Monday, August 27, 2012

Missing the Woods for the Trees

The blood relative I call my mother has begun taking driving lessons. After years of driving everybody around the bend and notorious backseat driving, she has now ventured behind the wheel. I watch the proceedings with a certain amount of skepticism tinged with amusement.

For years, my mother claimed she was fully capable of driving. This after learning at the most popular driving school in the hills I call home. 

This school boasts of an ancient Wilys jeep with just a single gear. There is no ignition. They teach you to start it by rubbing two wires together. There is no horn. The British probably stole it along with the Kohinoor. Instead, students must stick their heads out and yell. There are no wipers. One must stick the old neck out and drive during a downpour. They list a raincoat as compulsory safety gear in the school’s manual. The instructor has no dual control. In fact, he has no control. He chooses to nap while the jeep careens all around town and over the hillside. 

So you can imagine that a real driving school car with a real instructor and real driving came as something of a surprise to my mother. She’s learnt that cars can have as many gears as she has fingers on a single hand. Keep the car on the road, not the kerb. “Ooops, sorry!” doesn’t quite cut it when you nudge an old woman off the kerb. Don your seatbelt and not a raincoat when you step into the car. 

Not too shabby for twenty days of lessons, eh?

And before people begin chastising me for mocking a blood relative, let me tell you – I have high regard for my mother’s decision to get behind the wheel when others her age are getting on wheelchairs. Of even more significance is the fact that my maternal side of the family would not qualify, by any stretch of the imagination, for excellence in driving awards. 

While the younger lot have driven their cars into hedges and unwittingly parked their luxury sedans atop coffee bushes, my maternal grandfather earned the dubious title of “The Flying Thatha (grandfather)”.

His cars ran out of clutch plates faster than his house ran out of milk. He didn’t think it necessary to keep an eye on the road. Being slightly hard of hearing, he’d twist his head all the way around to listen to his passengers in the backseat while zooming up the winding roads. He’d lean out his window and wave – with both arms – at the innumerous people he knew walking along the road. 

However, his moment of fame came when his brakes failed and he flew off the side of the hill, crash-landing on trees in the valley a 100 feet below. While the car was a total write-off, he emerged quite unscathed with just one regret: “I lost my gum boot.”

What else would you expect from anyone who survived a near-fatal crash?