Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Driving Orchestra and the Moving Play

Mahima. A. Jain

“What?” I snapped.
“Nothing,” the driver replied.
“No what! What did you want to say anna?”
“I don’t think you can drive on Mount Road.”
“Oh really? You don’t let me take the car and you don’t want to drive me around. How am I supposed to commute?” I asked him.
“What ‘commute’?” He asked.
“Never mind.” I replied. I reversed the car, he reluctantly showed me how much to reverse and where.
When I was safely out of the parking lot and as I was raising the window I said, “I knew how to reverse. You did not have to show me.”
He shrugged and let me go.
I stopped at signals. Shifted gears from one to four and then back again. I braked, I used the clutch. I honked and after four signals I learnt to swear. It was fun.
It felt like I was in a movie or in a novel. It felt like independence and victory of feminism. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world. Every time I stepped on the brake, the world followed behind me. Every time I moved forward they took my cue. I was a director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Traffic at Greams Road” to “The Signal at Egmore” or even “The Pause for the BMW”.
I took a turn on to Mount Road. The voice of the driver echoed in my head, louder than the honks of the “27 D” behind me.
I told myself the same thing I had told him, “Never mind”.
Soon I learnt that no one was driving at the safe “forty per hour” speed limit. I too raced. I also learnt that I was not the conductor of this orchestra at Mount Road. Here everyone was driven by a single motive, get out of here. It was not a problem.
At the signal, I slowed the vehicle at the stop line. Happy about not stopping the engine, I put the vehicle on neutral as the timer started counting backwards from hundred. In the rear view mirror, which I had learnt the use of; I saw a nice car with four circles as a symbol slowdown behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to recall what that car was.
“Audi!” I squealed with excitement just as my car moved forward involuntarily accompanied with a loud thud. I swiftly turned around and saw that the Audi had bumped into my car. I got out of the car and closed the door behind me.
“What the hell? You think you can do anything! What is this! You broke the lights? Get out of the car!” I banged my fist to prove my point. The car purred lightly on neutral.
The man stepped out of the car; he was a middle aged person with greying hair, beige pants and a blue button down shirt. He quietly apologised for his mistake and offered to pay for the loss. He said it was his first time with the car and he was yet to understand how it worked. I felt we were equals but I did not say so. There was not a single scratch on his car even though his car had bumped into mine.
He gave me his business card. The occupants of two buses, a share auto, three autos, five bikes and eight cars watched the show. Sub-consciously I was the heroine once again. I took the card and got back to my car with one look at the signal, ten seconds remaining.
I clenched the handle of the door and pulled it. It did not open. I saw the keys dangling in the keyhole. I could still feel the purr of the engine and the mist the AC forming on the closed windows. I clenched my head and once again banged my fist into some random part of the car.
The signal turned green and everyone behind me started honking. All the slang I had used a little while back on others was being re-directed at me. The gentleman from the Audi got down and came towards me; I murmured “The return of the Audi-man”. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world – finally - but not the way I had pictured. I was not in the car and yet the world had to take my cue. I was the director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Disaster at Mount Road” to “The Lost Keys” or even “One Idiot”.