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I finally did it…in the UK! May 1, 2008

Posted by espritnoir in I, Me and Myself..., Random Thoughts....
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Whew! Spent a few days back cleaning up my room, and man, was it a mess! Printouts of reference materials for all my assignments, candy wrappers, a couple of beer cans from a party over a month back, loose junk papers, menus from local takeaways that i’ve never ordered from, direct mail from the local print-shop from where I buy my printer cartridges, old newspapers, some more assorted prints, and somewhere in between all that junk, a study desk on which rests my laptop, cluttered with my external harddisk, the aforementioned printer, and an assortment of cups and pint glasses that have become the resting place for everything from a U-hairpin (don’t ask me why I have one! Even I have no clue!), 7 pens, 14 pencils, an eraser, my tickets from a musical that I saw at uni, a few more beer and coke cans from the time I was drinking even way before the party mentioned earlier, a wristband from my trip to the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, and other assorted junk that I seemed to have picked up along the way in the last 6 months. Cleaned out. I think the sigh is justified! Whew!!!

Well, that’s not been all that’s kept me busy. A few days back, me and my friends did a quick day trip to Bristol, about 3 hours drive away from where we are, to pick up an unused television set from somebody my friend knows there. I went along just for one thing. Coz it finally gave me an opportunity to get behind the wheel of a car! And let me tell you, if you love driving as much as I do, its like learning to walk all over again, driving in a foreign country, after almost 8 months of not being in the driver’s seat. I must say, I have never missed my Scorpio more than I did the last week.

Driving in the UK after such a long time, was a totally different experience, I must say. I was actually worried whether I would have forgotten how it all works. Getting behind the wheel of a rented car (a Nissan Micra), adjusting the seat so, pressing the accelerator and the clutch feels just right. Making sure that you can see the rear view perfectly. Checking the side mirrors, the seat belt, the handbrake. Putting the car into first. Gingerly pressing on the gas the first time after so long. Making sure that the car is getting just enough gas so that it moves ahead in a smooth motion, and doesn’t jump start its way ahead. Looking in the rear view and side mirror to check for traffic coming from behind. And then, in one smooth motion, pulling the car out of the kerb, and then you’re on the tarmac, hoping that what used to come naturally to you eight months back, will come back again. And heaving a silent sigh of relief, when it finally hits you. You’re driving once again.

But, that’s where all similarity between driving in India, and in the UK ends. Driving in India is, compared to the lot here, is an adventure. You never know what’s gonna come you way next. It could be a haphazard cyclist, a careless kid crossing a road, a lazy cow who decides to come in your way for no reason, or a cabbie who decides to cut you off for no reason. You’re constantly on your toes, aware of what’s happening around you. And a little beyond. And you rarely ever hit speeds beyond 35Kmph in peak traffic in the city. Especially a place like Bombay. On the Vashi – Bombay highways maybe 60 – 80k’s. Max. You honk for everything. To tell the guy in front, he’s backing up too close to your bonnet for comfort. To tell him to move ahead. To curse. To say thank you. To signal your friend to get into the car. To tell your date you’ve come to pick them up and can they come downstairs from their apartments. In fact, a horn is for everything you can imagine.

Here, things are way too controlled. It’s a great thing, but somehow that makes it a little bit tougher to handle. Everything is precise. Separate lanes for buses. Separate lanes if you want to take a right, go straight, or take a left. No overtaking. Never heard a car horn here. In fact, for the first time in my life, I must have driven for 15 kms or so, didn’t honk once. Ever. You learn to drive at speeds of almost 90kmph on single lane roads connecting two towns. On top of that, you make decisions on the fly, at that speeds, whether you have the right of way as you approach an island or a roundabout. Right preceeds you, if they are already into the circle. You wait, and then go. Wait for how long though? Can you make a judgement, and then just squeeze in , if you can. Coz, if you make an inch of an error on either side, you end up in a ditch, and tons of paperwork, or you end up in the middle of oncoming traffic, and an even worse fate than paperwork. Not much option. On top of that, for the first time in my life, I was taking blind corners at about almost 45 mph, ie. approx. 60 kmph. For the first 3 turn my brain was going, BURNOUT BURNOUT BURNOUT! ABANDON SHIP ABANDON SHIP. ARE YOU CRAZY!??!?! But after the third turn I realised that if I slowed down, im going to bring the cars behind me on top of my ass in a second. So to maintain balance, you need to be doing what the book says. If it says 40, you go 40! But it was good fun. Getting behind the wheel after so long. For the first time, I didn’t have a chance to look at the wonderful scenery whizzing past me, the yellow summer fields, the willows covering the landscape, the small tiny inns with funny names, and the tiny streams and rivers we crossed to get to the next town.

I must have driven for about a half an hour, which was less than 20% of the entire return journey from Bristol, but in retrospect, it was one of the best 30 minutes I’ve had since I’ve come to the UK. I think the best part of the drive was not just the drive itself, but knowing that while i was driving i was unlearning everything i had learnt back home, and relearning all over again. I was learning to unlearn, and learn again. Something which i truly love.

And, I cant wait till I do it again!!!

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