Sunday, July 30, 2006

Elsewhere Once More

Or maybe I should say, "Forever Elsewhere"? I am back in Madras. I had a hectic last couple of days in Nude Elly -- always, always, pre-departure frenzies -- there was a sudden revival of the monsoon and my second last driving lesson was cancelled as a result of which the last one, NOT TAKEN, was scheduled for the morning of my departure to Madras ...

But I DID manage to buy a box of celebratory kajoo burfee for Mr Moccha and was able to wish the other two students happy driving before bidding a final adieu. I don't expect to see them ever again -- in fact, as I write this, I can't remember whether I've even mentioned them so far? There were usually two other people in the car with me for the driving sessions every morning. In the second week it was a young man and a young woman, but on one occasion there was a second young man. The strangeness of being cooped up in a tiny red car amongst total strangers was easily set aside by the fact of being cross-eyed with terror. No-one introduced themselves and except for the fact that I said a cheery GOOD MORNING!!! every day, we would not have so much as sneezed in one another's direction. I find all of that totally bizarre and cannot explain it. Perhaps they were all experiencing terrors beyond comprehensiontoo, but I rather suspect it had more to do with being in a social situation for which they had no natural preparation, and hence, no conversation. Whereas I, having been trained as a journalist, can pretty much talk to anyone at any time.

So even though I had another brief experience of reversing, I never got around to learning how to park!! Weird. And now that I am in Madras, I am cut adrift from lessons behind the wheel ... There are three cars in the house but no-one to sit beside me at the crack of dawn. Well not just yet, anyway. Maybe when I return from Kodai ...

Which brings me to the reason I'm here (I mean, aside from visiting my Mum): I've been invited to lead a workshop at the Kodai School in -- surprise! -- Kodaikanal. A literary workshop, focusing on narrative. I've never done anything like this before so it's possible that I am going to spend three days twiddling my thumbs in front of 30 perplexed and bored students but ... you never know. They might rise to the occasion and teach me a thing or two.

Meanwhile, in the midst of everything, I've been reading a coupla interesting books that I've been wanting to share here. First on the list, a rather odd choice, called How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone. Its sub-title is: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle -- How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers -- and I picked it up because it appeared to include some interesting brainteasers. And it does. Back in the days when I used to be smart, I was pretty good at puzzles and brainteasers but these days I am content to read about them while only taking the occasional stab at solving them. But I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys scraping through the back-alleys of logic.

Another fascinating read was The Genius Factory by David Plotz. It's a must-read for anyone who wondered whatever happened to that news-item curiosity called The Nobel Sperm Bank -- did the women who signed up to be impregnated by the sperm of Nobel Prize-winning men actually go forth and produce a race of super-brats? And if not, why not? And other questions of this nature. The book is a chatty and informal attempt at satisfying your curiosity, while answering the lead question in a roundabout fashion: yes and no. Some women DID have smart kids but ... there's no way of proving that they wouldn't have done just as well with any old sperm. Meanwhile, at least a couple of the sperm donors featured in the book appeared to be of the kind that make nerds look like handsome -- and apparently there only ever were three actual Nobel Prize winners who donated their vital fluids(it turns out NONE of them fathered any of the sperm bank's progeny). Plotz is a journalist and follows up the leads in a manner that is highly readable -- just short of gossip-column readable -- by the end of it, I for one felt I'd got my money's worth.

And then, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. This book has been around for a while and I've been waiting for a the paperback version to come out coz I didn't feel like buying the hardback, coz I wasn't sure I would really want to plough through the WHOLE of it -- and was pleasantly surprised when I did. It's light reading -- I guess the name kind of gives that away -- but produces some interesting sideways thoughts -- I don't know whether I'd want to use the word "revelations" because there's a sense in which reading it is a bit like watching a magician pulls facts out of a top hat. I mean: are those REALLY facts or just ... cute white rabbits? Still, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to anyone who likes to think that some of the really big questions aren't being answered only because no-one's bothering to ask them.

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.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Day Ten of Driving Class and --

BLOGS ARE BACK!! Phew. That was nasty while it lasted, but many blessings upon the heads of those who established alternative routes to our little acre of the web, here in Blogistan/Bloganahalli/Blogipur/Bloganam. And so quickly too! Now that I think about it, I was barely inconvenienced -- Friday to Sunday, that was it, I think. On Monday pkblogs had swung into place, followed swiftly by others. There be angels amongst us! Thanks be to them.

And now we return to our regular broadcasts re Learning To Relax At The Wheel Of A Weapon of Minor Destruction. Today was the tenth day of this epic journey from crawling pedestrian to superhuman internalcombustionenginewallah and friends: it's not happened yet. The transformation, I mean. I continue to be a crawler except that I just happen to be sitting in the driver's seat of an infernal machine for 20 minutes in the morning. I may even be regressing, because I feel less and less competent with every passing day.

Oh I have my brief spams of competence! I mean, I am an EXCELLENT buckler of seatbelts and I've really got the art of ... err ... igniting the engine, shall we say, down pat. I can do it with skill and grace. I can release the hand-brake and I can push the gear lever into Position Uno! Yep. I can do all those things. Then Mr Moccha tells me to ease my left foot off the clutch -- to which it is of course welded -- and then the sorrow begins.

We start to move and all the ghouls of the motorway leap out of my dreaming subconscious to dance upon the dashboard. No-one else can see them but THERE THEY ARE -- a conga-line of tiny dancing terrors, singing out in chorus, straight to my brain, a song which goes a bit like this: "Brush them, crush them/ Turn them into motor kill! You have the power/To turn off their liiiiiights!" That's the theme, you see: the thing that beads my brow isn't my personal death, but the many bloody encounters that I could cause if I just forgot to look in my rear-view mirror or lost control of my right foot.

I continue to feel mute with envy at the ease with which all the other drivers on the road seem to just sail along, completely unaware (or so it seems) that they could be mowing down families of innocents at every zebra/giraffe/buffalo crossing. Whereas I feel the lives of DOZENS of people pass before my eyes, as I pass them on the road, my shoulders hunched, my eyes averted, trying desperately not to feel guilty for the crimes that I have yet to commit through a moment's inattention.

Ay me.

It is hard to be a driver.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Message for Our Times

My friend Viji Ghose forwarded a message to me from a friend of hers, Indrani Robbins. I don't know Indrani, but I wrote to her immediately asking if I could post her heartfelt e-message on my blog, and she very kindly agreed. I have not changed a word of her e-message, but I have added a space between the first and second paragraphs because they ran into one another after being pasted here.

hello my friends: i received the following from
another friend and it sort of disturbed me. no one can
disagree with the problem here, but the solution. ah
the solution. well, given all this hoohaa about
democracy and me a citizen of the largest democracy,
etc. (who of course has never voted because one might
have attained the age but attaining a ration card or a
voter identification card... that's another epic
heartpour), i thought i'd present my pov on this prob
of our times.

why am i doing this to you guys? this long laborious
email? this rant about a situation that we seem
powerless to do a thing about? to the point that we've
almost stopped caring? because i'm disturbed enough to
want to talk about it, write about it, and being my
friends you gotta suffer. lots of love

POV 1: this is what i received

"I am an Indian citizen. One among 1 billion of us.
When somebody bombs us we die. Just like Americans did
when the Al Qaeeda drove their planes into the WTC.
Just like Londoners did when terrorists attacked the
city last July. But while Americans have the right to
retaliate and bomb Afghanistan off the face of the map
because the terrorists HQ was based there, we Indians
have to negotiate, talk, send peace buses, and "build
confidence" with the government across our border -
the Pakistanis who are supporting the terrorists with
money and explosives.

The world applauds how resilient we are in the face of
our tragedy, how quickly we go back to "normalcy".
Ironically we ourselves applaud our resilience. The
fact is that the world expects us to be less than
human - hey you fella, so what if you lost your
colleague, friend, partner, husband, wife or brother,
get on with it old chap, that's it my boy! No time to
mourn. No time to fume and rail at the injustice being
meted out, no time to even call the terrorists the
filthiest of names, no time to give incompetent
politicians and policemen, intelligence agencies and
the powers-be a piece of our mind. (Shivraj Patil, our
honourable defence minister said something to the the
effect that we knew that an attack was planned but we
didn't know the time and place.

Really! What did he expect - a phone call from the
terrorists giving him the details of the local trains,
timings and compartments in which the explosives would
be kept! We also have to prove to the world that we
are RESILIENT. Be happy with Musharraf's "quick
condemnation" and go back to the business of dealing
with old betrayers. After all we cannot "change the
region's positive course", as LA Times' editorial put
it. So what if a few hundred Indians die - Indians who
are not into big time negotiations. Indians who just
want to earn their living and return home to their
families after a hard day's work. But well no,
Musharraf and his terrorist friends will deny them the
luxury of going back to his family because en route
the train blows up! And our incompetent politicians
and policemen will let terrorists do their horrific
jobs and launch a hunt post-facto...

So Bombayites died for a cause: for the peace of the
region! As did Delhi-ites last year before Diwali. As
did people in Bangalore when Pakistan-supported
terrorists hit the city. As did Indian tourists who
had gone to Srinagar for a holiday....And as many many
more will die...Wow, that's some consolation! If you
feel as angry about what's happening to us, please
feel free to pass this on. If your reaction is: "hey
nothing is going to change - this is India," feel free
to delete the mail! "

POV 2: here's what i'm thinking.

i was born in what we call independent india. my
earliest memories include hiding in darkened corridors
in our home in duliajan, assam during the '65 war with
pakistan (earlier of course, my mother along with me
and my 2-month old brother had to be evacuated from
assam during the "chinese aggression", while my father
stayed back to blow up the oil installations and
storage tanks in case the chinese marched right up to
them. needless to mention he and a handful of his
colleagues were prepared to sort of die in the
process). then came the '71 war, the creation of
bangladesh, memories of rushing out of the car on
parliament street, new delhi to take shelter as
pakistani bombers flew low over us. later, in 1980 we
lost our father in the midst of yet another strange
sad war between two peoples of this independent india.
what was stranger re the last incident was that our
fam didn't raise a cry of "badla badla badla" a la all
good hindi films one had ever seen. all my mother
wanted was to raise us in peace.

but even before all this, i think my subconscious
picked a word that i'm today struggling to bring into
a more visible, conscious place. and the word is,
"partition". no this is not a nice kashmiri walnut
wood screen. this is what happened to, dare i say
these words? guess i will: my land, my people. why it
happened and how, we could again go on and on about.
but to whom it happened. to our grandparents'
generation, our parents', yes, but did it end there?
the madness, the mayhem, the hatred that starts at the
bottom of our being, almost genetically coded: muslims
are bad bad bad, hindus are kaffirs, sikhs are this
parsis are that. did it really end there?

i am told more than 90,000 people have died in the
kashmir tragedy. we know people die every day in our
country, thanks to the unfriendship we share with
pakistan (and bits of bangladesh). and yes it is
bloody unfair that the americans can do what they have
to any place on earth they've ever felt like doing
anything to. i know we are always uncomfortable when
we meet a pakistani, sometimes even a bangladeshi. i
keep hearing the "pakis" are our enemies, no doubt
they believe we're the original baddies of the world.
so what should we do? let's go to war. again. let
people die. again. let bbc and cnn make money. again.
let's not solve the problem. sorry for this tautology,
but yes, again.

or. take a look at that word we say so easily:
partition. take a look at what it did to us. how it
hurt us, all of us who live in our fabulous
subcontinent (c'mon guys, eat the food of our nations
and you'll know no mean small culture could have
thought up that stuff). feel this word, yes feel the
sadness that was and is "partition". swords, knives,
blood, trains filled with bodies crossing borders,
fathers beheaded, sisters raped, daughters abducted by
the "other" and forgotten by their own, lahore never
to be visited again, dilli gone forever, goodbye
mymensingh, farewell kolkata, mindless anger, flaming
red rage, miles of tears, not a single smile anywhere,
what a time it was that time. only 59 years ago. yet
to most of us on my mailing list it's just a word. a
fact. the begininning of lifelong enmity.

my mind keeps saying it is time to look a "paki" in
the eye and feel our real feelings. we are one people,
torn asunder, still bleeding. time to heal. time to be
intelligent and strong. not with guns. but with

it's time to seek forgiveness and forgive. "partition"
needs closure (yesyes i don't like this v irritating v
american word, but in this case, i think it works
beautifully, so ta america). and it's only after that
we can really start talking. without clutter and
confusion. no we won't be able to resolve all our
probs, some yes, the others we'll agree to disagree on
and carry on as most friends do, with differences but
not mindless hatred.

and it's definitely time to stop looking to our
politicians for any kind of anything.

so what's going to happen if three or two or one of us
feel this way? how will it change things? i don't
know, just this something in my head heart gut that
keeps saying these things. it says war is yesterday's
thinking. anywhere on earth.

once upon a time there was undivided india. today we
are pakistan, india, bangladesh. three nations, could
one day be three great nations.
if we are truly independent india, let's free
ourselves of our baggage. here's to all of us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The On-Going Peeve

... I still can't access my blog! This isn't, for me, a major loss of life and limb because I'm not a working blogger and I'm grateful that I can (a) continue to post new items as well as edit old ones and (b) keep track of comments on account of comment moderation. But I CAN'T post new comments -- which must seem a bit rude to the few faithful commenters who leave messages here -- and I can't SEE my little patch of the internet! Most annoying.

My more energetic and web-savvy friends Zigzackly and the Babu (of Kitabkhanna) are out there and waging battles with the powers that be -- who may or may not be responsible for the blockage. No doubt, if you visit their blogs, you'll find more information.

Ah well. As far as driving updates go, today was the weekly holiday so, no class. I used the time I would normally spend browsing blogs to catch up on my museum visits ... yes, courtesy ALLAN SEALY, whose recently published book RED features a real world visit to the HERMITAGE, I was able to visit that wonderful museum in Leningrad, online. His book includes the web-address -- but lucky you! here it is for your delectation. I had to download the Java applet which allows the very cool panning and scrolling visit that the site is set up to provide, but if you've already got it installed, you won't even need to wait 10 minutes before you're in and jogging through the rooms.

Of course, being lazy, I only visited the MATISSE ROOM and that too, entirely on account of Sealy's book (ohhh -- okay! I visited the PICASSO ROOM too! But only because it was right next door). If you want to know what the connection is, you'll just have to buy the book and read it and love it. Well parts of it: I didn't love ALL of it, which saddens and distresses me, because this is one author whose writing I admire unreservedly ... really and truly. I think his FROM YUKON TO YUCATAN is one of the best travel books I have read. So perhaps, keeping in mind the Persian concept of the crooked line, a blemish-free book is to be avoided as it might mock the perfection of creation.

I've already bought and given away three copies of the book (besides keeping one for myself) so I guess it's clear I don't mind a blemish or two ...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wherein I Fly Over

Yes, today, during my sixth driving lesson, I Flew Over. It happened in the same dreamlike way that all the driving episodes have happened so far -- nothing I can actually believe in. Not only that, but I even overtook someone -- admittedly, it was a tortoise of a vehicle, one of those limping, rattling, three-wheel jobs which crawls about in the fast lanes of roads like an arthritic hermit crab, so over-taking it was really at the level of a snail over-taking a pebble -- but STILL!!! It was a personal first. And then after that, there was another flyover and a couple of major roads.

Being unable to believe I am at the wheel continues to be a problem though. It's as if every morning begins with a dream, a rather tiresome and grimy dream in which cyclists and autorickshaws veer towards the car I'm in, and motorcyclists buzz me like curious hornets, then buzz away again when they realize that I'm some insane short-haired granny-type, attempting to learn to drive on their private Grand Prix racing strip, hahaha -- they're basically so juiced at the mere idea that they don't bother harassing me -- and half an hour later the dream ends with me waking up at the gate of my house. Weird. I am very good with speed-breakers in this dream, and I meekly turn left and right when told to by Mr Moccha. Back within the home colony, I drive one circuit around the little park in the centre and bring the car to a very friendly little halt at my gate.

But is this real life? I think not. Aside from being soaked in sweat once I'm back in the house, I don't consciously feel anything, neither fear nor pleasure, while driving around. Practically the only new bit of knowledge that has entered my waking life is the realization that other drivers, just like me when I'm at the wheel, can apply their feet to the brake pedal. Until I understood how easy it is to control the car (i.e., until I realized that a car will NOT behave like a startled horse and therefore will NOT rear, snort and charge down the road with the terrified driver clinging to its wheel) I wasn't even aware that this image (of the horse) was in my head. Now that I know it, I feel more benign towards drivers in general -- they are still crazy, incompetent and rash, but at least I understand a little more about how they negotiate the maze-in-motion that is urban traffic.

I'm even -- dare I say it? -- a little dazzled. There they are, these reckless motorists, slaloming about the roads, every day, playing their arias on their brakes and accelerators and all this while I had NO IDEA HOW THEY WERE DOING IT!! It's like being a blind person who has lived in a museum all her life and now suddenly can see -- yes, it's a wild museum, and chaotic, and the cause of many deaths (one a day, in Delhirium, I believe) -- but still: a kind of mad spontaneous public art.

The fact that the dream occurs every morning just after 8 probably explains why it's not nightmarish yet. Mr Moccha assures me however that next Sunday the final lesson will be in mid-afternoon and through traffic. But for the time being, well ... toot-toot, parp-parp and tallyhooooooo! Ah'm jus' chasing mah dream.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wherein I Learn To Use Gears

-- but before I get to that, I'd like to pause a moment to acknowledge the sadness that overtook me two days ago, upon hearing the news of the bomb blasts in Bombay. I have long since stopped caring who/what is responsible for grisly public tragedies: it matters only that there are at least 200 families whose lives have been shattered by the deaths caused by the blasts and many hundreds more who will remain incapacitated by the serious injuries of those who survived.

This might not be a practical suggestion, but: if the media and the world at large could cease to publish the names/organizations/nationalities of terrorists and focus exclusively on healing the wounded and caring for the bereaved -- if, in short, terrorists ceased to get attention through the use of terror -- maybe they would be forced to find more acceptable methods of addressing their grievances.

I suppose that's a vain hope.

Ah well.

Back to the driving lesson.

I had my third one today. Tuesday, like I said, is a day of rest for the August Academy and Wednesday it was raining hard. Today, at eight o'clock, on the dot, there was the little red chariot, with its two occupants -- Mr Moccha and the silent young woman who is my co-student. I must correct a peculiar misconception: apparently the car I've been using does NOT have that triangular contraption on its roof! I seem to have manufactured it in my imagination, when reconstructing the lesson from memory.

Anyway! Today marked my transition from illiterate invertebrate to gear-using primate. I will admit that for the two days since my last lesson, I have been practicing changing gears by imagining what it might feel like, in my head. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, this IS how I navigate the by-lanes and cul-de-sacs of reality -- by imagining as much as I can of the path ahead in advance. It's a very cumbersome, resource-intensive approach, because it means I virtually relive everything that happens in my life except for the tiny bits of experience that occur unexpectedly(these are nearly always the nasty bits. I try very hard to imagine every type of nasty bit just to be fair and balanced, but -- wouldn't you know it? -- there are always very many more of them than I can possibly dream up).

As a result, it was almost fun, today. I won't bore the readers of this blog, nearly all of whom are drivers (only because most people who can turn on a computer are equally adept at leaping into cars and driving off into the sunset) with the details -- but I was quite surprised to find it didn't stress me out. Of course, Mr Moccha kept telling when to make the changes, but I think one element that has made a big difference is that I have finally realized that I can unhook my left foot from the clutch. Wow! What a relief. I am sure I've been told this many times over, but it has only now really got through to me that the brake is what I need in order to go fast or slow until there's a gear-change to worry about.

And the reason it got through to me now and not for all the 53 years before this moment, is that I finally made the effort to watch E's feet while sitting in the passenger seat day-before-yesterday, as he drove around the block to a friend's house. That's when I saw that his left foot sat quietly to one side while the right foot danced about -- stopping, starting, stopping, starting ... quite a busy little character, that foot!

This leads me to wonder whether left-handers feel uncomfortable, using their right feet for all that below-the-ankle-level activity? Since handedness is connected to the separate spheres of left/right brain activity, surely it should affect the feet to the same extent (gt -- are you reading this?)?

So we got home after a peaceful ride all the way through the mayhem of 8.00 a.m traffic -- busses parping, cyclists tinkling, school children leaping out in front of the car, all of that nonsense, and I was no longer wholly white-knuckled. A little, sure -- but less than the previous two days.

There's the reverse gear to be faced, of course, and parking and ... well, it's much better when I avoid thinking of the farther shore of competence and just stick with what I have today. Which is: 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears, yayyyyy!

A demain ...

15th July

Here's a grouse: I can't seem to log into my blog!! No idea why. Can't log into ANY blogger pages, so I'm not feel personally insulted. But it certainly cuts into my daily road-warriorette saga. Today was the fifth day of my transformation-to-be and what can I say? At one level, yes -- I can sense fundamental changes occurring in my DNA -- I feel a desire to change gear, and I no longer have that sense of lateral vertigo -- the combined dread/desire syndrome -- of fearing that I will crush every cyclist and motorist that comes within ten feet of my car. But at another level, I continue to feel utterly detached, as if there's someone at the wheel but it's not me (... PINK FLOYD ref, yes).


Monday, July 10, 2006

The Adventure Continues ...

... and so it came to pass that on the 9th of July 2006, I enrolled at the SEVEN STAR DRIVING SCHOOL. Well, to be quite accurate, I enrolled on Friday the seventh and after a bit of cheerful banter with the man at the other end of the line, during which he tried to convince me that rush hour on Delhi's roads was THE ideal time to sit behind the wheel of a car, we agreed that eight o'clock Sunday morning would mark the dawn of my new life as a driver.

The office of Seven Star is about six minutes by foot from my house, along the busy thoroughfare that leads towards Jamia Millia Ismailia from Mathura Road. It's a booth-type office, crammed into the corner of a decrepit building. There's a chai shop on one side and a dirty lane on the other.

It has a desk right up front. At the desk sits a man who looks as if he's been fashioned out of river clay, in thick lumps that were never quite cleared of pebbles, weeds and earthworms before he was baked into existence. In front of the desk are three metal folding chairs on which several other men sit, but when I appear, these others leap up and wriggle away -- all except one, who remains in order to open registration books and flourish receipts in the manner of a well-trained flunky.

Registering is childishly simple: I pay Rs 1400 (i.e., less than $30) and enter my address in their register. There is no learner's licence -- Mr RiverClay almost sighs when I ask about it, as if the question reveals the depths of my naivete. "There's no need of a licence when you're with Us," he says, grandly. I ask to be collected from my residence, a luxury costs me an additional Rs 200. And that's it.

Sunday morning, after staying up most of Saturday night to watch the World Cup third-place final between Germany and Portugal, I set three alarms to ensure that I'll wake up really early (for me, that is) -- at 6.00. There's no clear reason why I needed two hours prior to my Appointment With Destiny: it takes me only half an hour, max, to get showered and dressed, to make tea for me and E and to go online to check for e-mail. Nevertheless, I DID wake up at 6, got myself together and then, with a whole hour to spare, meditated upon the path that was opening up to me.

Yes, of course, I'd been backing and forthing up the driveway of our friend's home in Vermont. But that was on another planet of experience. Here, now, I was in Delhirium -- nightmare traffic capital of the world -- home to some of the most manic individuals known to the internal combustion engine. Answering the "why" of my desire to become a driver under these circumstances is the reason, I realized, that I'd woken up earlier than necessary. It's how I take any decision: first I have to imagine myself doing the thing that I want to do and if I can create an efficient virtual construct of the experience, I am ready to face whatever it is.

But an hour later, when I heard the latch on the front gate, that signalled the arrival of my tutorial coach, I had not succeeded in forging a clear picture of me in my new avatar-to-be. My mind was blank as I opened the front door.

My teacher turned out to be a short, moccha-coloured man who had the strange distinction of being both dour and cheery at once -- as if he knows he has a thankless and possibly life-threatening job, which he has to approach optimistically all the same, in order to be good at it.

The chariot was a postbox red Maruti 800, bearing the school's name in huge letters on the elongated-cone-shaped contraption on its roof by which all instructional cars here announce their presence -- after all, they need all the warning colouration that the paint industry can endow them with, to avoid being pulverized by every public bus, truck and SUV driver on the roads.

I was surprised to see a young woman sitting at the wheel. She was just finishing her lesson -- but seeing her being instructed as she drove the short distance towards her residence was reassuring for me, besides allowing me a few more minutes of normal breathing before it was MY TURN.

Short pause here to say: AAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGH.

For the next half hour, sitting at the wheel of that bright red Maruti 800, I dodged between cyclists, pedestrians, handcart-wallahs, snorting buses, more pedestrians, cycle-rickshaws, autorickshaws, cars, trucks, buses -- and did I mention, pedestrians? My mouth was open, I think -- I don't quite remember -- and nothing seemed very real. Mr Moccha had dual controls and changed gears for me now and then, while telling me to press the clutch, apply brakes and "-- SLOW! SLOW! SLOW! -- right -- give accelerator -- show indicator -- GO! GO! GO! -- " etcetera.

Here's the strange thing: I wasn't afraid. Not even slightly. I think I know why -- it's because I didn't believe what was happening. It was like a dream, and after I got home, I spent another hour lying down in bed, trying to convince myself that I had reallyreallyreally turned onto the Ring Road and then onto Mathura Road and then at the traffic light, back towards my home, all with DTC buses garrumphing at my back and other motorists hopscotching about and kamikaze pedestrians throwing themselves under the wheels of any vehicle willing to kill them for being criminally vulnerable.

SO ANYWAY, today I had my second lesson. Once more, the other girl was in the car when the chariot arrived, and this time, she sat at the back while I climbed into the driver's seat. Once more, my mind disengaged from the events taking place, as we puttered around the colony and out the gate! It is REALLY bizarre: I knew I was physically present and doing stuff, but mentally, I was no longer my own familiar self. I was an imposter version of myself, and that imposter was apparently driving around with other actual wheeled entities containing soft-bodied bipeds competing for space on the roads.

Today, after dropping the girl off at her destination, we -- or "I", rather -- progressed smoothly down the long road that passes alongside Jamia, and it was a little teeny bit like being in a land-locked sailboat, because there were speed-breakers every ten feet and I got the little red car to negotiate each of them with a smooth, rolling motion, just like forging forward through a line of mildly boisterous waves on the ocean. My tutor was still changing gears for me -- he told me to press the clutch each time and explained the finer points of why he was doing what -- but I was mesmerized by the road, the other vehicles floating about on either side of me and the deep desire to just push through this stage of consciousness to some OTHER one, preferably one that included a recognizable version of myself.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Seven Stars' off-day and since the rains have started, it's possible there won't be classes until we have a dry morning. Mr Moccha told me that my problem areas are: not releasing the clutch, causing the engine to overheat and gripping the steering wheel too tight. I could have added that the worst problem of all was this out-of-body experience that occurred the moment I sat in the driver's seat of the car, followed closely by the fact of living in a ferociously overcrowded city with manic traffic. But my language skills do not stretch to that limit. Mr Moccha speaks to me in pidgin English and I reply in kind -- which is all for the best. If I could talk to him normally, I would spend the whole half hour explaining the metaphysics of why I was clutching the steering wheel, rather than steering the clutch (okay, okay, silly, pointless meaningless pun, but ... you get my drift) -- and never get around to driving. This way, he ended today's lesson by saying, in Hindi, "Why are you scared? DON'T BE SCARED -- as long as I'm in the car, nothing can go wrong." And that was that.

Later in the day, having recovered from the lesson, I visited my friend S. at her press. She's been championing my desire to learn driving for several years. Today, she spent a good two hours giving me a pep-talk about Just Doing It. She has a standing offer to take me out on test-drives and for touch-up courses whenever I'm ready. I plan to take her up on her offer some time next week. While talking to her, I said that the real challenge for me was to STOP thinking of myself as a driving-challenged person and reconfigure my mind so that I could see myself in this NEW! IMPROVED! light.

But I suspect it's going to take a while. All through the lessons so far and regardless of what I'm doing and how well or ill the car's faring, inside my head, there's a little person sitting with her face buried inside a cushion and screaming, very softly, AAAAAAARGGGHHHHHHHHHH ...

POST SCRIPT: Zig sent me a link to the piece he wrote about his experiences as a LearnerDriver in 2003 -- interestingly enuff we have both used the word "kamikaze" to describe street elements. Hmmm. Probably means something deep and potentially disturbing, but I'm too lazy to work out what it might be.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dept. of Minor Amusements

Got this from the incomparable Ziglacious One (I have a permanent link displayed in my list of favourites to the right) -- but I imagine you can go to the site and find out which great leader YOU are by just clicking the picture.