Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pappu Paas Ho Gaya

(I'm sorry this is a long post but I've waited 12 years for this moment so you have to give me 10 minutes of your time!)

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land far-ish away, I turned 18. I was living away from my parents for college and didn't have access to a car, so the buses remained my lifelines. But eventually it dawned on the family that I needed to learn to drive. I was almost 20. And the driving lessons began. At Nanda Motor Training College, Hauz Khas, New Delhi.

I learnt so much more than just the gears and steering control. I learnt that civilians call cops "mamaji". I learnt that honking was as essential as your clutch/accelerator coordination, that aggression was the name of the game. In all this, somewhere, I didn't quite get a grip on the driving part of it. Oh, I got a license of course. That was easy. I was so excited that I'd be getting one that I went and got a brand new photograph clicked. Where I beamed a little too much. But I thought I looked great, and all grown up. And couldn't wait to hand it to the license people to stick it on my brand new license.

We reached the license office at Sheikh Sarai. It was a hot June day and we hung around waiting for our tests, growing tanned and sweaty. Eventually they called me in and made me sit on a stool and I thought it was a break so I collapsed onto it only to realise that the computer facing me had a built-in camera and it took the worst photo of me. Ever. The license was valid till 2018. And I buried it in my wallet, hoping I'd never have to show it to anyone.

Soon my parents moved back to India, there was a car in the family, and I tried my hand at driving it. Oh, it was ugly. Especially when I tried reverse gear. I would screw up my face, and think, do I turn the wheel this way or that if I want to go that way? Should I scrape closer to that two-wheeler or to the big car? Should I run over the lady on my left or the man on my right? Once, as I was looking in the rearview mirror, pondering these mysteries of life, I spotted my mother cowering in the backseat, flinching at each jerk, gritting her teeth for certain death.

Then there was the famous time she and I argued over my bad driving and she got off the car and stomped off. My father and brother smirked and told me to keep trying. (We're a very supportive family.) I'd have chased her, but the engine stalled. A cacophony of horns erupted behind me and I turned the red of the L that should have been on my rear screen.

So, I learnt to be content to be driven. The years rolled by. Friends who drove were my best friends and escorts back from late evening events. I evolved a finely nuanced strategy of dealing with Delhi auto drivers, alternating between aggression and more aggression. Bus drivers and conductors on regular routes were my friends and blocked seats for me.

I had a dream. I would own an auto. I would paint it pink. Autos don't have reverse gear. You just pull it physically. I would drive it to work and back. And if money was tight, I'd charge people to drop them wherever they were going. (This never happened. None of this. It remained a dream.)

Then, I moved to Mumbai. Where the public transport is simpler than your own car. And my inability to drive got covered up by "it's so much easier to take an auto or the train". But my first monsoon in Mumbai, I was home alone with a delirious husband, no ice in the freezer, no doctor within reach and knee deep water outside. I watched as our car parked in the lane sank to the tyres. And ran down, looking frantically for a driver who would shift it. I found one and he moved the car for me.

But I couldn't believe myself. I was dependent on others for something that belonged to us. I have to learn to drive, I decided. But it wasn't so easy. Still, I kept it up. The two years in Dubai didn't help because I just didn't get around to taking driving lessons for a UAE license (which is notoriously hard to get at the first go).

But then we moved back and I signed up for driving lessons again. The SX4 is a wide car and roads here are narrow. Anando thoughtfully suggested getting me a smaller car but I stubbornly decided I would drive what he drove. And I've kept at it. First, little zips to the nearby restaurant for late dinners. Then early morning drives to the gym and back. But I knew I had to do the most important thing. Drive alone.

It was 6 am and Anando was out of town. I decided to drive alone to the gym. The building guards are used to seeing us leave with him at the wheel. I thought they looked at me suspiciously when I drove out on my own. 50 metres out and it began to pour. Oh no. I'd never driven in rain. Turn back, I told myself. But then the guards will laugh at me, I thought. So I drove on, deciding that I'd circle the neighborhood lanes for a respectable amount of time and then go home so they'd think I actually went to the gym. But then I hit the road, I worked the wipers, "gal mitthi mitthi bol" came on the radio, and I decided to go for it.

There's been no looking back. I've begun driving short distances alone, and in traffic. And today, oh, today was my Everest. I drove alone all the way to Town and drove all the way back. That's 42 kilometres in weekday traffic. When I got off the car and "beeped" it to lock, I almost wanted to take a bow. But it was 3 pm in my building complex and my audience was a bored guard listening to a cracked rendition of "pee loon" on his cellphone radio. So I came home and wrote this post instead.

And oh, in case you don't get the title of this post, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T85trgeuq-M.


Suki said...

Wow. Congratulations, and big bow to you! - from another of those who'd rather daydream than drive.

Maya said...

That made for a fun read! And yeah, Congratulations!

I enjoy reading your posts. Keep em coming.

Thinking Cramps said...

Suki: Thanks! I'd rather do that too! But I need to know I can drive if I need to!

Maya: Thanks for commenting :)

SM said...

Great job Anamika.Gudia pahle hi pass ho chuki thi.This was a bonus lifting your confidence.Proud of you my chokher moni.

dipali said...

Yaayyy Pappu, congrats!
I drove for maybe a year or so (I'd learned very late in life) and gave it up really soon. But I did drive my son to an obscure school in Kochi for his Xth board exams a couple of times while the spouse was abroad. I think of it as an important life skill, though one that I have now lost.
Keep it up!!!!!!!

Thinking Cramps said...

Baba: Thank you! Couldn't have done it without your long-distance encouragement!

Dipali: Thank you. So you know how it feels! I just feel empowered that I can if I need to! Lots of love, Pappu :)

The Weekend Blogger said...

Wow Annie....Congratulations. I am a non-driver and like you my best friends are the ones who drive me around. Now that the hubby is wneidng his way back to Delhi, I intend to start learning asap. Wish me luck. BTW Keep Driving !

Starry-eyed nut said...

congrats :)

Sue said...

Woot! I know the feeling.

Contrary to the usual jokes, I actually learnt to drive from my husband. The father cowered and bellowed and scared me half to death, while the first instructor couldn't be arsed to teach and the second was too nervous.

I still don't drive much but I can if I have to. You and I have to celebrate this. :)

Thinking Cramps said...

TWB: Yes you must :) I'm proof that it can be done!

Starry-eyed nut: Thank you!

Sue: I thought you were a smooth driver. I would envy so much your posts about Allie :) Okay, we will celebrate this next time I'm in Kolkata!

Sue said...

No, no, Vicky drives Allie. I only drive if he is out of town, has been drinking or is in another other way unavailable. Or, of course, if I'm out partying. :)

eve's lungs said...

Your story sounds similar to mine except for the part where you actually drive ! Congratulations . I still prefer to be driven , though :(

eve's lungs said...

BTW Susie is one smooth driver !

Sue said...

LOL Evie, if only my parents thought so too. They are so nervous that the one time I drove them (exhausted after a long day) they could hardly wait to get out of the car.

Anonymous said...

woo-hoo....this calls for a big celebration....enjoy your new skill!
i am at that point in my life where i need chauffering...sick of driving.....
totally relate to your thrill though...i distinctly remember the day i got my license. it was a huge deal!