Better late than never—that is why, I decided to learn driving in the twilight of my life (70 to be precise) that I took the plunge. I had been riding two-wheelers for the past 30 years, however.
On Day 1 at the driving school, I was literally trembling as I sat on the driver’s seat.
My “teacher”—reverently called Asan (master) by everybody—was sitting on the front seat beside me. He looked into my eyes and asked me to pray, as if God alone could save me. I heaved a sigh of relief when I realised he had a duplicate brake, clutch and accelerator that he could act on in an emergency.
I started the engine. “Press the clutch pedal,” Asan ordered. First gear...second... and now third... gently press the accelerator.” I obeyed his commands and everything went off fine.
Day 2 was quite eventful. It was 4pm. Girls were coming out from their schools in groups. Our car was just in front of the gate. Unmindful of the learner’s L pasted on the windshield, two girls crossed the road. “Brake!” Asan’s shout was followed by a curse in Malayalam that I wouldn’t like to translate. I am sure it was intended for me, because instead of pressing the brake pedal, my foot was on the accelerator.
Asan applied his “duplicate” in the nick of time, else the next day’s papers would have carried the tragic news “Schoolgirls die in accident, satirist J Philipose Thiruvalla arrested.”
Without any other serious mishap I successfully or rather unsuccessfully completed the classes. Asan somehow managed to get a driving licence for me. God alone knows how!
It was the wedding day of a close relative’s son at Kumbanad, around 12km from our place.
Our Maruti Alto was in our car shed; the driving licence issued by Kerala’s motor vehicles department was in my pocket. But my wife was not confident and she suggested a taxi. “What a shame!” I shouted. Being a male chauvinist I brushed aside her objections and decided to drive. My “confidence” didn’t allow me to exceed speeds of 20-25kmph.
Whenever cyclists overtook our car, I could hear chuckles from the back seat where my wife and daughter-in-law were.
We had almost reached our destination when a small stray dog crossed the road without any prior hint. As usual I pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and the inevitable happened. My wife and daughter-in-law screamed seeing the martyr lying on the road bathed in blood. “No driver could ever save a dog bent upon committing suicide,” I murmured. Thankfully, only an insignificant mishap followed after this when a maternal uncle of the bridegroom was hit by my car when I was reversing it.
Next day, the honourable family court read out the judgment—no more driving by Appa on the roads. If he is very particular, he can drive in our spacious courtyard. Nowadays, whenever our neighbour’s driver takes us for a wedding, a funeral or some other event in our car, I sit on the back seat giving directions. After all, I am the “Muthalaly”, the Master, and not the driver.