Like any other teenager, I was very excited to learn to drive. The legal age to drive in India is 18, and two months before that, a learning license can be obtained. I waited for that day. We applied through a local motor training school, and got a learning license; there it began. Countless number of hours spent behind the wheel, trying to look at the road, keep the car steady, and simultaneously change the gear depending on the speed. We had Maruti Omni then, the car that is famous for being a kidnap car in Bollywood movies. It had no bonnet, and the driver sat exactly on top of the front wheels. I loved that car; it was easier for me to gauge the vehicles in front of me, and I believed that it is the responsibility of other drivers to not come, and bump me from the rear end, which was very long considering that it was a van type of a car.
I took an insane amount of lessons to learn driving. First it was the motor training school: the driving school cars have two sets of brakes, and clutch etc. So driving that car during those lessons was a breeze. I only had to control the steering wheel, and go left or right when, and as the teacher said. And perhaps brake as an afterthought because it was he who actually controlled the car. During the driving exam, two months later, all they asked us to do was start the engine, and drive 20 feet in a straight line. Even an eight year old can do it, and needless to say, I passed the exam, and got the driving license.
I was elated. Little did I know that driving a training school car, and an actual car are entirely different things.
The first day in our car, the Maruti Omni, the engine stalled every single time I tried to change the gear from first to second, or if someone was crossing the road, and I stopped, I could never get back in motion without the engine shutting down. It was almost as if it was dissuading me from driving. But I was persistent. Rather my dad was persistent, and persuasive . He spent several weekend mornings taking me out to drive, and it always ended with me crying on the way back, and not talking to him for the rest of the day because A) humiliation, and B) realization that I still can’t drive. Every time I had to change the gear I had to look down at the stick shaft, and wonder where 1-2-3-4 is. And every–time I pressed the clutch, the car jumped in terror.
After several weeks of this ritual, my dad hired another guy to teach me to drive our own car, one Mr.Godbole. He was a patient man, and after two more months, and a several thousand rupee fee, I could finally drive. My heart still pounded wildly every time I was in the drivers seat, and I sat as if ready to jump out any minute if something went wrong. Nevertheless, I ferried my family to and fro from short distances, and once even drove 2 hours to Esselworld through murderous traffic. That was the high point of my driving stint.
My father is a short tempered man, but in this case he showed enormous patience and strong will for my driving. I could ride a scooter and a bicycle very well before that for many years, and hence a car seemed to be the natural progression. But my dad had forgotten that I took at least a month to even learn how to ride a bicycle. For several days, I had the training wheels attached to the cycle, and it made it a well balanced four-wheel cycle. I just had to pedal, and go forward without any balancing. But soon I could cycle well, and went to school on that with my friends.
The scooter was easier because I had already figured out balance, and it was an automatic non-geared vehicle: only acceleration, and brake. But several times I hit the dividers, pedestrians, and stray dogs on the road. The speed was low, and no one got really hurt, but news traveled faster to my dad from the rickshaw drivers before I could reach home, and tell him. I promised to be careful next time, and slowly I got the hang of it. I am 30 years old now, and the scooter is my best friend. I even put my little baby in a baby carrier, and ride the scooter to the market. It is a breeze.
But the car. That’s a different story.
About six months after I learnt to drive, my father replaced the van with a smaller car, a Maruti 800, so that I can drive it easily.
My cousin and I took it to the movie theater one night, and while coming back, at a right turn to get on to a flyover, the car stalled. I couldn’t get the car to turn on, and move forward. Traffic started piling up behind me, and people started honking. I got very nervous. I revved the engine, kept my foot on the clutch, and willed it to move forward. In all this commotion I forgot to look on my right, and an oncoming truck hit the bonnet of my car, and drove away without a pause. The bonnet opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, we banged our heads against the roof of the car but thankfully we were alive, and mostly unhurt. We silently drove back home, now wondering about how to tell this to Dad. Short tempered that he was, he was also very scared for the safety of his children. And the extra expenditure to get the car fixed. All in all, it was a terrible situation.
We went home, and told my mom about what happened. She has always been the cushion between Dad and us. We use her a medium to tell things to Dad when we lacked the guts. I think sometimes she was scared of him too, but she didn’t have much of a choice. All of us went to sleep, and the next morning she told Dad.
He immediately went down to the parking lot, examined the car, and came up seething, and obviously quite upset. For the next 2 hours (or was it 10?), I was grilled about how the accident really happened, and how was I so stupid to drive this way, etc.: regular stuff that parents say to their kids.
But again I was terribly upset because A) of humiliation and, B) realization that I can’t really drive. The angsty teenager that I was, I vowed never to drive Dad’s car again.
The car was fixed, and we used it for a couple years more, but I never got behind the drivers seat again.
My husband now wants me to learn to drive again. I say, “not today.” And tomorrow never comes.