This Vehicle Called Life- To Drive or To Be Driven

a writing by Pushpalata Venugopalan

I have been toying with the idea of learning to drive for sometime now. This has nothing to do with the Nano effect. It is purely the need to lessen my dependence on public vehicles and to be on the go, literally and laterally too, if needed. But at this point in my life I find I have very less confidence. I wish I had already learnt this when young. But I was very scared then and am still scared to death of driving- on roads where other vehicles also ply. I am scared more for the injury I would cause others, their vehicle and my own in that order. Also there is a nagging fear that when I get behind a wheel I would never arrive at the place I wanted to, in time or late.

...As I look back I am amazed at the way I have let others steer me and that too for such a long time. Perhaps I had always set more store on others’ decisions, valued their ability to go straight or lean to the right or left and to the right extent...

During my school days, I would watch, wistfully, my friends gaily riding away on a bicycle. I vividly remember dreaming of riding one too but at a particularly busy intersection, got down, folded the bicycle, put it in my pencil box and walked the rest of the way! That dream has always remained with me.

So it came about soon after my marriage when it became general knowledge (to my in-laws) that I could not even ride a bike (!) they took it upon themselves to correct this serious lapse. And I could not refuse. I dreaded more the prospect of facing them. And learn I did.

Ditto for the avanti garelli, the geared vehicle, on which the much dreaded lessons began next. It was hard work indeed. The moment I rode alone I crash landed and retired hurt, nursing an injured knee and dignity. To top it all, I was given an ultimatum daily...”Today you must master it fully or else…” I wonder now why I was so frightened of that ultimatum. But it came from the strict mouth of my mother in law.

Needless to say it took me many many days to learn. And yet I could never develop the confidence to drive independently even on the wide roads of Nagpur. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never drive at all in my life. Though I kept thinking maybe a three or a four wheeler could be easy. I armed myself with several excuses to avoid this further scary exercise and wondered why I never thought of it before!

And then there was a lull.

...Life’s speedway overwhelmed me. And oh, the bumps! I never saw them coming. The reflectors assumed the proportions of the light itself and I was blinded. There were always the weightier issues like maintaining tumult free zones. I propelled myself to fathom what the others are driving at, the reasons for their hogging the right of way. Giving way invariably ensured that the peace- belt remained secure. Driving remained a remote consideration...

It was many years later, the sight of the straight wide roads of Bahrain, with the disciplined driving made me feel that driving should be easy here and enjoyable too. But soon we moved to another place and my driving needs took a back seat, literally too.

...Now I acutely feel the need to learn, to be in the driving seat and take control for a change. To have the “self-driven” tag attached to me...

So as I move about, I keep my focus on the road to get a feel of it. What I see now is more bewildering and scary. And yet, I suppose, the total absence of road etiquette must make driving easy.

As I see it, what is needed here is a sort of sixth sense that propels the drivers to accelerate and also apply the brakes at exactly the right moment for rear view mirrors are scarcely used and signaling totally absent. Honking is an absolute must if one has to reach anywhere. It is not surprising to find that the smaller the vehicle, the shriller and louder is its horn although vice versa is not at all true. This makes me think that an expertise of a very high order is needed.

When I see people, young and old, driving with so much ease I feel a certain encouragement. So I am waiting for the right moment when this encouragement overpowers my fear. Perhaps that is the time I will learn to drive. And having learnt to drive I also hope I shall gather enough courage to take to the roads. Once on the road I hope I shall be able to cultivate the me-first attitude and go with the flow if I have to reach anywhere.

Thus my fears have now multiplied. These by far have lessened my drive to drive.

Perhaps I need my mother in law again to drive home the lesson.

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