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This post is the second and concluding part for you Kirti, as promised. 🙂

Continued from the first part:  “From cycling….

Exactly ten years later at 39, a special someone entered my life changing it forever. Oh I was married alright and a mother twice over. What has that got to do with it anyway?? Special someone(s) can always saunter in uninvited any time in your life and have an impact on it you never dreamed of. At first I didn’t pay much attention to this new entrant other than sit back and relax. No more waiting for the army Jonga (btw did you know ‘Jonga’ is an acronym??) or jeep or be at the mercy of the elements while traveling all squished together on a Bajaj scooter. Maruti Omni had come home, our very own four-wheeler.

One day, on our way back from a drive to Patna, the L & M remarked, “Now, you can learn driving.”

Learn to drive?? Me?? At this late stage in life? Nah!

I had serious doubts about my capability to do so and told the L & M that. The ever helpful man, the L & M said ‘fine’ and dropped the matter then and there. Now wait a minute. Isn’t there something called motivating your mate for higher things and helping her accomplish things she feels she is not capable of doing?? Apparently the L & M wasn’t familiar with the routine. I was not too concerned either. When I had him as my personal chauffeur, why should I?

A few days later visiting some extended family members, the talk turned to driving. I was soon to leave the L & M for my hometown and stay on my own with the kids for the educational requirement. Knowing to drive was going to come in handy, was the realization that dawned on me. ‘Hmmm… Why not give it a try??’ I asked myself. So on my return home, I told the L & M that I wanted to learn to drive. ‘Fine’ he said in much the same way as he had when I had told him I was not up to learning. But this second ‘fine’ set the stage for my driving lessons to start.

We were at the time stationed at Danapur in Bihar. First the L & M took me via the local roads nearby for learning the basics. The eager beaver of a senior son was bent on butting in on the time allotted to me, wanting to be taught too. He was at the time just 13 years old. What the elder brother does the younger one has to at all costs. So the L & M had to seat the junior son who was around 7 at the time and pretend to let him drive. But all this was put to an end when one of L & M’s senior officers had a word with him when he happened to see the senior son at the wheel. And I am really really thankful to whoever it had been, as my own objections were not being taken seriously up till then.

I picked up the basics soon enough. But before that something interesting happened. We were on the path to the firing range during lessons. I was supposed to take a U-turn where the muddy road ended and return the way we had come. But to my confusion, Omni took her U-turn and then got back on to the road only to make another U-turn. To my bafflement she was now going around in circles as if she had a mind of her own.

Diii!” the L & M said in exasperation and also laughing helplessly, “Release the steering wheel back to its position!!”

What??? Uhh-ho. So I had to let it go?? I know at the time I had been puzzled. But later I couldn’t imagine how I had been so dumb as to think Omni would straighten herself  as if by magic and take the road home when I had her wheels all turned to one side. Talk about stupidity.

Anyways with dumbness corrected and the L & M confident that I was ready to take to proper roads, we now started our Sunday drives to Patna and back. Sundays being holidays the roads were relatively free of traffic. In fact before we began, I asked him about a few thousand times if the roads would be clear of traffic, if he thought I was ready for it. He gave me his solemn assurance of ‘yes’ to both questions. But half way to Patna I was faced with a very busy Sunday market all bustling with activity. The L & M was unfazed.

“Keep going, keep going!” he said and though a bit nervous, I kept going. Phew. A couple of Sundays more of this and I became calmer and cooler and pretty comfortable taking the Omni out.

A curious phenomenon merits mention here. Some sort of optical illusion came into play on my drives through the roads of Patna. I named it the ‘Duryodhan Syndrome’. As all who are familiar with the Mahabharata are aware, Duryodhan, poor fellow, while on a visit to the magnificent palace of the Pandavas at the incomparable city of Indraprastha, saw water where there was none and walked with extra care, but failed to notice water that was actually flowing, slipped and fell, giving cause to much amusement to Panchali. My predicament was somewhat similar to that of dear Duryodhan. I saw speed breakers on the roads where there were none and hence slowed down changing gears making the L & M give me questioning stares of curiosity. And when there actually were bumps on the road, I went merrily over them only to land with a thud…dd…ddd on the other side taking my own self by surprise, rattling the L & M and justifiably making him give me incredulous and disbelieving stares.

In spite of these teething troubles, the blame for which I squarely lay on the shoulders of the concerned ministry (Aren’t speed breakers supposed to be marked??) I was soon driving with ease. A sour note was struck only once when I failed to change gears as soon as the Lord and Master ordered me to. In my defense I have only this to say that I hadn’t known it was a war-like situation (It wasn’t btw, it is just a habit with army men to think so). After all I was a novice, not the well trained army recruit who springs to action as soon as he hears a command. As far as I was concerned, the order had come and I was getting around to executing it when the L & M intruded with a,

“What are you thinking of??” asked a tad impatiently.

I grinned which is what I normally do at anything anyone says and changed gears (of the Omni, not the conversation). Let me digress at this point to give you a small warning: Beware of times the grin is not plastered on my mug

“What are you laughing for??” the L & M went on, not in the least mollified by the grin or the fact that I had indeed by then executed his order. I merely grinned some more in reply and drove on though what I would have liked to do was roll my eyes. I mean is there really an answer to such a question?? One grins for a variety of reasons and one of the very important one among it is that you have nothing to say in reply.

“I am sure you have other things going around in your head!” he said not letting well enough alone.

What other things, I wondered curiously and got the answer soon enough.

“You are probably thinking of going shopping with your friend Bindu!” He developed the theme and colorful salwar-kameezes and their attraction entered the picture.

Now, that I didn’t find funny. But I grinned anyway and waited patiently to reach home. I had something to clear up with the L & M. once there and I did too. I said,

“I am learning to drive. I am the student, you the teacher. You can correct and criticize me all you want when it comes to the matter of driving. But….  NO dragging unconnected matters when teaching to drive.”

In life it is always better to clear matters and let others know where you stand, though I admit it is not always easy. But this way the L & M knew where I stood and respected my stand.

I had a learner’s license and was driving confidently by now. Right about this time we moved from Danapur back to Trivandrum. On arriving much to my chagrin I found driving in Trivandrum was a different proposition altogether. There were ups and downs everywhere it being a hilly area and it was tricky maneuvering the vehicle on slopes which I had not yet mastered. The L & M had to return to his station. I promptly joined a driving school. Besides I needed a driving license too and this seemed the easiest way.

My Ashaan (teacher) was a garrulous old man, describing the sights and sounds as his students drove. He would also talk to us of the illustrious persons of the city who had been his students. There was never a moment of silence while we his present students took the wheel by turns. So one had to really try hard to shut out his chatter and drive through the overcrowded roads of the city with roadwork going on in many places. The time allotted to me was the morning peak hour too. Well one good thing that resulted from all this was that I learnt to drive regardless of any chatter going on in the vehicle. I know many men who behave so childishly, blaming the crying children (and indirectly the wife) for any mistake they make on the road (Accepting responsibility for one’s actions seems not to be the ‘in’ thing, but palming off blame on others certainly is ‘in’ in every field ). I would suggest they take a lesson or two with Ashaan.

Before going for my driving test, Ashaan advised me not to drive the Omni as I might be confused as he taught me using a Maruti 800. But I blissfully disregarded his advice and used to take my Omni out for a round in the housing colony I stayed in, with my 14 years old senior son as my adviser, on most days. It used to be the high point of each day of mine till I got my license. I got my license soon enough. As one of Ashaan’s better students (oh yeah the rest of them were men) I was given the honor of driving the car when he was occupied and couldn’t watch over his students. As soon as I got my license he accompanied me in the capacity of a spectator, on a drive to Kollam (some 60 kilometres away) and back. On my return he said I could dispense with his services; I was good to go on my own. Oh boy, from then on it was fun. Driving is something I have really enjoyed.

Later on I chipped in to teach my senior son to drive. I used to accompany him when he did practice runs. This made one of the L & M’s fellow officers remark, “I have seen fathers teaching sons to drive, but I am seeing a mother giving driving lessons for the first time.”

Since I started driving, I have had occasion to help and encourage other ladies who were either starting to learn to drive or were in the initial stages of driving. Most times, I have been able to second guess where their real difficulty lay whereas the impatient men in their lives (husband/brother/and in some cases father) either ridiculed or shouted at them not really bothering to understand, making them even more nervous in the process. I was more than glad to accompany some on practice runs, letting them find their feet on their own and answering their questions in a straightforward manner without the added masala of sarcasm. Whether in our schools or among adults, sarcasm seems to be a favorite tool in teaching. I have never believed in its efficacy as a teaching aid.

Among my friends, I especially remember the case of one who was not confident enough to drive in spite of practice drives with her husband. I agreed to go out with her on her request. She took me by surprise when she stopped at the busy junction at Vazhuthacaud and sat back stating,

“I can’t go on Mrs. Mohan. You drive” Oh wow.

Of course, she was serious. She had lost her nerve at the sight of the traffic. I simply smiled and said, of course you can. I pointed to a blue car and said that just as soon as it went by she could cross the junction. She not only crossed that junction but many others in the following days. In her own words, these days she drives with mobile in one hand, though I wouldn’t say that’s such a good thing.

My Omni has been sold (*sob sob*) and we now own a WagonR… but surprisingly enough, I hardly ever drive now. And thus ends my tales of learning to be mobile, Kirti!  And here is a picture of mine at the wheel. Pssst! That’s Camli the Camel to the left.

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