I have three driving licences from three different countries and in all the mug shots, I look surprised like the pictures of crooks police photographers usually take.
As soon as I pass my driving test, I am told to stand in front of a teller window and to look at the camera, which I can’t see. And then, click, next!
Nobody says, “Smile”, or gives me a chance to comb my hair (when I had hair), or waits for me to get my breath back after a gruelling 20-minute ride with an unsmiling lady with a clip board, who makes clucking sounds and keeps ticking boxes every time I nearly hit a pedestrian or a bus.
Similarly, when it was time to renew my passport, the officer at the consulate said I should get passport-size pictures, in colour, and that I should not smile in the picture. I thought he was joking, but that was what bureaucracy wanted; no cheery faces.
That may be the reason every time I return to India the immigration officer clicks and goes on clicking on the keyboard, trying to match my picture with someone or something, and this usually takes about 20 minutes, while my wife fumes in the background at the officer.
When I went to get my Aadhar card (resident card) in India, the lady at the counter was definitely not a photographer. Looking at my picture the government finally decided to allow people to change their picture on the card, online.
Driving lessons all over again
Decades have passed and it seems like a nightmare or like in the movie, Groundhog Day, where every day seems the same, because I am now undergoing driving lessons in Toronto, Canada, all over again.
I never got my final G license in the graduated licensing system and had left the country, so I have to start all over again.
The last time a kind-looking Sardarji gave me driving lessons, but he suddenly slapped my hand which was holding the steering wheel very stylishly, like Bollywood heart-throb Rajesh Khanna, driving and about to break out into a song.
Flash forward into the year 2022, and the driving instructor is again a Sardarji, but this time he is young and he respects my age, like a good Asian: “Uncle, pay attention. If you keep doing these rolling stops (at the All Way Stop Sign), when will we progress to parallel parking.”
I have never driven in Toronto and it is not at all scary, despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was like driving back in Bengaluru, only thing missing was that no one was constantly honking, and everyone kept to their lanes and not zigzag crazily like an inebriated bear that had escaped from the zoo.
But the workers were still digging on Bathurst Street and it seemed like nothing had moved since we had last come on this Street before Covid, and an Uber driver said tongue-in-cheek that two things remain constant in Toronto, bad weather in winter and the construction works.
When we arrived in Bengaluru nearly five years ago, there was an ambitious announcement of building a spanking, new flyover. The last time we went to Yellahanka New Town, many moons later, the flyover was still being built.
“What do you see ahead?” asked the instructor, and I thought it was a trick question. “The traffic lights. A teenager on a skateboard on the pavement….”
“There’s construction work ahead and you will need to start moving to the right now, not change lanes at the last minute,” he said.
The instructor later booked me for a road test in some small town, far away from Toronto, which most probably has no vehicles on the street and no road building going on.
When I told him after the lessons that the Airbnb we were staying in Toronto was expensive, the instructor pulled out a card and said he was also a Realtor and I should call him if I wanted to purchase a home.
Interest rates are high, but he would get me a good deal, he said.
I looked at his card again and it had his picture printed on it, and he was smiling.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi