The licence odyssey

Yesterday was a momentous day in my life - when I ascended from the verge of despair to the zenith of relief. I had finally passed the road test and procured my UAE light motor vehicle automatic driving licence! For those of you living in the Indian subcontinent, this might not seem a big deal. Because getting a licence is not a big deal in India. I had one too though I have not driven on Indian roads after securing it nearly 18 years ago.
And I kept that information a secret when I joined an acclaimed institute in Dubai from where Vinod had got his licence a year earlier. I started with the 40 classes prescribed for a beginner, and not the 20/30 classes recommended for those with 3/5 years driving experience.
The initial days when I had to attend 8 theory classes were fun. I attended a few lectures - at prescribed intervals in English/ Arabic/ Hindi/ Urdu  - at the ladies section  and the rest at the general section. The male lecturers, all Pakistani and speaking chaste English, held more interactive and resourceful classes.
The free transport offered made my commute easy though it often consumed 3 hours daily - the rides to and fro plus the class. Passing the theory test was the first hurdle - the RTA had just introduced video clips on hazard perception apart from the general and specific questions on driving. "Unfortunately, you have failed your exam" was the RTA verdict. I had lost by 2 marks and I blamed the hazard videos that gave me 5 seconds to choose an answer. I poured over the RTA manual with renewed vigour eliciting the comment from V that I'd clear the Indian Civil Services if I studied this hard. A friend, who has been driving in the UAE for the past 17 years but who got her licence on the 5th attempt, told me about the RTA app to practise mock tests which her son had used recently. And thanks to that, I passed the Knowledge test after taking a break for my kids' anual exams.
Plus a break from practical training while my new Malloo instructor sojourned in Kerala. Wonder of wonders, she belonged to Chandanapally's neighbouring town. I had not expected this much when the course coordinator insisted that I take Ms. R because "all Malayalis went to her". From her, I learnt the basics of driving and parking interspersed with tales from her domestic life and that of some of her other students - not to mention the phone calls on her mobile on what's cooking at home  and from other parties.
She warned me that parking test was a big 'sambavam' (thing) but I felt its magnitude only when I actually sat in the driver's seat with a scowling RTA female examiner beside me. Parallel parking, she barked, and I almost made it fiddling with the steering wheel this way and that. The steering's working still eluded me in those days when I felt like an elephant asked to move left or right by the mahout. "How many times will you turn?" she snapped, and I banged the car on the pole in front. She glared at me and steered the car out for the next test before me - Emergency brake. At 30 km/hr speed and a very hard brake I managed to pass that (dont laugh - people fail even that for not getting the right speed or brake). I passed hill parking too thanks to her steering the car up the incline (my offer to do it myself made her angry all the more and I shrank back on the seat with my hands off the steering). I did not pass the 60 degree and 90 degree parking that day.
But looking back I felt there was a soft corner behind that hard exterior of hers. I passed that last of my parking with her by which time she had mellowed down and called me "my dear". In between I encountered two male examiners, one dashing and one morose, and another lady examiner - I became her bete noire thanks to my gaffes at the angle and garage parking tests.
Horror of horrors, she was the examiner at my first road test. I had gone to it confident and cocky after having passed the road assessment test by the institute on my second attempt. "You are driving at zero speed, what is the speed inside the  institute yard?" she bit out a question as I reversed the car out of the parking bay and began picking up speed. "20 km/hr," I answered vaguely. "Havent you seen the boards saying it is 30?" Like a character in a Malayalam movie famously said about a tree he crashed his car into, I had never seen one such board.
By then, I had switched trainers - from the talkative malloo to a glum Pakistani lady who reminded me of PT Usha as far as looks were concerned. She didnt take kindly to me and was moody and rude most times. But I clung on, knowing her worth as a trainer. She taught me the techniques of turns and braking, to hold the steering wheel like a flower and not as if I was clutching it for dear life, and gave me a tip for each manoeuvre. Untiringly, she ran a commentary on each move I was to make and it became ingrained in my system. And if she pulled out a pocket mirror to pluck the hair on her chin or cut her nails in the car while she taught, I ignored it - for unlike the cautious Malloo, here was a Green who was bold and knew her business.
And almost no personal talk except the day we went on the highway cruise -  mandatory 2 hours on the highway after passing assessment - when she divulged that her husband had lost his job and was back in Pakistan and that she was struggling here with two small daughters. That she suddenly clammed up half way through the ride and stopped the class 10 min before time baffled me - I assumed she was missing her husband or irritated by her hard life.
If I missed the licence by a whisker in my second attempt - hitting the kerb before parking the car in - it was not her fault. She didnt have to endure me any further either - though she vouched that my ddrving was good, just that the stiffness with the steering had to go - as she took a voluntary transfer to the men's section. Either she wanted some male company or  was tired of bumbling female students.
I took refuge in an old Pak lady who had difficulty walking to the car but was an authority inside. She made no small talk or mobile chats while on duty. But I felt a grandma's affection in her toothless smile ( just a few missing teeth, mind you) and occasional chastising. She corrected my mistakes but I failed to apply them on the D-day.
Then came my saviour in the form of a VIP trainer cum supervisor who concentrated on areas I fumbled - lane change, merging into main road from slip lane,  keeping to the centre of my lane and avoiding the yellow line. A Baroda Muslim, she was pleasant and efficient, and completed the missing elements in my learning process. I did not disappoint her.
And here I am, after a learning odyssey that helped me gain many friends and aquaintances and brought some meaning and order to my life here. It was as if I was working again, adjusting my chores around my schedule and getting the children to do things on their own (and a key to let themselves in).
Now, for the practical application of the skill...


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