Friday, May 23, 2008

Driving In Asia: An entertaining exercise

I was excited and justifiably so. First time in my life, I was appearing for a driving test. My trainer in his early 30’s made me drive through the narrow lanes of Mahim while teaching me the utility of stretching my right hand and its palm outside the car window and creating different angles and rotations to give signals to drivers of vehicles behind me. After completing 30 odd lessons on Maruti 800, at an appointed time, I with my fellow students gathered at Bombay central Driving license issuance office. Hoards of people had already arrived. Like with any govt premises, touts and intermediaries were busy huddling with prospective clients while scurrying through office blocks that housed numerous clerks. Our trainer seemed proficient with the rules of this game. He made us wait for a while and after a while came out of the office accompanied by license issuing instructor. Trainer came running towards me “Your Turn now. Get Ready!” He pushed me inside his car while sitting next to me. Instructor meanwhile sat in another car ahead of us and as he squeezed in, my trainer asked me to follow the car of the instructor. Before I realized it, my test had begun. I was about to adjust the mirrors and seat when the trainer asked me to just follow the instructor car ahead. I ignited the engine. My car rolled few meters and when I was about to put second gear in action, my trainer uttered ‘stop!’ I was confused. Have I committed any mistake that would endanger people on the street? I saw the Instructor waving his right hand from the window and our trainer too reciprocating with his right hand. 'That’s great, You have passed’ said the coach. ‘But I didn’t drive at all!!’ I exclaimed. The trainer said ‘no problem’, ‘Instructor judged your driving from the rear view window of his car ‘. By evening, I was holding palm sized booklet wrapped with red colour bandaged cloth. It had few green pages and had my photograph defaced with smudged blue govt rubber ink proclaiming me as a certified Indian driver!!!. I wondered if I really could drive on Indian busy road but the utility of the right hand was well entrenched in my mind. This incident happened in 1992. I am sure things may have changed and so must have the use of the Right Hand outside the window.

March Issue of ASIANEWS published some interesting styles of Asians Drivers while waiting at Red Signal. I have reproduced below with few additions of my own based on my travel experiences.

Singapore: Car windows shut, air con on, driver tapping steering wheel in frustration
Hong Kong: Car window shut, one hand on wheel other hand texting broker to buy hedge fund option.
Kuala Lumpur: Car windows open, one arm out other hand holding plastic bag of tea
Jakarta: Car window open, one arm out, Cigarette between fingers.
Beijing: Car window closed, driver invisible behind black glass in black car speeding through red light with no number plate.
Colombo: Car window open, half of driver sticking out to make a room for nine family members crammed into it
Taipei: car window open, hands inside vehicle, eyes and tongue extending outside to leer at girls
Macau: Car window shut, driver is in trance as he tries memorizing blackjack card patterns
Manila: Car window open, one arm out m in car karaoke playing at full volume, driver singing
Dhaka: Car window open, driver head sticking out shouting at people to get out of the way
New Delhi: Car has already past zebra crossing, one hand on the horn and other hand screaming at traffic police officer.
Kolkatta: First situation: Car window open, hand firmly placed on horn and head outside asking people around the car to push the car that has stopped at the signal while spitting his bettle nut outside. Second Situation: Engine switched off, driver on the pavement chewing beetle nut and smoking while traffic chaos is over.
Sharjah: Car window closed, driver is engrossed listening to Dubai FM while crawling in traffic. Some intrepid ones are roving around to spot traffic police officer to swirl the car through yellow line
Dubai: Car window closed, one hand adjusting rear view mirror if pretty woman is behind else seeing himself with his new designer sunglasses.
Johannesburg: Car window tightly closed. Peddle on accelerator while eyes are roving for any suspicious movement of stranger approaching car.
Cairo: Car window open .One hand is firmly on horn while other one is engaged in heated discussion with fellow drivers.

When I arrived in Oman, I realized that my Indian Driving license was worthless. This did not surprise me in fact it reassured me that I would learn driving in correct manner. In all my earnestly, I started learning driving once again. Here my coach Shambe would sit with a stick and teach the nuances of safe and good driving skills that still hold me in good stead. In Middle East, driving license industry is only next to Immigration and visa industry and they are very good at it. Shambe was no exception; he had structured his way of teaching. There was no right hand in action but five eyes – two mine and 3 car mirrors. As I started getting confidence, he pushed me on highway in excess of 100Km while regaling me with his adventures with Indian prostitutes in Mumbai. Driving test in Oman was more difficult that my final year engineering. I had to pass reversing the car between two set of drums, using clutch, brake and accelerator on a steep slope and then road driving test in the company with two examiners – one next to me and the other on the backseat - both keenly observing my every move in my 30 minute test journey. I got my license in third attempt. The joy of getting my license through grueling yet satisfying ordeal was only next to securing my first job. Years later, when i moved to Dubai, I was lucky to spare another driving test as Dubai recognized my Oman license.

Singapore seems more obsessed with the theoretical aspects of driving. I must appear for 60-minute question paper that has multiple answers and must score minimum 95%marks to secure Singapore driving license. However, for now, I need not worry as I can drive with my international driving license. When I visit Australia next week and drive along the coastal route to Sydney, my driving skills that were honed and shaped in Gulf and practiced in Singapore would come to my rescue. Hopefully, I am able to add Australian driving style to the above list.

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Blogger Brice Deon said...


5:09 PM  

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