People are generally not grateful enough for their blessings. Far too often, you can find smug little jerks walking around with more blessings than they deserve, be it winning at lottery or getting the window seat on the bus. There is no excuse for their candor, except, I suppose, in those select cases where they never even knew they were blessed. In the summer of 2004, the people of Cochin, India came periliously close to mortal danger. There should have been wide spread panic, mass protests, and charities organized to help survivors, but in the annals of history, the danger went largely ignored by the blissful crowd.
I say summer of 2004, but I use the term ‘summer’ loosely, because firstly, I don’t really remember when in 2004 it actually happened, and secondly, because the exact season is not important. But it’s 2012 now; the world has matured enough to know the truth. In the summer of 2004, apparently without any concern for public safety, the Sub Regional Transport Office in Mattancherry, Kerala, issued me a driving license.
This brash license issuance wasn’t hushed up or swept under the carpet. The media just… didn’t care. For my part, I did my fair bit of shouting about this from the rooftops and yelling about it over the phone and scrawling “I have TOO got a driving license. So there! Pffft!!” on my T-shirts. Most friends refused to believe me, and others preferred to mentally block it out, like a bad dream. But eventually, all of them DID see me behind the wheel at some point or the other, and slowly, they got used to it; the overall consensus is that I have not run over nearly as many pedestrians or crashed into half as many fruit-stalls as they had anticipated.
My driving has, since, gotten so commonplace that nowadays most of my friends do not sweat like burst water-pipes when I tell them my license is valid till 2024. As they say, all’s well that do not end people prematurely… or something like that. But the point is, after 8 years of driving, I have gotten far better than anyone expected me to be; I’m very close to being tolerable these days. Take that, skeptics!!
But as you know, as of late 2010, I jumped ship and have re-rooted myself in the UAE desert. With no other reason than purposeful discrimination and unrelenting sanity, they have decided that my hard-earned license from India shouldn’t permit me to drive here. I was pre-warned about this policy in advance, and even before I entered the country, I had made up my mind that applying for a UAE driving license would be the first thing on my agenda. And true to my word (sort of), it WAS the first driving-related thing on my agenda.
Getting a license in UAE is not too difficult if you’re living in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But getting your license from the Sharjah officials is like wrestling barbecued meat away from alligators. I know people who have taken the test 20 times and failed; people who have taken years to pass. But my driving instructor told me that the process is simpler nowadays, and there is a non-zero chance of people getting a license on the first try. He then told me to keep my fingers crossed, but I really don’t think crossing fingers is going to help my driving one bit.
It took me a whale of an effort to convince authorities back home that I wouldn’t wipe out pedestrians on the sidewalks, roads and escalators – at least not on a whim. And now I have to manage that feat again. But that’s ok, I thought – hey, I’ve been driving on and off for years now, and I have the necessary road kills to… err… road skills to be confident anywhere, don’t I? I figured I’ll take some 10-12 driving classes to re-familiarize myself and adjust to UAE laws. I thought that after 12, my instructor would just give me a thumbs up and ask me to go ahead and apply for the test. At that point, I imagined I’d say I want to take another two classes, just to be on the safe side, impressing my instructor who would immediately offer his other thumb in the upright position.
Of course, I was also prepared to be wrong in my assessment – “Hey, maybe I’ll need a few more classes… don’t let’s be overconfident here, shall we?”, I’d say to myself, randomly, often during office meetings. And need a few more classes I did. Counting the classes I took two days ago, that’s a whopping 52 classes! Fifty two! Fifty two classes, each one of which was accompanied by the sounds of tiny bundles of cash silently weeping goodbye, never to be seen again. No one who I’ve talked to has taken more than 20 classes before their first attempt. So… congratulations are in order, I guess.
“Ok, so I’m going broke, but at least I’m getting my license” is the kind of naive self-deluding mantra that I could have hid behind until yesterday. Yesterday, at 11:40 a.m, that hope was pronounced dead when they failed me on my test. Despite my record breaking number of preparatory classes and imaginary thumbs up gestures graciously collected from everyone, I flunked with a capital F. It was just a five minute drive, but according to the authorities, I managed to break five cardinal rules in that time – that’s one every minute, for those keeping tabs.
The rules were not whimsical ones like “failed to tune radio to my favourite station”. No. They were the following juicy deuces -
- Reflex Road Movement
- Concentration during driving
- Controlling the vehicle during driving
- Changing lanes
- Keeping a safe distance from front vehicles
Now, I don’t even know what reflex road movement is. My best guess is that when you move on the road, they expect you to do it subconsciously/ reflexively… as in the movement should not be something you have consciously directed. I have to say that sounds difficult. Maybe my best bet would be to fake it; maybe look shocked and surprised when I take turns as if to say “Hey!! Where did THAT come from? I had no idea I was going to take that left turn. It must have been my reflexive road movement… which, as you can see, is pretty awesome”
I guess I was a bit nervous, and that came out like a lack of concentration during driving. But I am kinda miffed that they put up ‘controlling the vehicle during driving’ on the error list, because that is an all-encompassing statement, given that controlling the vehicle during driving is basically ‘driving’. On the plus side, this point seems to imply that I’m doing pretty ok controlling the vehicle while I’m NOT driving.
I was also marked down on how I changed lanes, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what I did wrong. I checked the mirrors, did the shoulder check, and switched lanes slowly, as I am supposed to. I don’t recall any issue at this stage, so I am forced to assume somewhere along the way, I passed out and was driving entirely via subconscious reflexive actions, and I just don’t remember all the errors I made.
But the last one takes the cake, in my opinion. I have heard criticisms now and then about me not keeping a safe distance from the vehicles in front – heard them back in India, heard them from my driving instructor, and nobody was quite surprised to see this on the error list. Except me, that is. Now, I don’t have an unrealistically smug opinion of my own driving skills, and I normally would have taken this point in its stride… were it not for the fact that during this particular five minute test, I was driving more or less the only car on the road; there were no cars in front of me for maybe a kilometer. At least none I could see.
Usually, when I fail at something, I am able to understand what I need to focus on to get through at the next attempt. In this case, there is far more ambiguity than I would have liked to find. But I will keep trying. Again. And again. And again. And there’s only one driving force that makes me do this.