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If people were to be classified into Those Who Follow Traffic Rules and Those Who Do Not Follow Traffic Rules,  where would I fit in? Duh. In the former, of course. I may (and actually do) thumb my nose at outdated social institutions, and am ever ready to break any and all of the so-called ten-thousand year old (apparently, nothing less than that is good enough) traditions without a second thought.

But…

I would never ever violate traffic rules. I am as conscientious a driver as they come. I play by the rules, rather, I drive by the rules. I stop when the light turns red, never cross the yellow lines or park illegally, and never ever enter a lane when the sign clearly says ‘No entry’. No Siree, not me. A law-abiding road-user, that’s who I am. 

And yet.

One day, almost a decade and a half ago, I did the unthinkable and drove into a one-way lane… from the wrong end. It was not done unknowingly. I was a seasoned driver by then. I was completely in my senses too. Umm… no, scratch that last bit. Obviously I couldn’t have been in my senses. Or else, why would I have done it? 

The story goes thus.

Those days, I used to drop the First Born for his classes whenever his dad was busy. The road we took went past a one-way lane which incidentally was a quicker route to his study center. One day the son suggested that I drive through it instead of taking the proper, longer route. Naturally I gave him The Look and followed it up with: I don’t care if it takes longer, but we are not violating traffic rules.  He had his reply ready. It is seven in the morning and there is no one about. How does it matter? But I was firm in my resolve.

If ever you knew the pre-teen/teen version of my First Born, there’s one thing you would have learnt about him soon enough, he was not someone to give up easily. He could easily argue from morning till evening and all through the night, and then again the next morning if need be, and all this without ever raising his voice or being disrespectful. On and on and on he would go repeating the same arguments…. and get on your nerves by mere repetition.

Every time we passed that way, the First Born brought the matter up. And one day, as if that should decide matters in his favor, he said, ‘Dad takes that route. You are the one who is adamant, for no reason too.’ I stored away that nugget of information about the L&M, mentally vowing to talk to him at the earliest. To the son I said, I won’t do it and that’s that.

So there we were cruising along on yet another morning when, not surprisingly, he started off once again on taking the one-way to his study center. That was the morning when I took complete leave of my senses because without another word, I turned the car into the lane disregarding the no-entry sign. The First Born, perhaps surprised at the ease with which his mom had acquiesced, was quiet. I drove on without anything untoward happening.

The end of the one-way was in sight. At the entry to the lane there was a bus disgorging passengers to one side. On the other side was a rainwater ditch and touching it a high rocky wall. All I had to do was  drive through the space between the two and then, home and free at last. Just one last bit. But what should I see right then other than an Ambassador car overtaking the stationary bus and making straight for me through exactly the space I was counting on to drive through!

Everything that happened afterwards was in the blink of an eye, but in my mind, it is all still in slow motion.

There was no way I could have stopped at such short notice. There was no way the other driver could have stopped too. He was racing up the slope secure in the knowledge that he had right of way (which he absolutely had) and not in the least expecting cars driven by dumb women coming straight at him the wrong way in a one-way lane. Both of us swerved in opposite directions without stopping. As they whizzed past, close enough to scrape the paint off, I felt rather than saw the shocked (and accusing) eyes of those within. 

At last I was on the other side, home and free. Mercifully, I hadn’t hit the wall head-on, which I surely would have if I had swerved too much. I had somehow managed to squeeze through the narrow space I got without either scraping the rock wall or falling into the rainwater ditch.

I drove on without a word. I had no one to blame for the lapse, only myself. The First Born was silent too, shaken that he probably was. After a while he remarked, ‘For a moment I thought you were going to drive us straight into the ditch.’ I nodded, not yet ready to open my mouth. Truth be known, I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. I shudder to think of the wall and how narrowly we missed it. That it ended well was sheer luck, not just for us, but for the others whom I put in danger.

There’s a silver lining to this terrible incident.  Never again did my son ever ask to break traffic rules. And when he himself started driving, he became one of the safest drivers, and also one who always follows the rules.

 ©Shail Mohan 2018

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