From Two to Four – wheels

Learning a bicycle is piece of cake, once you have digested it. I remember I was at my ननिहाल, for an extended family gathering having fun. And I wanted to learn to cycle. So my मामा decided to help me out. I was nonchalant 13. The first time you get up and sit on that thin seat and ensure your frock covers your vitals, you wonder how on earth can anyone balance on such thin tyres (observe the oxymoron – thin tyres). The bicycle just insists on falling towards one side, and even if you use Physics to balance, it almost always fails and you end up falling on your rump. My मामा did try his best to help by holding the carrier, but the bicycle handle refused to stay straight, it insisted on swinging in the direction opposite my fall. Murphy or whoever wrote the law of how many times you fall when learning to cycle, I proved it true every 5 seconds, till I had bruises all over and my ego was hurt beyond repair. Three days of tenacity, and I could manage to hold the wheels steady for about 10 meters, and then the law had its way. Fourth day, I managed just about not to fall off, but driving in a straight line was still miles away. I was mostly cycling like a drunk, weeing from one end of the road to the other and at times when I knew the forces driving me to the ground were winning, I chose instead to land on my two left feet. A week into it, and I was under the delusion that I was master of the game.

Came back to Jodhpur and decided to try my skills on Baba’s bicycle. Problem, it had a hard rod, so climbing on to the fellow was a project it itself and then climbing down was another. (Just reread what I had written and trust me, that was not the intent, whatever you may think ) And the Jodhpur lanes, if you could call them that, full of gravel and sand. Anyway, as I said, I believed I had wings (even without red bull), and the supreme arrogance of a beginner. So went full swing, round and round across lanes at full speed. Second round and I was coming down a lane which was an inclined plane. Now physics was far away from mind and my speed tried to defy the still unfamiliar laws and of course, I slipped and went straight into the ditch. A visit to my favourite doctor where he had to tch tch and scrape off all sand and gravel stuck into my घायल legs. He probably wondered whether I did it deliberately to have an excuse to go see him every now and then. Did I? Even though I have now cycled for years, the art of holding my skirt down against the wind with one hand, while trying to keep the handle straight with the other and using my mouth to shoo away the traffic, it is tough to say the least. These days I prefer the one that you can pedal, but which doesn’t go anywhere.

I learnt to drive four wheels in my late 20s, during the forced relaxation period after popping out my baby. The Maruti driving school was good and while in the learner car, my beginner confidence was back with a big bang. Except that I lacked the ol’ fella called courage. We even bought a car, which was kept safely parked outside the home gathering dust while I went to office on a rickshaw. One day I was encouraged a lot, you can do it you know, Is there anything you can’t do? Now, I am a sucker for motivation. And my dear husband took me and the car to a road and literally pushed me to the driver seat. I knew the ABC yes, had read the user manual and done test drives but driving on Noida road alone for the first time with no safety break on the co-passenger seat was perilous. Anyway, started the car with shaking hands. First 20 times, it stalled. Wasn’t giving enough raise (Same problem with us salaried people, when we don’t get enough raise, we stall). So pushed the accelerator, created some noise and moved ahead a few feet, hit the first speed-breaker, and stalled again. After a few feet of this, I got the hang of ensuring, car didn’t shut down, (though the unnatural noises emanating from the sudden pushes and jerks did nothing to calm my nerves, remember I am talking about the car).  There after I started looking at the road and other vehicles around me and realised I had too many cars crowding me, I screamed, “what to do”, froze with horror, panicked, shut down the car in the middle of the road and came out trembling, I can’t do it. And refused to take the wheel after that. Thus ended my first day on road on a four wheeler.

Then came a day when again I was challenged, you can take out the car yourself from the narrow lane where we lived, why should we take a three-wheeler. We should take our car. No, too many cars around, I can’t handle reverse. Yes you can. Three times, she said it and I was persuaded. So I started the engine, reversed, bang, hit the car parked on the other side of the lane, changed gear and curved right, didn’t cut enough, scratched the car on the left, full body length, recovered, swerved right, I guess too much, went into the car on the right, and there I was, driving steadily down the lane. (Well, I did better than a certain someone I know who drove the car right into the boundary of the house across the lane) Poor car owners, never came to know what hit them, by the time I came back, I was already a pro. Once you have dented a car on Delhi roads, you are virtuoso.

This was a WagonR. Few years later, we went hunting for an SUV, as we upgraded ourselves from middle class to middle class+. ( And also I had a fervent desire to look down on some people and what better way to do it than sitting on the tall seats) The Tata sales guy was more than willing to let us test drive the Safari, as he handed over the keys to my husband, who forwarded them to me, his face paled. But his job was at stake, there was no way he could say no. (He asked to see my licence though). I could literally smell his fear as he watched me turn the keys in the ignition. Blimey, ‘Tis the end of the world if ladies started driving what has so forth been exclusively for the gentleman. Disgraced in my eyes, he survived, didn’t wet his pants, to give him due credit, but did not make the sale. At the end of the drive he meekly managed, मैडम आप तो अच्छा चला लेती हैं. We chose a Scorpio instead. I caused two accidents while driving the Scorpio. All because I was driving an SUV on Noida roads, quite unheard of in 2005. A fellow on a cycle came from the front, looked at me, opened his mouth and fell off as I passed by and looked down on him on the other side of the road. It was such fun to be the first to drive off as the light turned green, being the fastest on the road had its own charm. Then there were these two fellows on a bike, who went and hit an autorickshaw since they stared agape so hard at me, they forgot to look at the rest of the traffic. I enjoyed the attention unashamedly. The moral being that a woman driving an SUV with undisguised confidence is still a visual hallucination so people either give a wide berth or have accidents.

Car-rey Night

This is set in 2011 when I had just moved to Pune. Lacked the secondary necessities of life like a car. This is set in the pre-ola days, when people normally used buses or autos. Soon I realized that the अॉटो रिक्षाs in Pune have a major problem, their drivers, who don’t want to make a fast buck. Invariably, when you need an auto, 1) you will not find one, 2) if you find one, you will not find the driver, 3) if you find the driver, it will be his siesta time, 4) if it is not his siesta time, he will not want to go where you want to go. After a few days of facing this, I decided to take the easy way out- buy a car.
Let me not delve into the steps and the documentation it needed, that is for another time. Let me directly jump to the day the car was ready to be brought  home and the incidents surrounding. Before I go further I hope that the reader does not form an unfavorable opinion about my driving skills on this account. Let me state on record that I am a good driver.
I had an Airtel network – legacy from Delhi and the coverage in Pune was/is माशाअल्लाह!. And being new to the city, I did not know any routes. Being ultra smart, I took a few pages of google maps print that would help me find my way to the showroom and back home. 3G never worked on my phone in those times, hence the जुगाड. Took an auto to the showroom at around 5 pm.
The car wasn’t ready by that time. It took them another hour and a half to have it ready for takeoff. At around 7 pm, I finally got the car. It was already dusk, early January and I had no idea of the route back home. Great.
Started the car. As soon as I put it in the gear, it stopped. Repeat a few times. Finally I realized it wasn’t my old Scorpio hence I needed to press the accelerator more, else it would not pick up. (A few minutes later I also learnt,  unlike a Scorpio, you can’t raise a Linea in 2nd gear, and you can’t see the road beyond the car in front, sigh). Moved out from the showroom. I had memorized the route to certain extent. But the first intersection and I was hopelessly lost. The road the map told me to take was one way- and the wrong way at that. Within 5 minutes, I knew the maps were useless. Lesson no 1. Google maps for Pune did not tell you one way routes in 2011. I kept on driving in the general direction of where I thought my colony would be. I knew I had to reach the railway station, from where I knew the way home.
I stopped at one intersection and asked a fellow driver, भैया, स्टेशन के लिए किधर से? He tchched. अरे, आप तो बहुत दूर आ गए। ऐसा करो, red light से reverse लो, फिर आगे से left, फिर right and then I lost him.
A few minutes and meters later, asked another भैया. He also tchched me in a similar manner. I am sure they must be thinking in their minds- अगर रास्ता नही पता तो गाडी लेकर निकली क्यो है?
Not to forget the blinding headlight, horn blasting, omni-directional Pune traffic that makes you feel right in the center of apocalypse. Why did I ever choose a sedan?
A little ahead, the road diverged, and I thought I should verify before taking the road more traveled. So got down to check in the local shop. As I was asking him, he asked me, पीछे वाली गाडी आपकी है?  I turned around to see my car driving itself in the reverse. There was a slope and I had not put hand brakes :-). Lesson no 2. If you want to learn how to stop a moving car which is locked and moving steadily back, I am the woman. Thankfully it did not hit anything or anyone on the road.
By this time it was almost 8.30 in the night. I was sweating in the month of January and I was tired. And I was hungry and I wanted my mommy. The 12 km journey was a never ending one. Finally reached home without any more incidents at 9. Parked the car and drank a bottle full of water.
Writing this reminded me of the ten commandments I had drafted in my pre-blogging days and decided to add as epilogue.
1) left and right are just ‘मोह ‘ and ‘माया ‘. We think left, go right, turn left from the rightmost lane, give an indicator and not turn. वैराग्य के बाद मोह और माया में क्या रखा हैं .
2) we are enlightened souls and we enlighten our paths with full beam, low beam may misguide. If it troubles you, you are in need of enlightenment.
3) we understand the full circle of life. Sometimes we take that circle right in the middle of traffic., especially when we are on 2 wheelers. Brakes and screeches don’t sway us.
4) We prefer to take the road less-traveled when on 2-wheelers, like overtaking from the left or crossing the street in transverse at full speed. Breaking rear view mirrors and causing accidents are minor hazards but we always get our own way.
5) Our struggle with life begins as soon as we land on the road. Saving the potholes and protecting the manholes is the mission. Hence we drive in s-shaped curved paths. Impacted passerby’s are just collateral damage.
6) when on foot, we meditate. Sometimes we meditate on phone as well, so we cross roads when and where we want with total disregard to the rest of the material world. Sometimes we get deep into in right in the middle of the road, oblivious to the chaos we have created.
7) Honking feels like the temple bell, we ring it all the while. It gives us divine happiness.
8) we are not followers, why follow when you can be a leader. Our way to go is opposite to traffic, full beam, horns blazing and all of you can follow your own sedate path at your own risk.
9) we have true democratic thoughts, lane and speed no bar, treat every pedestrian and vehicle equally with the same amount of disrespect, road is my own property.
10) If you follow any other traffic rules, designed for mere mortals, we will give you a glance of pity and contempt and roll the mouth to express the deepest abuse in Marathi and you can’t even retaliate.