Monday, July 24, 2006


I got my Learner's Licence todayeeeeeeeeeee!

But quick backtrack: Day Eleven, I was introduced to the reverse gear -- for all of fifteen seconds -- but wottheheck. Day Twelve, three flyovers. Day Thirteen -- i.e., today -- two flyovers and some heavy traffic.

Some of you may be surprised to hear that I've only JUST got an LL. Well ... when I signed up at the Seven Star Driving School I asked about the need for a licence and they pooh-poohed the very idea. But of course, the truth is, everyone on the roads is SUPPOSED to have a licence and basically I've been driving around on the wrong side of the law all these days. I tried not to think about this too much, once I knew, which was after a week's lessons.

The School offers to procure licences for their students for the modest sum of 1700 roops(around $35), which works out to just over three times the actual cost of the licence. So I didn't feel like forking over the blue notes. Believe me, I didn't feel like spending a morning sweating at the RTO either -- I have a middle-class person's neurotic dread of going anywhere near Govt. offices of any kind, and in particular the kind that issues licences. But one of the results of learning to drive, I told myself, was having to face up to such gruesome realities as standing in queues and jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops placed between licence-seekers and the seek-object.

I have an errand-person whom I shall refer to as R who fetches and delivers stuff for me. I had despatched him a week ago to get me the registration form. It's been lying on my desk all this while, unfilled until just last night. I had to use the poison-tipped cat-o'nine-tails to force myself to crank up my muscles and get the thing filled -- yes, filling forms is one amongst the many ordinary everyday tasks that I absolutely abhorr. I managed to put off sticking on the photographs till I was in my taxi and en route to the RTO (I had taken the gluestick with me in order to perform this task. And was carrying my passport and voter ID card in a little pouch strung from around my neck -- a black pouch, which was hard to see against the black-and-white kurta I was wearing -- in order to foil the pickpockets who might want to rummage in my backpack). I located the photocopies of my passport and I.D. card at the very last minute before I left. It is ever thus that I approach all my interactions with Govt. offices -- in a grey, bumbling fog of unwillingness, resulting in NOT getting everything together and thus having to do whatever it is at least twice over.

R had not only got the form for me, but he'd also discovered there was a written test to be done. No-one I'd spoken to about getting a licence had mentioned the need to do a test for the LL. When I asked R about the test, and where I would get the information I'd need in order to do it he said, as if it were as obvious as the sky overhead, that all I needed was to know how to identify road signals. "That's all they ask about," he said, "road signs".

Ahhhh well. I'd already been-there-done-that, hadn't I? In Vermont? And failed?

I went on-line, found the Regional Transport Office's web-site and located their manual. That was last week. I glanced through the material, finding it both depressingly familiar and also, confusingly NOT: for instance, it was a surprise to see that there were separate road signs prohibiting (a) Handcarts (b) Bullock-carts (c) Tongas (horsedrawn carts) and (d) Bullock- AND Handcarts. What about Camelcarts? Elephantcarts? Not to mention Autorickshaws, Tempos, Auto-tempos, Tricycles, Hyundais ...

However, I could not force myself to read through the whole manual. Reading the Vermont manual was as much as I could do in one life. I kept putting off the RTO visit until this weekend, when I realized I might put it off forever unless I forced myself to go. And when I got there, after 2 whole weeks of procrastination ... I found it was quite painless after all.

Though it was 10 in the morning, the endless stifling queues had not yet formed: there were only five or six bodies between me and the front of the counter -- though of course those bodies could not dream of forming a line, but had to bunch up like puppies in a basket, all in one spot. But at least there weren't dozens of counters, and after the first one there was the doctor's examination which consisted of going to a small room in which sat three youngish men, one of them in dazzling white. He was the doctor. He gave me a penetrating glance and said, "Can you see? -- good -- Can you hear? -- good --" whereupon he ticked off what ever he had to tick off on the form, stamped it with his stamp and sent me back to first counter.

Then I paid my fees and proceeded to the Hall of Examination. Prior to entering the hall, I asked for and was given a cog-sheet of road signs to study -- they had been reduced to the size of miniatures but I sat on the seats outside the Hall and did my best to commit the tiny symbols to memory anyway.

The hall was semi-filled with young lizard-types concentrating hard on their "papers" -- and soon I was one amongst them. Shades of Vermont -- ah the multiple-choice questions again! Ah the laminated question-sheet! -- but I took my time filling in the squares in the answer sheet and ... half a day later, I got my licence. I am now a bona fide learner, yayyy!

They didn't tell me how many of the answers I got right or anything. And the man who handed out the examination sheet, before I sat down to do the exam, insisted that I HAD to make an entry under "identifying mark" on my form. I don't have any blemishes strong enough to be worth recording so I asked him to say what would be acceptable. He looked up with an embarrassed expression (it is, after all, rude to stare, particularly at females) but nevertheless located a tiny spot, he said, on my right temple. So there it is, on the record, now and forever.

Identifiable and enabled to LEARN TO DRIVE a light motor vehicle on the roads of India, for the next six months ... woohoo! It's just a bit of paper with my photograph stuck onto it -- one page of the form I filled the night before -- and I'll have to be sure to keep it safe between plastic for however long it takes before I am confident enough to apply for the permanent licence.

Also, for those of you who plan to follow in my footsteps, let it be known: the test is NOT exclusively about road-signs!! It's also about such imponderables as whether a pillion rider must (A) wear a helmet (B) wear a scarf (C) wave to his/her friends and relatives (D) pick his/her nose; the reasons why a driver should be especially careful while approaching pedestrians at a zebra crossing when it is raining; the proper etiquette for motorists entering a roundabout. No doubt the answers to these and other questions are in the manual, but since I didn't read it, I can't be sure! I replied as best I could, but as I knew from bitter experience, that doesn't really help with multiple choice questions. I really wasn't sure, when I returned at 3.30 pm, whether or not I'd get the LL.

Let it also be known that the man who handed me the above-mentioned cog sheet with the miniature symbols, confirmed what R had told me, i.e., that the road signs were all that I needed to know for the test. Well, he was wrong, and so is anyone who tries to tell you that you won't need any preparation for the test.

I have two more lessons at Seven Star. Today, being a Tuesday, is their day of rest. I'm wondering what challenges remain in the final hours of instruction. My guess is: parking.


The Visitor said...


The adventure of getting things done in a government office! I think many an epic can be written on that topic alone. lol

One feels grateful to any GO (govt official) if he so much as condescends to clarify any doubt! One should be happy, if one is able to complete a task in one visit.
My experience in this regard show that there are multiple hoops/blocks to be traversed before you get you job done:

a. Identify the section/person who handles the task
b. Being able to meet the concerned (really unconcerned) person. If you go as soon as the office starts, he has not yet arrived; if you go around 11.30, he has gone for chai; if you go after 3.00 he has already left for the day. On the other hand if you persevere and wait for the person from morning 10.00, you are finally told at around 2.00 thta he is on leave.

b. Getting the right forms
c. Filling them rightly
d. Submission is the least problem
e. finally tracking your application or whatever, it seems that applications just vanish into thin air, after leaving a desk and reaching the intended desk.

When you finally get the job done, it seems a miracle

Makes me nostalgic for my grad. student days, when I used to run around the university office to get my monthly scholarship.


Marginalien said...

wow -- THAT was quick, Visitor! I had barely finished posting the revised version of my post when ... whooops! A comment! Actually, you probably responded to the FIRST revision. Last night, when I wrote the post, the lights failed just as I got to the end, and I had to conclude it in a hurry, before the UPS battery died. This morning I settled into correcting the proofing errors which are my cross to bear whenever I write ANYTHING -- some sneak in regardless, so I don't even try to weed them out (such as the word "spam" instead of "spasm" in my previous post) I only go after the more annoying ones -- from the truncated night-post, then added to my description of events, which inevitably resulted in YET MORE errors. So I had just finished publishing the revision of the revision when ... I found your comment!

Thanks, and yes, you have certainly caught the flavour of a visit to our revered GOI's offices.

30in2005 said...

I did the whole learning to drive when I lived in Delhi. My borther even convinced me to pay for him so we could learn together. I got as far as learners licence and that one trip to the RTO made me give up. My brother of course is whizzing around like a F1 racer!

I have to get teh guts to start the process here in London. It's long, legal and full of forms. I'm exhausted before I start but thank you for all the inpiration M!

Marginalien said...

Glad to offer inspiration, 30in2005 -- not a position I often find myself in ...

Actually, it was quite a surprise to find that the RTO wasn't the first circle of the inferno -- it may have been on account of getting there early in the day (even though 10 a.m. is hardly early)or perhaps on account of acquiring Grey Hair status. It's a big thing, in this sector of the galaxy, to be female and yet not be given the fresh-meat-walking treatment. Such an immense relief. I actively lean into my role as One Tough Turkey, by walking taller, squaring my shoulders and not flinching when the lizardly ones start their wriggling in order to get ahead in the queue. I just push em aside and stand my ground. They twitch in surprise and do the thing with the eyes (you know -- like on Animal Planet -- the way dog-faced baboon males challenge one another by pumping their eye-brows and flicking their eyelids up and down to intimidate one another) but since I don't look in their direction, their missiles don't reach me. Of course, I also use defensive coloration (black, browns, grays -- never reds or yellows) and full-body armour (nothing sleeveless or plunging and always with a dupatta) whenever I know I'm going to be in a public space ... as I see it, public spaces here are like war-zones so it's only logical to be appropriately dressed.