• Roopa Raveendran-Menon

A ride to remember

There have not been many times in my life when I had wanted to trade in my brown skin and dark eyes for blonde hair and blue eyes. In fact I am dead certain that there had not been any. Then why on the earth was I leaning against the stiff metallic chair, swinging my legs impatiently and tearing at my nails in the waiting room of a certain driving institute thinking otherwise and that too minutes before my third road test. Was I having a private blonde moment of sort? A string of thoughts later; I knew that I only had a bunch of hapless articles on getting a UAE driving license to blame for my current struggle. Nine months ago I had embarked on Mission UAE Driving License, and like any other enthusiastic learner here I was clutching a chockfull of dreams of zipping down those magnificent highways and swinging in and out of places I longed to visit without the impending fear of waiting endlessly for a cab dangling over my head. Little did my chirpy self then know that I was about to be catapulted into an intensive programme much with the flavor of any tightly scripted MBA course layered with lessons, tests, assessments and finicky female instructors with shrill voices and names that resonated with the species of poisonous snakes. That it would take me roughly the same amount of time to get a UAE driving license as it took me to get a post graduate diploma in journalism from a reputed institution, thanks to my merry procrastinating nature, and of packing vacations and breaks into my schedule. With every delay and interruption my motivation had started shrinking like the Matryoshka doll but I held on, spurred by my dwindling back account that screamed that there was no looking back. And in time I bumbled and stumbled my way to the grand finale of this maha expedition-an achievement by itself for me- the road test. I still remember the morn of my first driving test-after yet another day battling for a cab, I had made it just in time for my test armed with my resolute determination and lucky white shirt to bag the license at the first attempt. I took my place among a sea of faces that looked as if one had torn open a bag of emoticons and sprinkled it on them. And then the Road test car swung into the parking lot. Everyone held their breath as out spilled its stunned looking occupants led by a veiled, short figure with expressionless heavily kohl lined eyes. ‘Ah! my nemesis,’ I thought following the veiled figure with my gaze while rummaging through my mental book of descriptions to get the clearer picture of this inspector. “Hmm… If the descriptions are anything to go by, the short one is the kind one. She doesn’t cluck her tongue nor does she terrorize. Yippee! Today is a good day,” I thought cheerfully and sprawled in my seat with a new found confidence. Even my trainer’s words that I had a good chance to get the license in the first attempt seemed to have taken on a fresh hue of truth. I had started to believe it when one of the occupants of that road test car came and perched next to me. She looked around with her big bird eyes, clutching her file anxiously and waiting to be called in for the verdict. I turned to her, quelling my bursting curiosity to acceptable limits, and asked her gently, “So, how was it?” She shrugged her shoulders and twisted her big bird eyes in helplessness and gasped, “I don’t know. You never know. This is my seventh attempt. One never knows.” A prick and a splat followed- I sat back in the seat wrapped in the smithereens of my confidence. And that was how I was initiated into the driving license pecking order-the ones, who grabbed the mantle at the first go-the rare breed of superheroes followed by laymen like me whose magical numbers ranged from 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 and so on. Under the blinding glare of all that knowledge, my unwarranted ambition melted and I promptly failed the first road test. Nobody was surprised, and least of all me. Around the time my second road test rolled in, my confidence had ebbed and it worsened further as I sat behind the wheel. And thanks to a certain instructor, a hooked nose beauty who clucked her tongue in displeasure throughout the road test, I found myself squawking my way to failure. By then the UAE driving license had turned into an illusory cup way beyond my reach, and I resigned to my fate; leaving it to an act of miracle to help me jostle my way through the pecking order and land on a respectable number or for that matter even get a driving license at all. And adding to my fury and hopelessness were sympathetic sighs from cabbies all over Dubai. A Pakistani cabbie told me with pride dripping from his eyes, “Huh! In Pakistan you just apply for a license in the morning and it will be delivered to your house by evening. “ ‘When do you take the test?’ I wanted to ask but I held my tongue alarmed at my own stupidity. And back home my friends and family squealed at my driving license stories and equated my valiant efforts to that of attempting and clearing IAS exams ( a competitive administrative exam in India)and many others told me gleefully that they have got their driving license but can only drive but not park. And there were others with license who could park perfectly but not drive around for reasons unknown to them or me. Just like that many more of such odd combinations skipped around like a bunch of giddy headed rabbits from a sorcerer’s cap leaving me slurping with jealousy. How I wished I could partake in that sub continental act of grace! With desperation groaning in my ear I did what I felt was my last resort in this technology drooling world- ask good old Google for answers, maybe a formula to crack the driving license riddle? One of the articles that I stumbled upon clearly stated that Emiratis and Europeans were the fastest and the Asians the slowest with the statistics pegging Emiratis’ and Europeans’ average attempts to 1-2 and Indians average attempts to 5. And that was how I found myself in the waiting room harboring idiotic thoughts of wearing a blonde wig and a thick coating of talcum powder. Minutes later my name was called out and I pulled the car out of the parking lot smoothly. Motivated by this brand new ease and control, little by little my mind unburdened itself of all my pre conceived thoughts and calculations and focused entirely on the task at hand. Surprise of all surprises, I was enjoying my driving test for the first time, unharried by doubts or the end result. The whole experience was in fact quite liberating. ‘Anything could happen; don’t get your hopes high,’ said the little voice within me as I sat in the car waiting for my verdict. And then the unthinkable happened. “Mabrook. You have passed. You are driving well. Just be confident. Good luck yallah.” I came close to pinching her rouge streaked cheeks and hugging her plump body but I stopped and instead let out a gushing volley of thanks and gratitude. Light headed with triumph I booked for my final highway class and stepped into the cab. The end was finally in sight. I smiled to myself – all those articles and statistics curled under my feet as did my irrational blonde ambition.

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