Learning to drive for a woman of forty is no child’s play. If you know a woman scared to learn driving, make her read this. Some years ago I was no different from her. Have a good laugh at the blunders I made; your own blunders would become less daunting. Since I didn’t learn driving during my formative years, I will never learn- was my deep-rooted belief. I tried at the age of thirty and failed, the prejudice further strengthened. Then one day it all changed, my mother learnt to drive at the age of sixty.
My TRPs fell in the eyes of my daughters. Husband had a field day, he could now tease his wife using his MIL’s example and the wife had no excuse in her defence. Seven-year-old daughter encouraged me and stated, “Mummy Dar ke aagey jeet hai!” (Beyond fear is the victory).
With much trepidation, I enrolled myself in a driving class. To my utter frustration, my husband even told the instructor that I had made a failed attempt earlier. The instructor made me sit at the steering wheel and turn the key. Surprisingly I shifted gears and accelerated the vehicle perfectly that moment. Perhaps a lesson or two that my husband had invested in wasn’t totally wasted. The instructor declared, I will learn within fifteen days.
There began my ordeal, to face my inability and fear was the biggest challenge. First day I was sitting like a taut bowstring, clutching the steering wheel like a lifeline. My pupils dilated, tongue dry, sweat beads rolling down my back and temple. I killed the engine not less than twenty five times. My patient trainer sat unfazed. Coaxed me to try again. I wanted to give up but his patience deterred me.
At the end of the first lesson I crawled out of the car like a bedraggled cat, ashamed of my failure. The instructor said he would pick me at ten next day. I wanted to say he could forget that. I would never be able to drag myself to go through this again. I was wrong, harder than facing failure was answering my children’s, “How was it?”
“Ok” I lied.
It was an everyday struggle then to familiarize with the controls, understanding how much the steering had to be rolled for right or a U-turn. Some times I was in too much hurry to do it all and sometimes my reflexes were too slow. Keeping the car straight and steadily rolling, at a desired speed was stressful. I continuously stared at the road, ignoring the side view mirrors. Once it came to shifting the gears, I would look down on left side and forget about the road totally. There was a day I turned so much that the steering also went left. My instructor pounced to straighten it. He shouted, “You could have run over that pedestrian”. I had my first driver’s nightmare that night.
Once I gained some control over the vehicle, I had to go to the highway. I was terrified and reluctant but the trainer felt it was time. I remember driving up the flyover. Whenever a truck drew towards our side my toes curled, intestines knotted and I gulped. Sensing my alarmed state the trainer spoke up, “Control your panic and think positive. Cut out the noise and forget your worries. Think of how far have you come since the first day. If you can do that, you can do this”. He taught me to navigate through life that day. Ben Kingsley deserves all the accolades he got for the movie, ‘Learning to drive’ in which he became a Sikh, driving trainer in New York. I meandered through the highway rush with dexterity and drove past those giants successfully.
After that day a load lifted off my chest. I eased the pressure on my arms. Shifted gears without fighting with the shaft, keeping the clutch adequately pressed. Killing the engine became a thing of the past. My whole demeanor changed, I stole glances at the mirrors before turning or changing lanes. Began to feel one with the vehicle.
Soon fifteen days were over and my class came to an end- the umbilical chord was cut. I was now supposed to breathe on my own. I kept short targets, drove for petty excuses. Parked in several attempts but didn’t stop. Whenever a fellow driver sneered or shouted an insult, I gave him a dirty look right back. I began to rule the road. Driving my kids to their classes, doctor and friends’ birthdays was a new freedom my family tasted. Poor kids had to sit pin drop silent, their talking distracted me but they were happy to oblige. Reaching places on their own without bothering their father was a very liberating feeling.
With every little trip I improved. What was my most gripping fear became my biggest confidence boosting activity. Now the situation has reversed, if I feel depressed I pick up an odd job and drive. Sitting at the steering wheel surprisingly makes me feel like a super woman. The music calms my frayed nerves and the breeze lifts my spirits. My wings spread and I soar like a bird.
Sometimes the only thing between our happiness and us is our fear. I am glad I took the plunge, stared my fear in its face. My daughter had rightly said, ‘Dar ke aagey jeet hai’.