik Prasad, vice president, MapMyIndia.com, which attempts to provide navigation data for the whole country. “We are the only country where wedding cards come with maps with directions to the venue.” The most common problem is street names. “Sixty per cent of roads don’t have names,” says Patil. Streets that do have names usually have too many. “Like Hughes Road in Mumbai, which is officially known as Nyaymurti Babulnath Road, Nyaymurti Sitaram Patkar Marg and Sitaram Patkar Marg on various signposts.” An entire town too can have many names, says Shivalik Prasad, citing Kochi-Cochin-Ernakulum. Also, India is probably one of the few remaining countries still dependent on landmarks. “If you describe your home as opposite Bank of India, once the bank opens more branches in the area, the address shifts,” says Prasad.

This country, it seems, was not designed to be put on a navigation map. But the good part is that it is populated with a billion willing navigators who will guide you. Even if they don’t know the address.