Part 3: Incredible India
My parents agreed to visit us in India, once the retreat was almost completed. I was keen to drive them around, so decided to embark upon Indian driving lessons and a test. I had to take my 'provisional test', before I was allowed to sign up for lessons, so went along to the Road Traffic Office in Mysore. Upon asking for a copy of the Highway Code, I was swiftly ushered into a room, where a uniformed man starting pointing at a medley of pictures on the wall, expecting me to know what they symbolised. I proffered a few guesses: warning, bullock carts; order, tongas prohibited; warning, unguarded level crossing ahead; warning, deers crossing etc. The portly man started flapping his right arm, which baffled me somewhat. He told me to copy him, so I obediently flapped too. He helpfully explained that these were the hand signals for slowing down, turning right, turning left and over-taking. "But what are the car's indicators and brake lights for?" I naively asked. He clearly wasn't happy about my insolence and grunted indignantly. Miraculously I passed my provisional test and booked my first driving lesson. I was allowed ten, one-hour classes before my exam. I learned to drive in India, in a Maruti 800. There were no rear-view or wing mirrors in the car. This made me very nervous, but my instructor assured me that it was safer this way. "Focus only on what is ahead of you" he advised. He also made me turn right, way before the actual turnings; prohibited me from stopping at roundabouts; encouraged me to crawl along at a snail's pace in the fast lanes and reverse into main roads. When I refused to go through a red light, he yelled "Madam, this is India!" The day of my test came and Mahesh and I arrived at the RTO at 9am. We joined an already enormous queue and waited for several hours in the sun. Around lunchtime a voice shouted "You foreigner, simulated test." I was appalled. I hadn't sat in a tiny car for ten hours with my incongruous driving instructor, only to take a pretend test. After a heated conversation in Kannada, I was led to another queue, where there were over a hundred people waiting by a dozen learner-driver vehicles. We were standing on a busy main road in Mysore accompanied by cows, lorries, bikes and rickshaws. The cars were parked in a line by the side of the road and each examinee, had to elbow their way into a driver's seat. It took me a long time to summon the confidence to barge my way into a car and when I did I was told to sit down and fold my arms. There was a hefty Indian man in the passenger seat, who had his own set of foot pedals. Although this car did actually have rear view and wing mirrors, they were angled for the passenger's use. I didn't even get to start the car as the engine was already running when I clambered in. Our vehicle pulled out and the hefty man drove me around the block and then reversed parked into the space from whence we began. All twelve cars were following the same procedure. Over the road, underneath a large tree sat a gruff examiner, whom none of us personally met. He would occasionally look up to assess the chaos. Three months later, a driving licence arrived in the post for me. Mahesh decided that he would be my parents' chauffeur.
A few days before Christmas my parents and sister arrived. The journey from the airport to Sakleshpur gave my family a lively welcome to the country. They were greeted by a cacophony of persistent horn-hoots, cows languidly walking along the road, helmet-less families precariously balancing on flimsy scooters and drivers demonstrating their prowess in reckless abandon. Luckily we only had to have one loo stop, but nevertheless my Mum managed to chance upon the most ghastly squat lavatory in the whole of India and had already bolted the door before I could show her the fabulous Western potty in the adjacent cubicle.
The day before Christmas Eve our fancy Aga-style cooking range decided to stop working and no one could fix it until the new year. Not wanting to miss having our traditional English Christmas lunch, we decided to venture to Mysore to feed our faces and celebrate the birth of Christ. My Dad suggested that it might be a good idea to get our electric drill fixed in Mysore, so that we could assemble 'level' shelves on our return. We loaded the car with Christmas crackers, a tree, decorations, wine, cranberry sauce and mince pies and merrily drove off to Mysore, leaving the electric drill in the veranda.
Mahesh phoned Rajana (the owner of the coffee estate next to ours) and in exchange for a bottle of rum, asked him to pop the drill in a box and hand it (along with our name and phone number) to the driver of the next bus to Mysore. This should have been an ingenious plan, except that Rajana didn't write our name on the box, nor did he take down the driver's mobile number, or the bus's registration number. So ... our drill went back and forth to Mysore and Sakleshpur for three days, before Rajana managed to locate the driver at Sakleshpur bus station and gave him Mahesh's phone number. On December 28th Mahesh successfully met up with the driver at Mysore bus station, who happily reunited him with our drill. "The way of the drill" soon became an affectionate metaphor to describe anything whose destiny is out of our hands (but will be OK in the end)! When we arrived back in Sakleshpur, two people from the cooking range company, were waiting for us in the veranda. They leapt up excitedly and happily repaired the oven. www.nirvrta.com