It was my 18th birthday. Many aeons ago of course! And my father gifted me something that was on top of my wish list. I am not aware if things have changed now in India but when I was a teenager, one could appear for a behind the wheel driving test after the age of 18 and I was gifted enrollment in one of the few ‘Driving Schools’ owned and managed by a dad and his two sons in our small city. It entailed the ‘uncle’ driving to our home at a specific time five days a week for a month to pick me up and teach me about clutch, brake, acceleration amidst rules and regulations. We drove only manual transmissions those days. Some days the ‘big brother’ would come and if the younger one came he was addressed by his name by all the learner drivers. He was still in his twenties you see. In India anyone who is or looks over the age of 30 unfortunately for him/her is addressed as aunty/uncle and anyone under is either the big brother/big sister. Names were used only for the pals/buddies.
Day one would entail driving a big bulky ungainly heap that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s though by the fourth and last week we would have proudly graduated to a very sleek new age sedan, basically covering four different types of vehicles over four weeks. On the day of my driving test at the RTO (Regional Transport Office) my boy friend came along with his friends to wish me luck as I went for a drive with my instructor and the person testing me. I knew I had a scope of failing if told to stop on an incline managing the clutch and brake but luckily for me we didn’t drive to the hills. After a few question answer sessions came the trick question- ‘mam, can you change car tires?’ Huh! Seriously? No one, including the instructor had prepared me for that and with my heart dropping to my stomach I shook my head murmuring no. The instructor was asked, ‘you people don’t teach them tire changing ?’ This was the dude instructor, not the uncle or the big brother and he tried to make a joke while I interrupted saying, ‘I can’t change the tire but I sure can get it changed by the boyfriend.’ Surprises do not cease because I passed. Apparently my driving was perfect though I should watch the speed and marry the boyfriend. I took all the advices…and yes he changed a few tires too.
I might have mentioned in one of the previous blogs that when we plan, hope, anticipate, we should always look up to see if Gods are laughing. So you bet, they were in splits, laughing at what was coming next because you see we moved to a country where I couldn’t continue to drive on my International Driving Permit or Indian License after a certain time. So Vic Roads (RTO in India, DMV in the United States) in Melbourne Victoria, Australia, required that yours truly do a behind the wheel driving test to get an Aussie Driving License, after an online test and a hazard perception test and a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from my Indian Driving License Authority. Seriously! I was most indignant and while I did the needful I gently protested at the unfairness of it all. My friends with license from anywhere in the world USA, UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and even tiny countries like Lesotho got an Aussie license across the table by presenting the license issued by their country and poor me, after years of competent driving on Indian roads of the 1990s amidst cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, pedestrians, road side vendors and sometimes even people just standing and chatting was the one who needed to appear for a test. Highly amused at my disgruntled musings the Vic Road employee testing me laughed, ‘lady, where you come from even a blind person would get a license.’ Our reputation preceded us or so it seemed. So I zipped my mouth, did the test and needless to say, passed.
Had I taken a peek into heaven I would have seen the Gods ROFL because next we moved to America and California didn’t recognize my Aussie or Indian license so off I went to do the written test followed by the behind the wheel test. No other song and dance about the hazard perception or No Objection Certificate. I wasn’t alone in my predicament as the husband too did the whole nine yards but his test became the American scene as seen in movies and sometimes read in newspapers. Just as he was driving into the DMV premises his car got shot at. Yes, seriously and truly, unbelievable right? I, waiting by the curb heard a big bang and looked around to find the source wondering why, firstly the husband had stopped the car so suddenly with both the occupants looking shell shocked and secondly why were people ducking behind bins, trees or flat on the road? I was fresh off the boat you see and unfamiliar with sounds of gunshots in real life. So the DMV employees summoned the Highway Patrol and cops while I called the car service station to arrange for it to be picked up for replacing the shattered windscreen and get a loaner vehicle in the interim. After thorough investigation it was deduced that the shot was fired from ‘just a simple’ pellet gun and was probably a stray or meant to harm the new shiny car in the unsafe neighborhood. And I thought to myself, welcome to America mate!
Why this sudden talk of driving and tests? Well, the daughter has to start her lessons soon and she thought she would become familiar with the rules by clearing her doubts as we drove. Such were the queries- what are you doing now? I am pressing the accelerator. And now? Still pressing the accelerator. Hmmm okay, and now? Still the same. Then I heard her exclaiming what! You can’t just press the accelerator and leave it? What if there is an itch in your toe, what if there is something stuck under your foot, what if you get a cramp, what if…..And I thought God help her driving instructor. Have you sat with your teens while they practiced and honed their driving skills? And er do you have any hair remaining?