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  • Ninay Desai

Driving Me Crazy: How I Learnt to Drive

Learning to drive is considered a rite of passage into adulthood. In my case, it was a voyage that began in 2005 and culminated in 2014. That’s nine years. (I’m beginning to a see a pattern here in my posts about learning stuff. And it isn’t making me look good! You would agree if you’ve read my blog about knitting.)


Anyway, let’s return to the subject at hand. I decided to learn driving when I quit my first workplace which was located in New Delhi. When interviewing for the new job, I was informed that headquarters of this soon-to-be-launched news channel would be in Noida (a city adjoining Delhi, but in a different state). Public transport that crossed the state border were few and far between. I thought that it would be best to drive the 15 kilometres between our home in Delhi and my new office.


ATTEMPT NUMBER ONE


And so, I enrolled at a driving school. The dual clutch and brake cars (which have additional clutch and brake pedals installed for the instructor sitting beside you) that most driving schools use, give learners a false sense of competence and thereby, confidence.


Having bathed in the reflected glory of driving one of these dual clutch and brake cars, I decided to take my father’s car out for a little drive on a sleepy Sunday morning on the verdant roads around Lodhi Estate. My brother accompanied me. There was no traffic on the roads. Not even a cyclist. After 20 minutes of driving around on straight roads with no traffic, I decided to test my skills at making a u-turn.


That attempt ended in me crashing into the divider. Confusing the brake for the accelerator, I slammed into the concrete divider at such a speed that the car ended up perched on the divider about a foot and a half above the surface of the road (As a side note, I think this reflects very well on the construction quality of said dividers). The front bumper had split in half and the front axle broken. I felt awful even though my father remained calm. I assuaged my guilt by paying for the repairs but the accident shattered my confidence. I didn’t get behind the wheel of a car for more than eight years post that accident.


WAITING FOR OFFICE CABS


Not being able to drive in Delhi was a pain. It meant haggling with auto-drivers who would act like they were doing me a favour by charging a duke’s ransom for ferrying me across the state border. As for getting back home, I would usually finish work at 9.30 pm which was too late to take public transport, if you could help it. As a result, I would wait for an hour to take the office cab at 10.30 pm.


A couple of years later, I moved to Noida. Now, I lived 5 kilometres away from my workplace but was still dependent on office cabs or public transport. Except for the times when a colleague or friend would drop me home. Years passed, and my frustration at not being able to drive grew but never enough to override my fear of causing another accident.


THE STORY OF THREE FRIDAYS


But this, dear reader, is a story of transformation. It began on a Friday evening. I was at work, eating my dinner at the coffee shop during my 8-9 pm break. I looked up from the book I was reading, leaned back on the couch and looked out through the glass wall, at the night sky. It was a breezy night and the breeze appeared to make the stars twinkle more than usual. A thought floated into my mind, unassisted – I must learn to drive.


Now comes the part that makes me sound like a card-carrying member of some cult, but I beg your indulgence. I had the same thought come to me, in a completely spontaneous manner, three weeks in a row. Always on a Friday, while I was eating dinner between 8-9 pm, seated in the same coffee shop in my office building.


The Saturday after the third Friday was my weekly off. I woke up around 9.30 that morning. My mother, who was visiting us, and my brother were having a tete-a-tete over cups of tea on our sunny terrace. I walked out in my pyjamas and tousled hair and said, “Let’s go to a second-hand car showroom. I want to buy a car.” My mother asked if I intended taking a shower or wanted to go there in my pyjamas? Ha ha. Maybe, she thought that a shower would wake me up to the harsh truth that I couldn’t drive.


It took buying my first car, a red Chevrolet Spark (decorated here with ribbons), for me to learn driving.

Later that morning, we were at the car showroom. My eyes fell on a bright red Chevrolet Spark and I asked the staff about it. It was perfect in all respects. I whispered to my mother that I wanted to buy it. She sensibly asked me to see a few more cars before making up my mind. I followed her advice but half an hour later, I handed over a cheque to buy the red Spark. Since I couldn’t drive, my brother had to drive my first car home.


HAVE CAR, CAN’T DRIVE


A week or so went by and my car had been sitting in its parking space doing pretty much nothing when my mother and I decided to go shopping one day. I suggested that, instead of calling a cab, we would ask around if someone knew a driver who could drive us in my car. After a few phone calls and a serendipitous turn or two, we found a great driver, Dinesh. He also happened to live close by. As he drove us home after our day of shopping, I asked if he could teach me how to drive. Luckily for me, he agreed.


DRIVING LESSONS


Dinesh was a great instructor and after the first ten days of the basic driving stuff, he took me into crowded areas with all possible modes of transportation plying on the same road – buses, cars, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, cycles, bullock carts and the odd cow who refused to transport itself out of your path. Take it from me, if that doesn’t teach you how to use a clutch and a brake, nothing will.


In the last few days of my driving lessons, I started verbalising what I saw (in terms of traffic, turns, road signs, etc) as well as how I intended to deal with them (such as changing lanes or turning on the indicator 50 metres before a turn). This helped because it gave me a sense of control and I found it soothing. I’m quite sure, so did my instructor!


DRIVING ON MY OWN


My initial days of driving to my workplace (five kilometres from home) and back were an exercise in courage. As any novice driver knows, this included mapping out routes in my mind to prepare mentally for all the turns I would need to make. Also, if I forgot to switch on the car’s air-conditioning, close the window or switch on the music, that’s the way it would stay until I arrived at my destination. Talk about single-minded focus!


DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL


The yellow van that crashed into my car was used for transporting gas cylinders.

Eventually, I grew more confident in my driving and could venture out to the nearby markets. Then one day, as I was exiting the gates of my housing sector, a small van, driving on the wrong side of the road, crashed into my car. It was a serious crash. One side of the bonnet was smashed, the front bumper broken and there was a telltale iridescent stain growing under my car signalling the leakage of transmission fluid. I stepped out and surveyed the damage. I was livid and called the police. I was at the police station for over seven hours along with a friend and my brother to get the van's owner to pay me compensation for the damage done. I even threatened to file a case against him. He told me that it would be his twenty-third brush with the courts.



I had to leave my damaged car in the compound of the police station that night. It was a depressing night. I felt like a failure for having crashed my car. After several hours of angst-filled overthinking and cursing the fates, I fell into a slumber.

My car, a red Chevrolet Spark, damaged by a head-on collision with a van made of solid iron, driving on the wrong side of the road..

The next day, things were brighter. The owner of the van agreed to pay if I withdrew my complaint. An hour or two later, my brother and I dropped off my damaged vehicle at a workshop owned by a friend of my brother’s. His team of mechanics did a marvellous job of repairing my car for a fraction of what the Chevrolet workshop had quoted.


A RENEWED SPARK


My red Chevrolet Spark good as new after repairs.
Good as new!

This time, I didn’t let the shock of being in an accident get to me. Two days later, I got behind the wheel and drove my car home. It was good as new and it convinced me that all was well. And so, I kept driving. Three years later, I bought my first ‘new’ car. My red Chevrolet Spark may have been second hand, but to me it will forever be numero uno!

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8 Comments


Guest
Dec 17, 2023

As the dad mentioned in the post, I can vouch for the fact that her experiences have made her a good driver, ever conscious of safety. I even travel in her car with her driving!

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Dec 17, 2023
Replying to

Ha ha... This is as good a recommendation as I can get!😀 Thanks!

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Guest
Nov 03, 2023

Kudos to you that you learnt driving in Delhi and that shows anytime is a good time to learn anything in life …. inspiring piece !

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Nov 12, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for reading. Couldn't agree more with you... anytime is a good time to learn anything in life.

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Archana Pandey
Archana Pandey
Oct 11, 2023

I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. It was a wonderful write-up as the way you penned down your journey of learning driving, any one can relate to that, at the same time it's so motivational in an interesting manner. *If you genuinely want to achieve something, you will try and if you try genuinely, you will achieve.*

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Oct 11, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for the compliments and for reading, Archana! I see that you cleaved straight to the heart of the piece. It had hoped that this post would serve to encourage all those who want to learn to drive but haven't been able to pluck up the courage. Cheers to them all and to you!

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Guest
Oct 11, 2023

Really well written and Humorous!

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Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Oct 11, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your appreciation. Glad you found it funny!

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