By Dev Nadkarni
A while ago I needed an international driving licence. I was told that you could get one in Pune without much of a problem. I enquired at the local driving school. “International licence? No problem. Enroll for our fast track course, and you get it in seven days,” said the counter person.
“Fast Track?” I hesitated. “I’m not looking for a race car licence, just a plain international one.”
“We’ve changed the name of our course to Fast Track –earlier we called it Crash Course and it didn’t go down well,” said the man. “It covers international safety like fastening seat belts, not putting your arm out of the window or dropping cigarette ash outside, right of way…”
“But aren’t those taught in your regular courses?” I asked.
“No. Because it’s impossible to drive here with something that restrains movement like a seatbelt. As for limbs outside the windows –mostly the taillights don’t work and we advise learners to hand-signal. We’ve stopped instructing about right of way because this is decided by the size and speed of the vehicle,” said the man. “When a PMT bus storms into a roundabout, you simply don’t stand a chance, even if you have right of way. Better not to know the rules.”
“Where do we begin?” I asked, cranking up.
“Mulshi or lonely places like that,” said the man.
“Why not Tilak or Laxmi or even M.G. Road?” I asked.
“You’ve driven on those roads, na?” he replied. “No point practicing there if you want to get an international licence.”
“Why?” I countered.
“If you drive abroad like you do on those roads, you’ll have trouble. You need practice holding the wheel straight over longer distances so you don’t cut lanes –you must stay in lane always,” said my learned instructor. “In Mulshi, there is no traffic, so you get good practice.”
Sage advice flowed copiously as I tried keeping a straight course in my imaginary lane. “You cannot spit in those countries; but if you must, be careful. In a left hand drive car, spit out on the left. Or you may end up spitting inside the car by sheer force of habit,” he said.
Suddenly, there was a thump and the car shuddered to a halt. “You went over a pothole –you should have swerved,” moaned the instructor. “But that would’ve amounted to lane cutting,” I said.
The instructor examined the broken axle. “If you face a situation like this abroad, go to those solar-powered phones by the side and call for help,” he said, desperately flailing his arms to hail a passing truck for our ride back to Pune.