After being driven around Karachi by a driver for nearly a decade, I finally decided to hit the roads on my own – the only issue however was, I didn’t know how to drive. But, the issue was resolved with just few training sessions under the supervision of my trusted driver. And then, I was free to rule the roads!!! At least that’s what I thought….
The first time I took the car out on my own, I was overwhelmed. Learning to drive was a liberating experience. I was no longer dependent on anyone to drive me around. My confidence just went through the roof; only to come crashing down. Ever since I started driving, I have gone through so much; half of what people don’t experience in one lifetime. Summing up my experiences into one article is not easy, so bear with me as its going to be a series of events. Fasten your seat belts, the ride is about to begin!
For the first week I was not allowed to drive alone, I always had to take along my experienced driver. By the end of first week, I had an achievement list ready:
1. Make a turn after checking the side mirrors
2. Tailgate without bumping into the car ahead
3. Reach 100km/h on a Karachi road
4. Successfully attempt 3 overtakes.
5. Squeeze between 2 minibuses / trucks
6. Win an impromptu street race with another car preferably with a male driver
7. Win a race with a dumper truck.
8. Drive on highway
Say no to left turns!
For someone who has rarely seen herself in the mirror, it was a herculean task to keep a tab on all the mirrors the drivers are supposed to use, especially the left one. I was really in awe of the bike riders with no side mirrors, who just turned their heads to check the incoming traffic without actually hitting the car in front. The few times I tried to make a left turn I found myself right in the way of incoming traffic. It was terrified to the point that I altogether skipped the left turns, let it sink… for one whole month I avoided every single left turn on my commute. Looking back on those days, I now realize that was no simple feat. It took me quite some time, a few near hits and a good dose of verbal thrashing by my driver to finally get that eye-hand-foot coordination right, Phew!! 1 down, 7 more to go.
A friend saw my list and asked “Why Tailgate???” and I was like,
“Dude!!! This is Karachi!!! For one whole week I drove like a sensible law abiding person leaving a couple of feet space between me and the car ahead at signals and traffic jams and it turned out that nobody does that; cause all the bikers, rickshaws, cars and heck even buses will try to squeeze into that space leaving you stuck in the same place for like eternity!!! So, Tailgate!”
Now I enjoy all the mean looks and death glares the poor bikers and rickshaw drivers threw at me for not letting them squeeze in. Ah!!! Sweet poetic justice…
After 3 months of driving, I took my driver for a spin to show off my driving skills. We drove for an hour or so but didn’t get a single word of appreciation from him. As soon I parked the car back home, he opened the dashboard and glanced at my achievement list and then he said,
“30kms, not a single overtake, driving below 50km/h in the fast lane and staying clear from buses and trucks like you have seen a ghost, so what’s so impressive about your driving that I should praise?”
The confidence with which I took him for a ride was nowhere to be found. Something needed to be done and I soon got the chance. I had a meeting early in the morning and was running late. As I was gulping down my tea, mom asked to take the driver if I wanted to reach on time and my siblings started giggling. I shot them a stern look, grabbed my keys and left. For a moment, I too thought of taking the driver but then determination hit. Next I knew, I was on the road, overtaking vehicles left, right, centre, squeezing between buses and cars with the speedometer marker on the right side of 100 for most of the journey. I managed to reach my office within 25 minutes, a distance that I usually covered in an hour. It was unbelievable!!! I was overjoyed. I ticked my achievements on the list and added one more:
9. Get a well done from Gul (My driver/My teacher)
Life was good, I was enjoying my daily commute and it was then I started noticing something strange; most of the male drivers whom I overtook, took it as an invitation to race. I chose to ignore all such attempts but few of them especially the bus drivers and dumper drivers were persistent. I came across one such persistent guy driving a black Honda City one day. I was on the Shaheed-e-Millat Expressway heading towards KPT interchange when I overtook this guy who was driving leisurely at 40km/h. He sped up and started tailgating and honking like a mad man. I gave him way to go ahead and he sped past like a maniac, but a few hundred meters down the road he was waiting for me to catch up. At first I thought nothing of it but then it started getting bothersome. A couple of cars around us got the hint of what he was trying to do and slowed down deliberately to enjoy the show. Now it was an open challenge and I’m not someone to back down. I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, if he wants a race then so be it..The next couple of minutes were just like the fast and the furious. Weaving in and out of traffic at more than 100 kph, never did once I thought I could win, I just wanted to be a tough opponent but by the time I reached the intersection that lead to my office, he was still behind. The way he slammed his hand on the steering wheel was hilarious, an uncle who was on the same route and had witnessed the show, honked to get my attention and gave a thumbs up as I looked over.
The dreaded dumper trucks
My achievement list was nearing end, but I was unable to overcome my fear of dumper trucks. In my initial days of driving, a dumper truck almost ran over me, the experience scared the living daylights out of me and I couldn’t help getting tensed as soon as I saw a dumper anywhere near my car. The dream of cruising down the highway seemed distant as no one in the family is keen on traveling and I wasn’t allowed to venture out on my own. So when I heard about my Mother’s plan to visit someone in Gharo, I was super excited, may be this was my chance. It was early Sunday morning, I was bubbling with excitement but all my hopes crushed down when I saw Gul behind the wheel. Mom was still inside and I have little time to persuade him to let me drive before she’s out but I managed. As we set on our journey, mom was still skeptical about me driving on the highway and asked Gul to take over. I gave the most innocent pleading look to Gul and managed to drag some tears. He gave in and assured mom that I can manage and its being early Sunday morning, traffic will be sparse and he can take the wheel anytime if I had trouble driving. The drive till Bin Qasim was pretty uneventful.
Master was not impressed
The number of trawlers and dumpers started increasing as we neared port and having Gul by my side had given me a confidence boost. It’s a two lane highway with constant traffic from the nearby factories and port Qasim, so overtaking gets a bit tricky. A little before Steel Town a dumper sped past me making me swerved momentarily but I quickly gained composure. Thankfully, there wasn’t any traffic but my crazy brain has the brilliant idea of chasing him down. Gul started getting uneasy as he realized I’m driving past 100 Kph but he has no idea what was going on in my head actually. I was finally alongside that dumper when suddenly I noticed an oil tanker moving into my lane from an intersection a few feet ahead. The sanity said that I should slow down get behind the dumper and drive normally but no one was listening. I sped up and managed to squeeze past the narrow opening avoiding a horrible crash by just few centimeters. I have no clue what the drivers of both the trucks have thought about this crazy stunt but my mom was shocked and terrified. I triumphantly look over Gul and asked “How’s that?” In return I got a stern look and was asked to immediately pull over to a side. I obeyed and as soon I parked, Gul got out and asked me to shift to passenger side. I have never seen him that furious and for the first time since he joined us, he yelled at me. I was grounded, not allowed to drive unless I cleaned up my act.
A good driver
In the beginning, speed gave me an adrenaline rush that hampers my ability to think rationally. I was short tempered and reacted without thinking much about the consequences of my actions. It took me a year and whole lot of incidents to realize that driving is all about patience and focus. A good driver is not someone who can win impromptu street races or weave in and out of traffic at insane speed, it is someone who reads the traffic well, has good control over the car and ensure the safety of not only his passengers but of the others in the surrounding as well. I still enjoy speeding sometimes but never broke into the mad max road fury like before no matter how much I got tempted. It took me a year to earn a well done from Gul and I knew it was well deserved.
Hey, if you are thinking that I never got into any accidents, well…that’s not the case. I have my fair share of accidents ranging from a mere “huh?” to “what the..?!” But that’s for some other time..till then, drive safe, folks.