An Indian Girl’s Guide To Driving by Urvashi Bahuguna
An Indian Girl’s Guide To Driving
If you have a weakness, my driving instructor quips,
it is that you are full of fear. What I hear is half-parent,
half-poem. My father and sister stand slack-jawed staring
at our wrecked car. (They are like a slow-motion movie).
I nose-dive into action – push the fender back into the
exposed mouth of our car. I can hear the slap of desert
wind against my cape. Nothing makes me forgive people
like learning I have something to teach them. How unlikely
they will remember that dust-up in Tijara like I do. Metaphor,
my therapist offers, is central to moving forward. Ignition.
Accelerate. Let go. How embarrassingly simple, yet I stall
the car in five lane traffic. I am a stutter stuck mid-throat
one hundred cars honking at me to just spit it out. I picked
the wrong season to learn – distracted by the red daggers
of silk cotton trees, the fists of dust storms whirling across
the windshield. In India, there is a part-myth about bad women
drivers I am desperate to disprove. I want to drive like my father
fast, steady, fearless in roadside brawls. No matter how soft I cradle
the steering wheel, I know I am tentacled around it. Fear is as
natural to me as spit. All I want is to be swashbuckling,
to reign my fear with the sweep of a seatbelt, to have my dashboard
light up like a siren, to make my own way through the world.
Once, I sat in a car with my father in the passenger seat. It was my first time driving. I started slowly, navigating side streets. Impatient, he shouts instructions at me: turn this way, go that way, do this, no, don’t do that! I ended up driving into a gutter, in tears, his foot on an imaginary pedal he keeps pressing to brake. You’re too afraid, he tells me.
Times I am besieged with fear: thinking I forgot to lock the door when I was already miles away from home. When the rain turns to flood. Shadows in the corners of the room. Policemen at street corners waiting to flag you down. When I picture a future without you.
On the last day of my driving lesson, the instructor told me: Congratulations, you are now part of the population that worsens traffic in this city. Roam free. Roam far.
What I’ve learned so far: always look behind you. Use your signal lights. Be careful of intersections. You can do it, even if you’re afraid. Given a chance, in any universe, I’ll always make my way to your door.
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