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Published Book or Work by:

Ameeta Agnihotri

DETERMINED TO DRIVE

DETERMINED TO DRIVE
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Published by DECCAN HERALD
MARCH 26, 2004
DETERMINED TO DRIVE

Long ago, way back when I was newly married and had stars in my eyes (I still do) it was decided I would learn to drive. Every afternoon, lunch done, the driving school car would arrive, and we would be off.

All went well. I was ready for the driving test. License was got. I saw myself whizzing all over Bombay. Running errands, picking up and dropping friends, relatives to and from different destinations. I would flick my hair, dangle the car keys and simply drive. It was that easy.

Time for the ultimate test - the hubby one. One weekend, he decided the time was right. Fortified himself, and said, a steely glint of determination in his eyes, "Ok, let's go for a drive."

I was nervous. And it showed. The car stalled. I released the clutch too soon. Second time round, it jerked, coughed and stopped. Finally, before he could leap out of the car, shouting, "enough", I did it.

We reached the gate. I congratulated myself and took a left turn going uphill, just to impress. He was sitting at the edge of his seat. "Mind that cyclist," he said. I looked. The guy was at least ten feet away.

"Careful. That truck is coming this way," his hands covered his mouth.

"Watch out, that scooterist wants to turn left." Like I was an idiot, driving blindfolded and knew nothing about flashing indicators.

My fate was sealed. The license was a mere document. I was back to hailing auto rickshaws and calling cabs. We had the car parked conveniently downstairs but had to hire transport instead.

One day, several years later. "This is the pits, mama," said my teen at the dining table over dinner.

"??" I looked questioningly at her.

"You simply have to drive, mom," she urged. Not adding "me to parties and back."

"Yes, ma," her little sibling joined her. Hubby looked indulgent.

"You've just got your own car," teen pointed out. Ah the logic of the young.

Have car, will drive.

"Right," I sounded brave. "I shall admit myself into a driving school tomorrow." The old license had expired.

Each morning I would rise at dawn, walk off to a practical pick up point and drive. The early morning breeze would caress my face, making me feel all was well with the world and driving was just another thing you did like walking, I would smile to myself.

It was time for the license-awarding test. Panic. I needed more time, more practice. A temporary personal chauffer was hired. He would sit next to me while I drove, till I gained enough confidence to give the test.

Day one. He came neatly shaven, hair slicked back with oodles of oil. We sat in the car, with me in the driving seat. All went well till we hit the main road. The guy went berserk. Opening his window, he stuck his head out and waved his arms about, in a way that clearly said, "make way. Maniac driving." Was it a male thing or what? I wondered, seriously contemplating pulling him into his seat and buckling him firmly in it. Driving done, I paid him, and he left.

Day two. My confidence had taken a beating. I was ready to give up the steering wheel in favour of anything else.

But driving had to be done, and license had to be got. That was my goal in life. Steely determination showed in my demeanor. I strode to the car and yanked open the driver's door.

Chauffer looked like he wanted to say something. The new me silenced him with a look and a raised palm that conveyed, "enough."

With similarly commanding gestures, I told him to get in the car. We were off. Five minutes of perfect driving in absolute silence ensued.

But chauffer, suffering from a deep desire to randomly communicate, decided the time to break his silence had come. Instructions flew out of his mouth, and all I heard was, clutch, brake, clutch brake, as I took a sharp turn into a narrow street. The guy driving in the opposite direction flashed his headlights, and chauffer went berserk. Clutch brake, clutchbrake he kept shrieking.

I swerved, to let Mr. Flashing Headlights pass, rammed into a lamp-post, two feet away from where it was supposed to be.

C-r-a-c-k. My head hit the windshield, and the glass developed spider's web cracks.

Temporary respite to driving.

Six months later, Monday Morning. Time 7:40 am. I am busy with my tea and the morning newspaper. Door bell rings. Standing there is one of current chauffer Ramu's cronies with the car key.

"The children have gone in another car, amma," he says, leaving.

Frantically, I dial the girls mobile. No response. Panic sets in. I dial Ramu's mobile. No reply again. I alternately dial both numbers.

Finally Ramu puts me out of my agony. "Yes madam," he says, all business like.

"What happened to our car," I ask.

"Nothing."

"How come you have taken the girls in another car?"

"Oh, this is because I have to come in this direction in this car, so instead of making the girls late for school brought them in this one." That made four 'thises" in one sentence, I thought counting, in my mind as I end the conversation.

I need to get to the bottom of this.

3 pm. Girls are back. "Do you know what Ramu did today?" they chorus.

"Tell me," I say, as we settle down to have lunch. I have to hear the truth.

"He came in an Ambassador taxi, and asked us to get in. As it is we were getting late, so we got in, and Ramu decides there is space for a couple of more people and lets two adults in as well. So now there are four school kids (the other two belong to our car pool), two adults and Ramu in the taxi, mom. I was so angry, but had not carried my mobile, and we were getting late."

Picking up the phone, I dial Ramu's mobile for the tenth time in one day.

"Who were those people, Ramu, and whose car is that?" I ask.

"It is my car," Ramu lies.

"Don't you think it would have been right for you to inform me first?"

"In fact, amma, you should be grateful to me for taking the children to school. What would you have done if I simply had not come? Please settle my account, I will leave."

The threat is delivered before his line goes dead.

Hubby, Ramu's main champion and cause for his continued employment with us, is travelling, blissfully unaware of the situation here.

Not for long. though.

He gets called, informed in detail of situation. He calls Ramu who promptly apologizes. It's a man thing.

In the meanwhile, I am looking out for an alternative. And have found not one but three chauffeurs willing to drive my car.

Tuesday morning. New chauffer arrives, and we all go off happily to school, with me settled in the front seat - determined to drive. By Ameeta Agnihotri.

 
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