(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 16 October 2010)
“I bet that’s a woman!”
That was my pet phrase when I felt like annoying my feminist friends on the road.
Having zipped in and out of Madras for five years, I had comfortably settled into the backseat of all wheeled mobile objects. Which came with the privilege of taunting the drivers.
“Your mom drives!” a friend was fond of saying, every time I clucked my tongue at her for making an awkward turn.
“Yes. Badly,” I lied. The dents in my mother’s car have been engineered solely by the male members of the clan.
Having won my driving licence as an eighteen-year-old, for driving ten feet in first gear without killing the engine or a bystander, I was proof that you needn’t know how to drive to be allowed to, if you could look helpless enough to rouse the chivalry of the driving inspectors.
“Women can’t handle positions of power,” I would say, and smile smugly when a furious friend nearly crashed her car in response.
It’s true that I still wish we lived in times when ladies sang to each other in harems, learnt science and language for entertainment, had maids to fan them, and were authorised to move on to someone better if their spouses were vanquished in war.
But my theories on women and driving were due to change when I made a purchase that took me places.
While I usually use my indicators correctly, reverse in reverse gear and can park, two months and several dents later, I’ve discovered that it isn’t always the woman’s fault that she cannot drive well. The threats are threefold:
The Forty-Minute Aunties: This species teeters off the pavement to check whether you accelerate or slow down. Once you slow down, and they have peered in to ascertain you’re a woman, they decide you can empathise with why it takes them forty minutes to waddle across the road.
The He-Men: This genum may be found in four manifestations – the bipeds who can only ride at a non-right angle to the road, the tripeds who swing either way on a whim, the quadrupeds who don’t use their indicators, whine after they bang your car and shut up when you swear like a sailor, and the pedestrians who wait until you’re two feet away before they lunge across.
The Professional Chauffeurs: Every time you see a car that’s nearly as wide as a bus and shorter than Danny DeVito, you know the guy at the wheel is sponging ten grand off his employer to learn to drive it. Whether it’s making an illegal U-turn, coming at you from the wrong end of a six-foot-wide one-way or being righteously angry when you come face-to-face as they’re trying to overtake a bus, you can bet on these guys to do it with panache. And they all stick their hands out at you in an ambiguous curse for playing by the rule book.
I draw solace from the fact that I have a Voice of Reason who cannot drive and assures me that I’m never at fault.
“Today, a guy overtook me from the left and hit my bumper. I swore at him, though.”
“Maybe you should carry pepper spray and a baseball bat.”
“A fool on a bike ripped the number plate when he was trying to overtake a bus. And then an old man with an L-Board lost control of his Scooty and made a dent.”
“I hope they were both injured?”
“This time it was my fault. I hit the concrete base of an electric box. It was jutting out…”
“No, that’s the municipal corporation’s fault!”