What Learning To Drive On Indian Roads Taught Me

10/07/2015 8:37 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Speed driving traffic.

There's a brand tagline that pops into my mind every time I drive to the grocery store or to pick up my husband from his office: "Darr ke aage jeet hai" (Success is beyond fear). But however trivial it may seem to someone else, fear is fear. It is never big or small. We all have to fight our own battles against our fears. I have won one such long battle. If you are also trying to conquer an anxiety, then this story is for you.

People complain constantly about the Bangalore traffic, but it doesn't bother me much when I am behind the wheel, struggling to find my way in the mishmash of slow moving, lane breaking and often bullying vehicles, all trying to win some kind of imaginary race. I drive occasionally so you might say that's why all this doesn't bother me much, but I must tell you there is another reason for that.

For a long time during my childhood, I had an incurable phobia of riding a bicycle. While my friends and peers would ride their bicycles to school, to the city market, or just to play, I was struggling and finding it impossible to make friends with gravity. I would have nightmares of getting mortally injured. To me, man riding on two wheels was a far greater invention than the wheel itself. After several years of attempting this feat, I gave up.

"For a girl who struggled to ride a bicycle carefree, I can now drive a car, a Maruti Swift. But it became possible only after years of crusading against my fears and not giving up."

But how can a mother let her daughter accept a failure without an intervention? On one pleasant summer evening, my mother persuaded me to give it another try. And eureka! It was magic when while riding I turned back to see that my mom was no longer supporting my cycle. I felt super-confident. As I started riding my way to my senior secondary school, I realised that my peers were already driving scooters. To my dismay, I found learning to ride a scooter again an impossible task for me. I was lean and found the vehicle too heavy to kick-start or even to put it on the stand. Once again, I thought of giving up. But then what remains in life if we stop trying? What remains of life if to give up becomes a habit?

So, after a few years of trying, untrying and retrying, I bought a lightweight scooter or Scootie as we called it. In a short time, I figured out how to ride it and would go on jaunts across our small city. With that, I learned something else too. That for us women driving freely on Indian roads is not just a struggle to win over personal inhibitions. We also need to ignore the mocking and staring eyes, to avoid those who are ready to pounce on you, to harass you at every opportunity, at every nook and corner. Initially, the comments, the chases, the stares, the attempts to make me fall or even molest me scared the hell out of me but then one of my experienced friends advised me that "ignoring is bliss" while riding or driving on Indian streets.

For a girl who struggled to ride a bicycle carefree, I can now drive a car, a Maruti Swift. But it became possible only after years of crusading against my fears and not giving up. I smile and move on when they crack jokes about the "lady behind the wheel". I understand that my driving is not perfect. Perhaps I overlook things while starting the engine, changing lanes, or parking but I have earned whatever little skills I have for driving all sorts of vehicles against all odds. After all, there are lot of men too who are not able to overcome their fear for driving even when nobody is out there to harass them or scan them from head to toe. So even if I drive badly, I have the courage to try irrespective of the judgmental eyes.

As the tussle with my fears continues (like swimming!), I have discovered that trepidation towards doing anything is just like a crawling spider. The more one lets it crawl in the mind, the more it entangles the mind in its web. So the best way out is to kill this spider with a constant hammering of "Yes, I can do it!" The feeling of winning over any fear is incomparably joyful.

I have experienced it, what about you?

A version of this piece appeared on the at author's blog

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