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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Driven for a licence

To have driven in India for the past twenty years weaving through obstacles of the living and the non living kind in battered roads had made me supremely confident ,
if I could drive there I could do it anywhere was the message that was etched into my subconscious self .
If the subconscious self could eat its words it would have done so by now,
in fact it would have swallowed it in one go .

United Arab Emirates the country with roads as smooth as Hema Malinis cheek
( sorry Laloo I borrowed that ) ,and as broad as possible as a sumo wrestlers posterior with three or more tracks on either side and tree laden dividers made me amused ,
driving here would be a pleasure and getting a licence would just be a formality for a veteran like me .
( I was like a Vietnam returned marine itching for a street fight ."hey guys you wanna punch me ...comon .....")
I was warned by people who knew better not to take it lightly ,
"getting a licence here ,Hari ,is a big thing ,something like winning a lottery so dont be overconfident "they would warn
I just gave them a bemused all knowing smile .just you wait .

So I opened a file in the traffic department and joined the Emirates driving school paying a fat fee for the five day mandatory theory classes .
I never knew so much matter was there in trafficania ,
by the end of the high tech theory classes taken by American accented teachers with the most modern touch screen computers I felt myself enlightened .( now I know how the Gautama would have felt as he left the Bodhi tree )

We had a multiple choice exam on the last day and I passed it,
strangely about 30 % failed !
this was my first surprise as I was then thinking all this was just a formality .
Then we had to take private classes from driving instructors who charged forty dirhams per hour .
The first few classes were for the reverse parking test where one had to make acurate reverse within an L and not hit the sides all looking only in the mirrors .

My Ustad Mr. M an unadulterated mallu from Malappuram told me not to even try to crane my neck as people in India are tempted to do !!!
well well where was his highness from ? I thought
He had a sly smile when I told I had driven for twenty years in India
"Sad ,wish you hadnt , now it is all the more difficult for you to get a licence here ! "
"why so ? dear Ustaad ?"
" well we have to delearn you from all bad habits "
That sounded to me like delousing ,I felt unclean and literally picked nits
"what makes you think we are so bad out there ? can you drive there ?
"no no I cant and thank God for that ,doctor saar ,here it is different and you have to forget all that you did there, if you want to get a licence ."
Demeaning statements I fumed how dare he ? and he calls himself an Indian !
my patriotic spirit was flaring away .
People like these go away for a few years and become brown sahibs ,I would never be like that Bharath is the best .

So I started going for class M .... made me drive to the traffic park where one learnt reverse parking ,
Along the way he used to swear at me for careening off the lanes ,putting brakes in roundabouts ,not going fast enough ,daring to touch the horn ,looking back , not looking at the mirror and millions of other mistakes .
"doctor please here you have to drive looking at the mirror " he said
"True Most of the drivers I find are doing just that preening themselves or talking into thier mobiles ! "I would retort .
"Please dont argue they have the licence to do that and more ,while you dont have one ....."
"Have I the licence to talk to you at least ?" I would attempt at satire .
He would let out a sigh !exasperated.
Thus I laboured trying to perfect my L to perfection and finally the D day came when I joined a group of tense learners to perform my skill ,
it was dusk by the time I got the chance and my confidence returned as I got through in a jiffy ,
I had I told you so look on my face after that .
I wasnt worried about the road test to follow after a month .

Alas I never knew this would be my nemesis ,
My ustad now handed me over to his friend S..... as he had some urgent work in Naddu .

S ...too was a suddha mallu again from malappuram( some destiny indeed .....)

Breaking news ...mallapuram mallus drive a mallu in the desert

and to add to my woes ustadji was an amateur singer ,he was noted ( so he said ) for his mopla songs .
He said he rendered them with a finesse rarely seen these days .
and so we began the golden era of Ustad sunk in his songs and me driving his chariot ,
it was great fun as I too enjoyed some of his specialities though many were off key and made me drive off to the road side ,
Ustad was a good instructor though ,he never lost his bearing even in high pitch or when lost in rare ragas,he would command between the lines ,left ,turn right ,seedha ,issa ,urja ( the last two in Arabic which meant right and u turn ,I learnt this after making confused stops at roundabouts getting angry blares from drivers who werent amused by my antics )
"my dear S..... I do enjoy your singing but give me the commands in lingos I can comrehend please ,are we not from the same soil ?" I appealed to his good self .
"my dear doctor "the Ghana Gandarvan commented "the police officer will talk in Arabic sometimes so Iam making you get used to it ,"
well this was bad news for me
I never knew I had to learn a language for driving in this country !
our days went in music and ( not dancing ) driving and with time my wallet became lighter and lighter .
Finally the day of judgement arrived ,early in the morning I climbed into a bus like a Bukra laden with potential drivers following the test car for the coveted licence ,
one would get down from the bus when ones turn came ,go to the car and enter with a salaam malle kum to the surprisingly pleasant and respectful cops inside and would adjust the seat ,mirror ,put on the belt and release the handbrake and ease in the automatic gear to driving mode .
All these were practised steps choreographed by our instructors .
The cops would then ask us to drive through small roads or big ones giving us instructions to stop or park luring us into traps .
sitting in the bus like second world war POWs I saw many walking away from the car with forlorn looks while the rare few would give a jig with thumbs raised.
My turn came ,and I got in informing them I was so and so from T...... hospital ,
the cop next to me was impressed ,so thought I ,as he asked me about his persistent dyspepsia ,I told him all about gastric emanations and pepticised ulcerations adding that high profile and stressful jobs like what they were doing were potential timebombs for stomachs and all that was required was more tender loving care to thier tummies in miniscule medical detail while I drove with a smile on my face,
the cop was grateful as he made me stop
I got out waiting for the sure victory sign but was bambazooled when the cop in the back who probably had a healthy gut glared at me and told me "you failed "and sped off !
U Tu Brutus !!!!!
pretty ungrateful to a healer !!!
and what all I taught you !!!
the secrets of matirea medica in a capsule .......GRRRRR
I fumed and fretted and was totally depressed ,
I just couldnt believe it
why did I fail ?
slowly it sunk into me getting a licence here wasnt going to be easy
The second yuga of more days with the singing ustad and his mopla songs began .
He became braver and started bringing his recorded casettes for my listening choice
(weep weep )and karaoke to sing along ,I took revenge by joining him and it was a real party .
All the old malayalam music directors like Baburaj came alive in the streets of Al Ain ,I dont know what they did in thier graves but thier blessed souls probably wanted more of the torture for I promptly flunked my second test too !

This was shameful and I walked these days with a permanent slouch ,
I viewed drivers drivng in thier swank cars green with envy and thought I would never do that here !
All I needed for the atmosphere was a beard which I didnt have because one wouldnt grow on my pretty face
S... had no problem in this department as he had a luxurious foliage as you can see here ........
Finally with very little confidence I approached the third test ( moonam pakkam ) ,
but once in the seat I felt freed of all tension ,i was in suspended animation ,in a yogic trance of not bothering about results and drove with pleasure ,by now two to three months of driving had made me a natural here
( I wonder how I will drive in India now ,as the drivers side is in the opposite )
the cops too were preoccupied and allowed me to drive for long ,suddenly they asked me to stop ,gave me a smile and declared you passed .
Golden words to be engraved in the annals of my history if written .
(please note my biographer )
ustad was so thrilled and rewarded me with a song me
He said this shouldnt stop you listeneing to my songs ....

dear folks so this is the story of my being driven for a licence
and you know what , now I too can say .....

Hey u guys in India . u call that driving !!!!!



Dr. Prasanth Pillai said...

Great storytelling Hari... and congrats on securing your drivers license after all the toil! - Prasanth.

Nebu said...

Wish they gave driving lessons like that, no, not the song/singing part,and tested prospective drivers like that in India too.

harimohan said...

tks prasanth and nebu

DR.HEM 4 LIFE said...

one thing which is worrying me is how you could forget those bad things learnt in our mother country...atleast you should have shown some patriotism in this Hari..very sad.anyways..congrats.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

i am in your same boat here! i have driven pretty well in india ! and am driving here too with my international license, which is getting expired next month. now have to go for a written test and road test. i hear its not easy! beat of luck to me! your story there was interesting to read! but hopefully i will pass the first time!
congrats on your drivers license! once you get used to driving in roads as smooth as hema malini's cheek , i suppose its going to be hard driving back at home!:)enjoy driving!

raj said...

to drive on roads as smooth as hema malini's cheek one need not have to be a dharam ji in uae; stick to your basic driving techniques,observe the traffic rules and anticipate the mistakes of other road users..seldom you will end up dialing the emergency number!! the driving instructors in this part of the world 'ustad' seem versatile just the way the 'barbers' in india used to be; they can swiftly shift the gear of their conversation from politics to 'peedanam'and from celluloid to scotch whisky!

harimohan said...

tks hemakumar,
bad here would make one sad i think,
yes nandhitha all the best iam sure you will get first try ,
raju again defensive

Maddy said...


yup - we have similar stories on this. I have done tests in bangalore, saudi, usa and uk, the worst was UK which was horribly tough to pass. took me two attempts!! i had promised to write about that sometime...

but what got me smiling was the sumo wrestlers posterior with 3 or more tracks on it...that was ample indeed...

Sridevi said...

Surprised to know there are other talented people dejected by the road test. Congratulations on your musical coaching and grand success.Very amused by your graphical descriptions.
I was cursing the celestial bodies for my hopeless driving tests. My 5 years driving in Kenya needed sheer will power and tongue muscle. But in Canada, after 2 coaches, minus a lot of dollars($30 for an hour) and unearthly hours of unlearning, i failed 4 attempts. Now waiting for the snow to clear...

harimohan said...

tks sreedevi that is news to me that in canada too it is like this ,wishing you loads of luck .

Anonymous said...

hi hari uncle,

Fantastic blog site.Your narrative skills are really amazing!Even i didnt realise that getting through the driving experience could be described so interestingly...though i have my own stories for that experience as well.You can bet i am gonna be a regular visitor here. I will be looking forward to reading your burj al arab experience.

Take care

Dr.Thomas Antony said...

Dear Hari,

First of all, my congratulations for securing a driving license in the Emirates. Sorry, I didn't find time to read this blog earlier. Saved this on to the pc and could read it only today. Fantastic story-telling. I had heard it is difficult to get a driving license in the UAE; nice to read a first-hand-experience. And there are surprising tangentials lifting the reader off ground (Sumo wrestler, bodhi tree, WW2 POW, You too Brutus! moonnam pakkam, singing and driving, yogic trance…), and bringing him back to reality (craning through the window, slouched walk..)

The Arabic words you have used are a bit strange to me. Here it is yessar for left and yameen is right. Urja (here it is 'urga" pronounced as "arga") may be: return or turn back. As you might have met Arabs of different nationalities there, you would have found out that there is confusion about the pronunciation of G, as in English. The g in 'gem' and 'get' are pronounced differently. Jameel in Libya becomes Gameel in Egypt and Yemen.

In Libya, it was easy for us doctors to get driving license. They saw my Indian driving license, took a snap of mine at the police station and a laminated license valid for 10 years was given to me (talking about 1992). The license is linked to the license-plate number of the car you own/drive. It is also printed in the driving license. In Yemen, I think Indian license is just what is required, I am not sure. I don't own a car. By God's Grace, we get company vehicle to go downtown.

And finally, I think this article of yours should have gone to the 'edit-page' of some newspaper. A candid story, with quite a few seeds of lateral thinking…


Thomas Antony
28th Jan, 08

harimohan said...

dear maddy,roshni and t antony
how i can i tk u all for making my evening ,i just read it late ,makes me feel iam not a great bore after all with my blog !!

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