A license to drive

31-Oct-2017- It is almost 10 pm and my flight to Pune is delayed. Amidst the tantrums thrown by passengers, the tearful attendant, the abusive fellow and a lot of noise, my musings and imagination starts working overtime and the best way to spend my evening- beyond wa and fb is to write. The flight was delayed at 21.10 from 21.10 to 22.10 (a mouthful) and finally took off at 22.50. So, a story I had been meaning to write for some time was born.

Part 1: The beginning

13-Jun-2017 – My driving license expired. I was blissfully unaware.

20-Jun-2017 – I don’t know what made me look at the booklet. It was made in the era when the license used to be a book. In the 20 years I had it, some of its pages were torn off and my photo didn’t look like me, primarily because I had aged and the photo was still in twenties. But it still served its purpose when the guy in white wanted to check, they would look at it disdainfully like it came from another planet and give it back reluctantly. And then phew, it was no more even a saving grace, it died.

I was about to travel to Bikaner and it was earlier renewed in Bikaner, cool, I could get it done in a week. Problem solved.

22-Jun-2017 – Oh no, it was renewed in Barmer. Now where the hell is Barmer on the map? I don’t recall ever having travelled to the godforsaken place. Doesn’t matter, it is still in Rajasthan, I should be able to renew it in Bikaner, it is the digital age, I thought with all the confidence of a person with little experience of sarkaari daftar.

25-Jun-2017 – Back from Bikaner. Laws are laws (and in-laws are by-laws- no relevance, but J). And the law says that once a license is made in Barmer, it can only be renewed in Barmer. And if you want anything different, you require a complicated document called a No-Objection-Certificate. Really? Who and Why should anyone have an objection? I can drive.

I wondered how I ever got it renewed there? Think, think. Am I a time traveler? Of course, my dear mil was posted there hence I got it done in absentia (shhh, proxy used to work in those days)

Now how do I get a NOC now? I am sure mil knows someone who knows someone. Found the “someone”, and went a call, sms, wa, reminders and more.

30-Jun-2017- I am getting fed-up, why am I not getting a simple thing called NOC?  Someone please remind him again.

5-July-2017- I got it, looks like an NOC. Read it with the reverence it deserved. And reread. What was this again? They got my date of birth wrong? (How can someone sitting in an unknown RTO in an unknown city get her highness’s DOB incorrect?) How did they dream up this date? But then I can’t use this. When I go with my id proof which mentions a different date, someone is going to throw this NOC out of the window. I need to start the process all over again.

6-july-2017 – Now I had to find someone really jugaadu, who could undo this atrocity. So found a twisted friend who just happened to be posted at the B city. Told him the whole story. He just said, ho jayega with the nonchalant confidence of a Government officer.

15-jul-2017 – wa- anything happened on DOB. Friend: hold on, I am busy.

18-jul-2017 – wa- a gentle reminder. Friend : kal pucca.

20-jul-2017-  Friend: The RTO guy is adamant. He says his file has this DOB so it must be correct, his file is nothing short of the Bible. hence all the id proofs must have goofed up somehow. That lone guy knows that the world is wrong about when this diva was born. So what next. I told him, I don’t care. Clean up the mess. Twist the tale from the tail. I guess he smiled. And said something like- I must sit with him till he solves it. Will he take money? Maybe, we will find a solution, thus spoke the guy with 6 pack brains.

1-Aug-2017- wa- Friend: yeah, got it done, sending it soon.

16-Aug-2017 – Finally I got the godforsaken paper once again and it was correct this time. Ah bask for a few minutes in the glory of having fought a govt system and having won!

Part 2: The Conclusion

Visited the nearest driving school. Can you get the license made quickly? Yes we can. It will cost. That is fine, my time is costlier. Deal done.

8-sep-2017 – I get a call from the driving school. You need to go down and get a backdate entry done since your license is an alien one. Why is that my responsibility? I am paying you. No mam, you have to do it yourself. Sigh, ok.

11-sep-2017 – drive down to RTO (without a license). Reach the specified window. Nobody there (at 11.30 am, I though office started at 10.00 am) but several folks queued up. Waited for a few minutes twiddling my thumbs and toes. Finally, someone took pity and told me to go to another window, where a harassed looking woman was noisily sipping her cold saucer of tea and doing what looked like sorting papers. After a few minutes of watching this, I looked for the opportunity to tell her, excuse me and parroted the issue to her as she deigned to look up from her busy schedule. She disdainfully took the papers and stowed it away in one of the many piles. Come after a week. Why, should be a minute’s job. She looked at me exasperated look there is something called backlog. I will get to this in due course. Phew. Ok, can I get a receipt? She gave me a what-is-a-receipt-look and decided not to respond to the superfluous and silly query. I was mortally afraid she would lose the holy grail called NOC.

18- sep-2017 Went back and lo and behold, she had got it done. Promise was a promise. I got a 12 digit number. Wow, looked at it with even more reverence, a number after a week of effort (more than a month, but what the hell).  Went and gave it back to the driving school. Ok, that out of the way, we will submit everything and call you if needed.

29-sep-2017 It is needed. I got a call. Please show yourself for the biometrics. Third visit to the RTO and got my thumb printed and mug shot taken. When do I get the license now?

Soon, he promised. (No driving test, do note)

29 Sep-2017 Called up the driving school. Where is the license? Oh, you don’t have it yet, we will check and revert.

Two days later, I hear some music. It is processed, will come by speed post, Can’t I collect it? No madam, that is the process, the driving school receptionist was also exasperated by this time.

23 Oct-2017 Got a tried-to-deliver note at the door.

24-Oct 2017 – went to the Post office and got what is finally looking like a license to drive.  Just in about 3 months and a few days later. Man, aren’t we efficient.

PS: An intermediate visit to the RTO on a working Saturday revealed locked doors. Maybe it was a achcha din.

 

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Bikaner Bahu

 

The first time I entered the beautiful city of Bikaner, it was as a new bride, some 23 years ago into a culture I didn’t understand, where the folks spoke a language I couldn’t make head or tail of and to a city I had never been before.

With all the unknowns and with trepidation, that new brides of yesteryears will understand, I stepped into the city, complete with a bowed head, armful of jewellery, and no voice.

Draped in a heavy जरी साड़ी, loaded with jewellery from head to toe, (yes actually), wearing heels, I followed my MIL into those city roads where no four-wheeler had gone before. Now these lanes are small (stretch your arms and you can probably touch the boundary), pot-holed, like all lanes across the country, disgustingly smelly with open drains and overflowing with cow dung. Amidst the dung, move the two and three wheelers, and alongside walk the Homo sapiens (at their own risk) and dogs and cows and bulls and carts and more, coexisting on the treacherous roads. A person like me needs to be insured just to walk there.

So there I was, all decked up, one hand holding up the साड़ी all the way up to my ankles, (Ha, what did you think), other hand fiercely holding the पल्लू on my head, which I was told never to let go, (hence no hands free to hold a purse and thus I learnt how the art of storing money in twin lockers beyond purses originated. And no, I am not explaining this further) looking at the road for spots where the foot could be placed safely without being soiled, and looking out for dangers lurking around nooks namely four legged creatures and motorised vehicles. Vehicles were the easy ones, in Bikaner, they are quite used to blind people like me walking around. And I always thought people coming to big cities from small towns faced hurdles! But the real menace were the bulls and cows, who are around in plenty, all seemingly eyeing me disdainfully, and being dead afraid of them, I was forever ready to flee in the most unladylike manner, with no regard for the erstwhile stated पल्लू. Many a times I was saved by the folks used to saving damsels in distress in those lanes.

And what was I doing there? I was being led to meet my husband’s extended family that resided in such locations and I was paraded around being the latest acquisition. Some of the older generation ladies would make me sit next to them, take my arm and minutely examine every piece of jewellery I wore. Ask me details about who gave it, how much it was worth and I was completely lost. But my MIL passed with flying colors; she had done a good job. And they would utter in their local tone “छोरी पुटरो से” meaning girl is good looking (experience gaveth the verdict).

Some of the more experienced बहूs I met on these trips were tired looking girls with covered head forever looking downwards, following their सासु around, obeying instructions and getting rid of their घूँघट as soon as they were out of surveillance. I asked them why did they cover their head if they had such a big issue with it and they looked at me like I had descended from Mars, you don’t know nothing, you come from a different culture, we will see how you fare in a couple of years (the last with a knowing smirk). I wondered what their life was like, being stuck forever beneath the covered head and small town mentality, with no hope or desire to do anything beyond cook, clean and obey. And snapping at their snotty kids with one finger up the nostril and one scratching the bottom.

And then there also exists that class of people who took offence with me simply because (as far as I can make out) I was born in a different caste, was educated and didn’t understand the traditions. They always tell me (even today), I am too focused on earning (नोट गिनती as they call it), not on family, I never make time for relatives, never call them and generally pull me down by what is termed as ओलबा in the local dialect.  And not breaking the घूँघट clad बहू genre, I listen, feebly protest and finally shut up, I cannot win the argument anyway, and leave teary eyed at times.

When I got married, I was made to sit with a hall full of Marwari women, all dressed in bright red, head covered, stomach visible (which reminded me of a term we had coined in college O-cube-C, which meant, now don’t laugh, one open one covered, and you can easily guess what I mean in the context of a साड़ी), singing the local lullaby called गीत, whose words were difficult for me to decipher, laughing, touching my clothes and jewelry and doing what most females do when in a group, talk. Since my Marwari vocabulary was close to nil, I sat with a permanent smile pasted on my face as folks took off my घूँघट, looked at me, made some remarks I didn’t quite get, laughed and fed me लड्डूs, one after other, till I was in bursting and ready to puke. Much later I learnt that you were not supposed to eat them, just take the smallest bite and keep it down again. Or take a bite and feed the rest to the fellow torturing you thus. Nobody told me that at the right time.

Bikaneri food is the probably among the most awesome in the world, but not when it is stuffed in your mouth. In this city, people show their love for you is by force feeding you; they believe in the past 24 years of your life, you have not mastered the art of eating. You cannot do “अन्न का अपमान” and you have to devour around 6 meals a day, breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, high tea, evening snacks and dinner, all at different relatives abode, who felt I had come completely undernourished and unfed from my पीहर and they had to funnel stuff in my mouth till my पेटीकोट नाडा was about to break. My MIL taught me, don’t eat anything on your own, just eat what you are being fed and you’ll survive to tell the tale.

Funny incidents apart, I was welcomed with open arms by people who lived in this small town and had hearts big enough to shower love and blessings on this bong girl without bias. Even after couple of decades, I continue to be surprised at the way this place strives to maintain the traditions as the next generation gets married while I still struggle to speak the local language and get a handle on expectations.