Thursday, March 13, 2008

That beast called a car

Few things in my life have afforded me as much misery as that beast called a car. There are a great many cars. There are cars of every colour in nations of every description. There are also a great many drivers. So many of them, in fact, that they simply crawl out of the woodwork. So either I was just a driving moron or there was a global conspiracy on and everyone else went out naked in the moonlight to the top of a hill to dance around a fire and sign a pact using the blood of a goat, swearing to never let me know how hard a skill this is to muster.
As soon as I turned eighteen, my father volunteered to educate me in this rudimentary skill. We piled into our little brown van and veered down the road. Twenty metres and two popped blood vessels later (neither of them in my body) the lesson terminated. I was handed over to my father's friend, known far and wide for his patience and skill at instructing those certified as unteachable. The two of us drove down the mostly deserted roads of our military cantonment and all was peace and beauty. Sure, I still looked at the gear stick when I had to change the gear, yes, I stalled practically every time I entered or left the first gear and I knew the third and forth gears were still strangers to me. I could not reverse or park yet, but hells bells (I've always wanted to use this expression) I was driving. A few classes later it was decided that I should be enrolled into a professional driving school and seek the holy grail of a driving license for an LMV (Light Motor Vehicle). This was motivated in no small measure by the fact that if you were to venture into an RTO office in India unbacked by a driving school, you would be venturing for a very long time. So off I went, and at the end of the first class I was the darling of the instructor. Thanks to my father's friend I shone like Venus on the firmament. At the end of the second class I was still the pet. At the end of a month I was just as good as I was on the second day. I got my license, proving the efficacy of the driving school and not my driving.
For years and years I remained as good as I was on day two. I did not enjoy it for a minute, nay not even a second. It made me tense, it made me unhappy. It was not one of life's myriad pleasures. People who were babes in arms the day I first got into a car were driving circles and other complicated geometric figures around me. I sat, a satisfied, smug cat, in passenger seats and got driven around, secretly and sometimes, not so secretly, sniggering at folks who had not discovered the joys of always and forever calling shotgun.
Into every life must come some rain, and the day finally dawned when my life was bereft of drivers. Surprising as it may seem they moved on to bigger, better things in life and so one sad, grey day I stood before my father's old car. A baby first learning to walk could not have been more hesitant. The campers in the Blair Witch project could not have been more scared. Slowly and painfully, I mastered the art. I drove around the lake in the night. I learned to reverse. I drove to my office. I could not put the AC on for fear of stalling, so I simply perspired a modest waterfall. I stalled quite enough as it was without the AC. I dreaded traffic signals, speeding cars, slow cycles, all other vehicles in sight, reversing and parking slots. I explored new depths of hate for roads that sloped upwards and for gravity acting on unsuspecting cars and their undeserving drivers when faced with such horrid, uncaring, unfeeling, insurmountable slopes. I could tolerate turning left but I held strong views about turning right.
Gradually, over a period of what felt like a few decades, it got better. A few thousand scratches later I was fairly confident. Scratches, I explained patiently to my father, should be viewed from the correct perspective. A thousand scratches were infinitely superior to two dead bodies. He grunted and seemed strangely unconvinced. I now drove twelve kilometers a day. This is not so bad, I said to myself. I am one of them. Finally, I 've arrived.
Then it started to happen. I nearly bumped a bike that thought it wise to overtake me from the left and then cut into my path. I cursed a bus that veered unthinking into my lane. I had no patience with cars that were of the opinion that two kilometers per hour was an acceptable speed for the fast lane. My blood boiled at the mention of an autorickshaw. I realized that I knew words that I was ashamed to say I knew. I aged a couple of years every time I drove, soft music and deep breathing non-withstanding.
Thats when it came to me. The car is a vehicle of misery. I hated it when it was my master and the sound of the engine revving was the stuff of nightmares. I hate it now, when I can drive and it appears that everyone else around me cannot. I bet the day I said 'Yes, I can!' the rest of you went naked in the moonlight up a hill, danced like the pagans that you are, killed another innocent goat and swore to forget all the driving that you once knew.

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