”What’s the best way to teach a girl to swim?” a friend asked Mulla Nasrudin.
”First you put your left arm around her waist,” said the Mulla. ”Then you gently take her left hand and…”
”She’s my sister,” interrupted the friend.
”Oh, then push her off the dock,” said Nasrudin
That is exactly what my brother did when I asked him to teach me cycling (not swimming which I learnt on my own observing my friends at the village pond). I was 11 years and he was 9. We were living on the foothills of a teak forest. He had learnt cycling much before using rented bicycle (owning bicycle itself was a luxury then). I was a tom boy (in my village only boys and men rode bicycle) and was fascinated by the way he used to show off on the bicycle. I asked him to teach me too.
One fine morning he rented a bicycle and asked me sit on it. The bicycle faced the edge of a plane from where the ground took a steady incline ending on the left side with a further steep incline into a pond and straight with a drop inside the walls of a temple. He asked me whether I was ready and shouted “pedal” and gave me a push. The cycle was running without control and I was scared and was screaming. My legs were up unable to catch the fast turning pedals. He was running behind trying to catch up laughing and shouting “apply brake”. But I don’t know where or how to brake :D. I closed my eyes tightly and started praying to the goddess inside the temple which my bicycle was fast approaching. Oh the goddess helped, may be out of a sense of self-preservation. The bicycle instead going straight and down inside the walls of the temple took a left turn and went straight into the pond. Luckily for me I was caught by the bushes on the side and did not fall inside the pond. I had few bruises scattered on my legs. After I extracted myself from the bushes I glared at my brother. He was laughing and asked me “why didn’t you apply brake”. I told him scathingly “you didn’t tell me where the brake is or how to apply it”.
I limped back home washed my wounds with antisceptic and applied some medicine and decided “bicycle is not for me”. (cuts and wounds were part of our daily routine and we kids used to clean them and apply medicines ourselves and went back to play. My brother once had a deep cut and he limped to the hospital which was a kilometer away and got it stitched without anybody in the house knowing it. Only when my aunt – who was a nurse – returned in the evening from the hospital, we knew about this :D).
That was my first and last attempt to master cycling. I never ever wanted to learn cycling and that day’s terror never left me – even now I have it. For any distance within 5kms I could walk and then for longer distances I can take the public transport. Thus went my childhood.
Fast forward and now I’ve started working – in Chennai. Looking at my friends coming to office by mopeds, I thought I will learn two wheeler driving. After all, I am grown up now and how difficult will that be?
My neighbor who had a Bajaj M80 promised to teach me driving a moped. A colleague got me a driving license for geared two wheelers (I didn’t even go to the RTO office). Actually he told me he will get me a driving license for 4-wheeler and I can learn car driving later. I thought that is a bit going too far and told him that two-wheeler license will do. Once I started learning, I realized that that fear has not left me. I was always confident that the vehicle will not stop even if I apply brake. I always have co-ordination issues and tend to hit something or fall down even on flat surfaces. Adding a two-wheeler to it, I guess, was a deadly combination. I was really terrified of riding a moped but then I always did what I was afraid of most.
One fine morning I – or rather my father – took delivery of my first vehicle. A Kinetic Safari. It was heavier than TVS 50 and I couldn’t even lift it. I opted it purely because it was taller than TVS 50 and me being taller will be comfortable in that. The first day I took my moped and went with my father (he in his bicycle) for a ride. I went straight and hit an iron water tank. I was so confident that the bike will not stop even if I apply brake, it did not stop :D. The front bar was bent and the very first day it went in for repair. My father told me that he is not allowing me to ride it alone and I can take the moped upto the bus depot with him riding pillion and I can take a bus from there to office. He can bring the moped back home. Each time I took it I ended up seeing blood, either on my person or my father’s or both. Both of us fell down numerous times and my father was the only person who has spilled blood for me – literally.
The traffic was very low those days compared to now so the only casualties were either me or my father or…. . Well, that incident requires elaborating J. Once, as usual I took the bike with my father riding pillion and was going to the bus depot. I saw a cow heavy with child crossing the road. I decided that the vehicle is not going to stop even if I apply brake. I did brake and the vehicle went and hit the cow and all of us tumbled. I got up first, the cow next. I was so upset that I hit the cow and I was so worried (it was pregnant) something would’ve happened to it. I went and started patting the cow’s belly saying “maadu, maadu” (cow, cow) and from a far distance I could hear “kaalu, kaalu” (my leg, my leg). Only after a few minutes I realized it was my father and the moped was over his leg and he was unable to get up. As if I could lift the moped! Then somebody came and helped me lift the bike and my father glared at me (first time) saying “I am lying down with my legs hurt you are more worried about the cow”. I looked sheepish and told him “sorry pa, but that cow is carrying and I was so worried”. He gave me another glare and told me to start the vehicle. Oh, I started the vehicle and went to the depot.
I was not allowed to take the vehicle for some days after that. One day me and my father went to a temple and was coming back in my moped. It was a mud road and we were coming down an incline and yes, both of us tumbled down with the bike. Both our legs knee down were bloody and that week one day when I came home my bike was not there. My father told me that he asked my brother to take the bike to his factory for his use “and never ever to bring it back home”. He added “when you come late I just have to search the bus stops, if you take the bike, I will have to call the hospitals too and I can’t stand the stress”. I did make token protest and then forgot about it.
After a couple of years later, a group of us from office went to Pondicherry. All of them decided they will take bicycles and ride to a boating point some 10kms away. I was disappointed and I told them I would love to go buy I don’t know cycling. One of them offered to take me in the pillion. Me and my big pride will never allow that. I can’t stand the idea of someone pedaling and me sitting behind. From childhood, I have avoided even cycle rickshaws. Somehow one human being struggling so much while I sat comfortably did not appeal to me. So I told them “don’t worry. I know the mechanics of cycling. I will come with you too”. So we rented bicycles and went. I must say I managed okay on the highway. Only thing, I was very slow and two of my colleagues were cycling either side of me like escorts and we were subjected to lot of angry abuses from lot of drivers (on the highway). However, I went and made it back. I felt so good. That was the single-most exhilarating feeling I have ever felt after driving anything :D. I never touched a bicycle after that.
Public transport and auto rickshaws were my main means of transport till I got married. One of my friends used to tell me that the only advantage of marriage is that you get a free chauffeur. After my marriage, my husband was there to take me wherever I went on his bike and I never had any problems in reaching from point A to point B. He never allowed me to go on my own (being independent till then, it was tough at first having someone telling me where and how to go). But then why should I complain when someone is ready to take me. The problem started last year, when he got a transfer and went out and I had to stay back. The traffic was heavy and my travel by share auto took 2 hours one way. And my allergy to fumes returned and I was very sick for a few days. After a series of tests and medication, the doctor told me that the only way to avoid it is to avoid fumes.
My husband had the perfect solution: “learn driving. I will buy you a car”. I was terrified. However, the way I felt after reaching home daily – half dead – decided it. I went and joined a driving school and got my license after a failed attempt. (I did go this time and attended the test :D). My husband and son kept repeating “you can do it” just to boost my confidence.
The only hope I had was I will not fall down and get hurt in a car. After seeing my attempts at driving when he came with me to the driving school one day, my son told me “amma, I am happy you are getting a car. But then, I don’t think I’ll travel by car if you’re driving”. I told him “sonny, look. When I am driving, you are safer inside the car rather than outside”. He thought about it for a few seconds and told me “that is right. You could drop me in the school in the mornings”.
I researched on the internet and asked around looking for a best car for me. I decided I wanted a 1200 cc car (what is it me and high powered vehicles I don’t know. The first time also I got myself something heavy which I couldn’t handle. Looks like I never learn. And I dream of riding a Bullet one day on the ECR :D). My husband, after watching my attempts in finalizing the car, decided that I will do better if I get an automatic transmission as it is better for city traffic. I agreed reluctantly. That is how I got my A-Star automatic.
Before the car came, my husband told me. “I will ask a friend of mine who drives a tourist car to come with you to office daily. He will guide you and be with you till you are confident. You have no traffic sense or road sense”. I agreed with him. What he didn’t know was that I am absent-minded as well. My mind tend to wander and I get lost in thoughts often to the exclusion of everything else.
The vehicle came on a Friday. I prayed for all the commuters in Chennai and took the vehicle on Sunday to go to my meditation class. Mr N (my husband’s friend) was sitting near and my husband, son and nephew on the rear seat) and I started driving. Mr N said we will fill petrol first and asked to go the petrol bunk. And I went. All along I was getting instructions, “left, right, fast, slow,brake”. After turning inside the petrol bunk, I was trying to park it behind a Wagon R. “left”, “right”, “BRAKE”. I applied brake fast and the vehicle accelerated and hit the rear of the Wagon R (yes, I pressed the accelerator instead of brake :D). The Wagon R had three dents on the rear and two of his parking sensors got smashed. And my A Star was intact – not even a scratch! My husband promised that gentleman that we will pay whatever extra he incurred above the insurance claim and he agreed. I was happy knowing that my vehicle is sturdier than the other :D. Though I was a little rattled, Mr N asked me to drive the vehicle and I reached my class without any further incidents.
When I came back home, my husband started giving me oral driving lessons and I got angry. I told him “I will travel by share auto, you take the car yourself to your place. I don’t want it”. He retorted saying “you are not open to suggestions. You think you already know everything”. Both of us were angry for a day and didn’t talk to each other. Then he went back on Monday and before leaving both of us decided magnanimously to forgive the other and both said “sorry” to each other.
We went to Trichy the next weekend and I drove half distance both ways. Driving on a highway was something I loved. I am always good on empty straight roads :D. Next week went okay with Mr N accompanying me to office in the mornings and taking the vehicle back home. I did get dirty looks and angry words from fellow drivers but that is the way you learn J. (I guess we should fight for a separate lane for women dirvers :P).
When last Sunday I had to come to office for a meeting, I told my husband I will take the vehicle myself (Mr. N was not coming that day). My husband was not confident and told me he will come with me and take the vehicle back, I can take a share auto or taxi when I return home. (My husband has learnt car driving some three years back but has not driven a car so far. He had a major accident while travelling by car a couple of years back and still has some residue fear for car driving). I took the car and was driving reasonably okay till one mini truck came suddenly in front of me from a side road. I had to apply sudden brake and the call taxi behind hit the rear of my vehicle. I did not bother and started driving my car. That taxi driver came and stopped his car in front of us and made us stop. He started shouting and my husband also started shouting back. (my car was intact) I told my husband “sorry” but he told me I’m not at fault. Then in front of my office when I was about to park, a drunken man who was standing nearby, suddenly swayed in front of my car and got his toe under my tyre. My husband says it’s also not my fault – I don’t know. The security in front of my office complex came running and told me “what madam, how can you do this? didn’t you see the man standing there?”. He was not standing in front of my car when I was parking. He just took a step back and I didn’t anticipate that. By then another security came and told him “this is our staff”. Immediately, the first security started shouting at the man “how can you jump in front of the car, she was honking for so long while parking”. I felt like laughing and remembered Chekov’s story (don’t remember the name – chameleon? My Sir quotes that story often). Again, my husband had to argue and he sent them away with some money to see a doctor.
I came up to my office and my husband took the car. As soon as I reached office, I get a call from my husband “hey, I have come down half a kilometer from your office and I am stressed by your driving and my hands are shaking. I don’t think I can drive the car. Request somebody from your office to come and take the vehicle to your office. I will go home by bus”. I walked down and told him I’ll drive the car back to office. He gaped at me, “I am so upset with the whole incident and how can you drive it back?” But I did. Took my hubby to my office, gave him a cup of coffee and sent him back by bus after making him relax for a few minutes. Evening Mr N came and I drove back home :D. My husband told me that he will never do the mistake of travelling in the same car that I drive henceforth – it’s too much stress for him to handle.
I don’t know when Mr N will certify my competence for driving alone. I dread the day but then I guess I’ll survive. But the question now is not about my survival, isn’t it?
Mulla Nasrudin trying to pull his car out of a parking space banged into the car ahead. Then he backed into the car behind. Finally, after pulling into the street, he hit a beer truck. When the police arrived, the patrolman said, ”Let’s see your license, Sir.” ”Don’t be silly,” said Nasrudin. ”who do you think would give me a license?”