For almost three years now I have fought many mini battles with recalcitrant auto drivers without notching up any victories. All I needed was to travel short distances which were a little more than I would like to walk especially with the sun beating down mercilessly. You can’t make an early start as nothing opens before 10am if even that.
Every time I stopped an auto and told the driver where I wanted to go, he would ponder over my request as if I were asking him to take me to the moon. After much deliberating he would name a price that would be reasonable if his vehicle promised a luxury ride.
After giving him a lecture on being more realistic I would start walking. Never have I had the experience of one of these species agreeing to take me where I wanted to go at a fair price.
That is when I decided to invest in a scooter, which is something I used regularly around 20 years ago. They say you can never forget cycling or swimming. I want to know who ‘they’ are because I have discovered that these activities are easy to forget.
Buoyed by the fact that a couple of decades ago I used to zip around on my bike to the most crowded areas in town, I bought a scooter. It sat there in the parking for several weeks while I tried to think of someone who would help me ride it.
A friend was roped in and I was overjoyed. As soon as I sat on the scooter with the friend seated behind, I found that the bike had a mind of its own. I was unable to control its movement and found myself veering to the right, dangerously close to other vehicles. That first ride was an epic failure.
In fact, that friend gave up on me and advised me to contact a driving school. I had to put up with nasty comments from siblings who suggested I put the machine on display in a museum!
And then I found a volunteer. He said we would start early in the morning when there wasn’t much traffic. He was very patient and kept telling me that I was doing a good job.
Negotiating potholed roads
Reassured by his confidence in me, I started riding in a straight line. He made me take right and left turns repeatedly until I felt dizzy. Then I was told to go on to main roads where huge vehicles whizzed past alarmingly. Soon I was at ease manoeuvring my way through traffic and negotiating potholed roads.
I was declared fit to travel on my own after several lessons and it was truly liberating. Now that I am on the road I am tempted to cock a snook at all the autos I pass by.
I look at all the youngsters on the road, supremely confident, and I wonder whether they are born confident and fearless. Perhaps the difference is age. I have friends who learnt to drive when they were still in school. And here I was in Dubai and being persuaded to take driving lessons by a friend.
I still remember that first lesson which was terrifying to me. I was asked to sit behind the wheel immediately and steer the car on a circular track. At first I thought the instructor was joking but could see no signs of a smile on her face. I remember clutching the wheel like a drowning man clutches at a straw and wondering when that interminable lesson would end.
Don’t be taken in by the phrase “it’s as easy as riding a bike”? It isn’t easy. Remember that first ride on a bicycle as a kid and that terrifying moment when you realised that there was no one behind you holding on to the bike?
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India