Monday, September 18, 2006

New! Improved!

So I'm back at it -- learning to drive, that is. If you will recall, the previous session ended with me going to Madras/Kodai/Madras. After two weeks of being there I had naturally forgotten whatever skills/confidence/abilities I had gained prior to being away ... BUT I did get myself a learner's licence in the process and that's what counts.

On account of the LL I am now enabled to enrol at a highly superior School for Would-Be drivers, called the INSTITUTE OF DRIVING TRAINING & RESEARCH, at Sarai Kale Khan, between the Ring Road and ISBT. Their telephone number is: 24355003 and 24353541. I read about the place in CITY LIMITS magazine at the time I was reviewing driving school options back in July, and it sounded thrilling, so I went right over. They had just opened shop and were still setting up their systems, but they also said they required their trainees to have Learner's Licences. Whereas the 7 Star Academy didn't require ANYTHING except a willing student with functioning hands, feet, eyes and fees.

Getting the LL wasn't in any real sense connected to the 7 Star academy, but the sheer adrenalin generated by driving around the streets was enough to get me to the RTO and back, armed with the bit of paper and licencing stamp that a learner needs.

So last Friday, after weeks of lying around THINKING about returning to the Instt, I finally flippered over (in a taxi, what else) and -- ta-daaa! -- in fifteen minutes, I was all signed up and registered. As it happened, I had chosen an ideal moment to go there, coz a new session was just about to start and I could enter my first class the next day. The course is constructed out of three types of lessons: Theory, Practicals and Simulation. There are 4 Theory classes conducted only on Saturdays, lasting an hour.

At the first class, there were about 20 other students and I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only senior citizen -- there was one lady who was certainly older than me and at least a couple of men who were perhaps retirees. The majority of the students were men, in the 20/30 age-range. Everyone looked all tight and shiny, which is not a surprise considering the fees start at -- well, not sure what the lowest is, but I paid Rs 3500 for an LMV (yes, you got it: Light Motor Vehicle), non-commercial. We sat in a bright, air-conditioned room and had an ex-army man as an instructor. He was very good, coz he was smart, confident and clear. I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt inclined to salute at the end of the lesson! One tiny drawback: the instruction was in Hindi and since I was the only English speaker I felt a bit unwilling to make a big deal of wanting full translations. So comprehension for me was at the 85% level -- but I asked him to take it a little slower than usual, and he did. And all the on-screen data was in English, so that helped too.

He had a drop-down screen on which to project a series of slides with text n pix about the main features of a car, gave us a quick tour of what an engine is and how it runs. Then we were shown an actual car (taken outside, i.e.), its various intimate bits were identified and we were given a tour of what our daily maintenance routines should be. The institute occupies a considerable area (the pamphlet I have relates to their other location, which appears to be bigger, at Wazirabad Rd), and includes a dinky track complete with road-signs and traffic lights and of course cars. It is managed by Maruti Udyog Limited on behalf of the Government's Dept. of Transport, so it looks kind of official and substantial.

There is a pleasing can-do atmosphere which, as we all know, is somewhat rare in these delhirious sectors of the galaxy -- and I adore miniature tracks! -- I've always wanted, for instance, to play mini-golf at malls in the US, not because I like golf but because the course looks SO CUTE. Anyway. So that was Saturday. On Sunday (yes! No rest for the illiterati) I had my first simulator session and today I had my second. The simulator is a small cabin rather like those cabins you see in video-game parlours, but instead of death-ray-canons and planet-annihilators, they have a standard Maruti-style dashboard and three monitors laid out so that the student's visual field while seated at the wheel is of a landscape which moves as the simulation proceeds. Kind of kewl ...

Of course, the first day, there were mouse problems (in order to get the program started the instructor sits beside the student, on a chair placed just outside the cabin and navigates through an on-screen menu of options) so I had a somewhat uncertain session of learning when and how to press clutch, brake n accelerator. But ... whatever. The sim is really only a kind of acclimatizer, I suppose and considering that I've actually been-there-done-that on Delhirium's Delhicious roads, it was mild entertainment rather than Serious Instruction. At today's session, the mouse worked fine, but I was suddenly zooming off at speeds of 80 km and above, so that was a bit hair-raising! But there was no other traffic (not even bugs on the windscreen!) and the scenery was Temperate Latitudes Placid -- green lawns on either side, fir trees, blue sky.

My first Practical is on Wednesday. I assume this means driving around the dinky track in a Real Car. That should be fun -- all the joys of driving, but without the stoats, weasels and combine harvesters of real roads!! Ah bliss.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My friend Anvar sent me e-mail with the text of Kiran Nagarkar's Op-Ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on September 11th this year. It appears alongside pieces by four other international authors, commemmorating the day and while also reminding us of the multi-facetedness of terror. Definitely RR(recommended reading).

If you're wondering why the link takes you to a site other than the NYT it's coz a direct link requires registration.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Once in a while, I review a book that has a style so strong that it affects the way I write the review. Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman was one such book for me. As you'll see if you read the review, I'm not sure what exactly I thought of the book, but I certainly enjoyed writing my comment about it!

And yes, I've been silent for rather too long. I could claim that last weekend was so busy that it's taken me all week to get over it ... But it was busy-NICE, so that doesn't really count as an excuse. A friend from Bombay days, i.e., this is really ancient history, covering the period 1980-82, was visiting from France, with his partner. My friend's name is CLAUDE SEVESTRE, and he taught me French at the Alliance Francaise all those many years ago. We've met a couple of times since then, but of course, there are always huge gaps of time during which we keep in sporadic touch. But the Internet makes much possible that didn't used to be -- such as being able to find people who have changed address many times and who travel around a lot, which is true of both C and moi.

He and is friend Fabrice (spelling?!) had already spent three weeks (I think) in India and were on the way out. We'd made this date to meet several months ago, so it was something I was looking forward to and made a special effort to be in Delhi for. It was very pleasant to catch up with news. They were here from Friday night to Sunday night, and stayed at the nearby and highly convenient (for me! My hostessing skills are spottier than a leopard with measles) Hotel Savoia. On Sunday, we spent the day doing something unusually energetic for me -- i.e., we hired an a/c taxi and drove out to NEEMRANA, had lunch there and drove back -- all very comfortable and easy to do. I've been to Neemrana once before and found it quite magical, so I knew it would be fun. It's one of those buildings that never stops growing, rather like a banyan tree, so going there is a continuous adventure. It takes exactly 2.5 hours from where I live, either way, so the a/c taxi is mandatory (and NO, my driving skills have not yet reached that point where I can race off across the countryside)(nor do I have an a/c car)(or a licence)(yet).

I could take another two hours writing out a description, but frankly -- it makes much more sense to just leap up and go there yourself. Just click the link! You'll see what I mean.