A week after I turned fourteen, I got my first chance to drive a car.
I still remember that day.
On a cool Sunday morning, my father woke me and my brother up and asked us to meet him out of the house in five minutes. We sat on the bed. Groggy eyed and confused. Feeling too sleepy to even lift a finger, and wondering why we have been made to get up so early in the morning. That too on a Sunday!
“You wanted to learn,” he said, a little louder this time. “So don’t keep me waiting.” He then turned and disappeared behind the door.
It took us a few moments to realize the meaning behind his words. We had been haggling him for days, about learning to drive. So the moment this fact dawned upon us, our sleep vanished in an instant. The next moment we were rushing out of the house, excited like any teenager should be. And soon we were sitting beside him as he ran the car out of the parking.
After ten minutes of the short drive, we found ourselves in an empty plot of land, not very far off from our house. I and my brother took turns, and it didn’t take us much time to learn the basics of driving. How to handle the steering. The trick of shifting gears while simultaneously pressing the clutch. Accelerating and putting brakes on the speeding vehicle. And by the time I had taken three turns of driving-lesson, I had got a hang of driving.
But what I couldn’t get a hang of, even after multiple such sessions of lessons, was the skill that is a must for anyone driving a vehicle. The skill of maintaining your concentration ahead, on the road, for every second you spent behind the steering wheel.
I would start the car alright, accelerate it smoothly, shifting the gears in tandem, and drive up the car to a good speed. Maneuvering wasn’t an issue either, neither in traffic nor in narrow alleys. But where I erred was after the car would attain a good speed. In those moments when the car cruised ahead, my attention would slip away from the road the way butter slips on a hot plate. And soon I would be drifting in one daydream or the other.
Anything could trigger the chain of thoughts. The restaurant that passed by on the right… The sumptuous chole bhature I had there with my friends a few weeks back… Who was with me? Sahil ….. That ass still hadn’t returned my money… And the fact that he had borrowed my prized “Famous Five” novel and haven’t return it yet…and then…
I would go on and on like this. Spooling one memory after another. Only a honk of a car or some other distraction would pull me out my world of dreams…
A few near misses demonstrated the risk associated with such a habit. But I didn’t discuss it with anyone. Least of all with father. He might stop me from driving at all, I feared. Also, I reasoned, that it would go away with time.
It was a wrong reasoning, of course, and I could have gotten hurt, or worse hurt someone else due to my carelessness.
But thankfully I escaped without a major accident. To my good luck, I learned my lesson quite early, within a few weeks since I started driving. Thankfully it was a minor incident. But such was the impact of it that I learned to tighten the reins on my wayward thinking, at least when I was driving a car.
The incident that helped me happened only a few weeks after my father started trusting me with the car.
I was driving to our old house…
We had shifted house only a couple of weeks back. It was Sunday morning and my father was longing for the latest edition of Readers Digest (RD). Reading RD on a Sunday morning was a ritual he had been following for the last five years. It being Sunday, he was obviously longing for it. But that day not a single copy of RD was in our house.
Even though he had requested for a change in the address, most of our posts were still getting delivered to the old address. Also, the old magazines and books were still lying in the old house. There was nothing for him to lay his hand on. I saw this as an opportunity to get my first experience on road, beyond the boundaries within which I was allowed to take out the car. So I offered to drive up to our old house, check the mailbox for any new issue of RD, and even bring back a few of the old ones. He agreed, at once.