At the mercy of gears

At the mercy of gears

Of the many memorable incidents in one's life, one or more chapters definitely need to be dedicated to driving capers. A couple of decades back, as a man of 25 years, I was in the process of acquiring a driving licence. I needed it to go abroad on my company's deputation, and my colleague, let me call him Ram, was to accompany me on this trip.

So Ram and I did what any sane Indian does to get a four-wheeler licence - enrol in a driving school. Thus started our daily dose of driving lessons in a Maruti van. Every day, for the next 10 days, Ram and I would eagerly wait for our driving instructor's arrival, to try our hands (and legs) in mastering the nuances of driving. The best part of learning through the driving-school method is that one gets the sense of being in control, albeit mistakenly, due to the instructor's constant manipulation of clutch and brakes. We finished our 10 days of lessons and on the D-Day, with a swagger akin to Vivian Richards coming in to bat, both of us appeared in front of the inspector for the test, with the driving school instructor in tow.

Ram took the wheels for the customary drive around the block first, with the bored and pompous-looking inspector in the backseat, and the driving instructor in the passenger seat. Ram carefully put on his seat belt and adjusted the mirrors, and started the engine with the nonchalance of a fighter pilot gunning his jet, and let go the clutch while flooring the pedal.

This flooring-the-pedal routine was something that had come about because, during the lessons, the instructor would hold on to his clutch when any of his clients was driving, to ensure a gradual and smooth acceleration. But this time, the instructor left Ram to his own devices. So, off went the car with a screech, a sudden jerk and burst of acceleration.

The inspector looked surprised but maintained his calm. Being the smart fellow that he was, Ram quickly realised the fact that he had probably dislocated the spine joints of his passengers and banged hard on the brake pedal to redress the situation. As quickly as we had shot off, the car now ground to a halt, throwing us all forward and quashing us against the front seats.

Our man was still not done, he reverted to his original formula and let go of the brake and floored the accelerator once more. Ram repeated the above steps a few more times till he ascertained that the car was moving smoothly. The calm inspector, who was shaken but not stirred till now, let go all the demeanour of calmness, and his lips started quivering.

By this time, our car had traversed at a great speed to the end of the road where there was a T-junction. Ram had to make a right turn to get on to the main road, to follow the route laid out for him. Blissfully unaware of the fact that the vehicle was in the fourth gear, Ram took a turn onto the main road at a speed that would have normally toppled even a Formula One car.

That was when the inspector gave up all pretence and starting pleading for Ram to stop the car. But nothing could stop Ram now, including another car parked at the side of the road. With a graceful and subtle movement of the steering wheel, he sideswiped the stationary vehicle with aplomb, and moved on towards the next turning around the block.

At this point, the inspector planted a solid slap on the back of the driving instructor, shouting for him to stop the car.

The driving instructor, whose business was on the line now, quickly stopped the car, albeit with many manoeuvres pending. The inspector sprang out of the car. Ram did not get the driving licence on that day, for reasons not entirely clear to him. My test was rescheduled, unfortunately, for reasons that I could very clearly understand.

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