Wednesday, 18 January 2017

I learn to drive

“You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said 'Parking Fine.” 

I decided to finally get driving lessons during my current visit to Islamabad. I'm 37 and, don't know how to drive. 

I could come up with a range of excuses to say that I have never had the need to drive, especially since I started working. My first few jobs were in the NGO/UN sector in Islamabad where a pick up was provided by the office. When I went abroad, I was driven everywhere in a white UN vehicle, either picked up from the house or for meetings. After I started running a business, I didn't own a vehicle and, for a long time we were relying on taxis to get around. When we finally got a car, there was Haresh or the driver to drive me around. 

I suppose, it's pure laziness.

Well, I got a burst of inspiration when I got back from Dubai and, decided to enrol myself in a driving lesson. I contacted the first driving school that came up in a Google search: Iqra Driving School. The course was going to cost 16,000 rupees for about 8 1.5-hour lessons. 

My first lesson was, of course, not so easy and slightly awkward. My instructor was a burqa-clad girl whose face was also covered. I didn't know exactly how to interact with an instructor whose face I couldn't see. Also, she jumped right into it, without making small talk. The first moment was dull and rather unpleasant. Her instructions were also not "clear" to me and, I, as a nervous student, kept saying she's assuming too much and she needs to slow down. She took me right to Margalla Road, quite a busy 4-lane highway.

I didn't really enjoy the first half of the course until I mentally talked myself into being more patient, try to understand my instructor's style and, enjoy the experience of learning from a burqa-clad girl. I expressed my anxieties to her and, of course, she was reception to my feedback.

From then on, I started to really enjoy the lessons and, even looked forward to them. They were at 12 PM every day. I often left a sleepy Kavita watching cartoons or came home to see her watching cartoons on my mother's iPad. 

My instructor, Samina, was only 23 and was with the Iqra Driving School for 5 years already. Her salary was 20,000 rupees and, she worked from 9 to 5 and, came to and from Pindi six days a week. She worked hard. In fact, she toiled the whole week for $ 200.00. 

During the last few lessons, another  burqa-clad instructor was in the back seat and, she seemed to be sitting listlessly, with her head lying against the window, aimlessly scrolling through her phone. I got quite irritated with this: "But if this girl is under training, shouldn't she look a little more alive? Isn't it unprofessional for her to be half-lying on the back seat?" My instructor argued with me and said I shouldn't be bothered about it. During the next lesson, the instructor-in-training shifted to the seat behind me so I couldn't catch her sight out of the corner of my eye.

I really enjoyed my lessons otherwise, driving in beautiful Islamabad. We even drove as far as Saidpur to learn parking in the Des Pardes parking lot. We also drove up to Faisal Mosque where Samina took my photograph. Too bad I couldn't take a photo with my teacher.

It's quite something to learn driving at this stage of life. At first I couldn't believe how many things one had to be keep an eye on: speed, left and right mirror, rear-mirror, gears, 3 pedals, signs, traffic, motorcycles, etc. My instructor kept telling me that you have to watch for your left side as everyone overtakes you from the left, they aren't supposed to, because this is Pakistan. 

At first my feet were slightly exhausted trying to keep balanced on the pedals. If I let my foot go, the accelerator would go crazy. I just light touched the clutch, the car would go off. Eventually I found the balance. 

If I learned how to control the steering wheel, I would forget I needed to put the car into 1st gear when the car was stationary. 

It was exhilarating to go into 3rd gear finally during the last few lessons. Because all this time before, I was driving in 2nd gear at 20 km/h and, it got quite tedious. 

I really enjoyed my lessons and, felt very grateful to my teacher for being patient. I gave her some chocolates and a red convertible toy car as a parting gift.

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