Driving Rituals

My first driving class was quite informal. I believe that’s true for most people. The friendly uncle, the encouraging mom or dad, or the carefree cousin, will let you have a go at shifting gears and steering the vehicle – usually in an open ground where there is little chance of damage to anyone.

For me, it was the friendly driver who steered the automobile for my father. It was a big white Ambassador (a localised version of the Morris Oxford II).  The training was very simple. All I learnt was to start the car, shift gears, drive in a straight line, and stop the car. The key topic of this session was undoubtedly striking the balance between accelerating and releasing the clutch without jerks or stalling. After all the instructions and demonstrations, I was confident that I’d get it right the first time. I didn’t. The car jerked, stopped.

Many years later, I saw this:

Some solace. Even Neo didn’t get it right the first time!

Of course I got it right the next time and got much better in due course. I couldn’t yet reverse the car or park it, but I could move it from Point A to Point B, in an open and an obstacle-free ground. I learnt something else from this driver, though he didn’t teach me this. In the morning, if he had to reverse to get the car out from parking, he never started the car in reverse, he put it in the first gear, moved ever so slightly ahead, and then backed up the car. I wondered about the automotive logic of this act. After having exhausted many theories that a non-engineer could conjure, I asked him about why he did that, and he said:

Never start the day in reverse.

I got my driving licence many years later after learning to drive in a formal driving school. It included reversing the car, parking, driving around obstacles, avoiding people, lampposts and other vehicles, and most importantly not allowing the car to slide down on a slope. The perfect union of the clutch and the accelerator, when all things are in balance. I got my first car, many years after that. That day, when I took my car out of the dealer’s garage, I put the car in the first gear, moved ever so slightly ahead, and then backed up the car. I’ve been doing that ever since.

It’s a ritual or a superstition that has stayed with me for the last decade or so. I hardly think about it now, it’s part of the process.

*

I haven’t formed any other significant superstitions since then. But, driving along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, of all the pleasure that this drive offers, there’s one that look forward to:

IMG_2435 - Version 2

This is Shivneri, a high-frequency inter-city service between Mumbai and Pune, run by the MSRTC (The Maharashtra State Transport (ST) service). This is one sight I always look forward to on the Expressway. For reasons I have yet to discover, it makes the drive peaceful and joyous. Perhaps it reaffirms the love of travel, or offers the companionship of strangers traveling with you. Or, because of the vast network (it’s the third largest fleet in India) it assures you of one thing.

You can get there.

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