Yes, my friends, I have “voluntarily” committed myself to 21 days of driving classes in Mumbai. Today was my first day and I HATE driving a manual car. After driving an automatic in the USA for about 6 years, where driving was a breeze, I feel like I am in the pre-historic era, trying to drive a car that operates on 5 gears, that has a clutch, an accelerator, and a break! I cant’ say that I ever enjoyed driving. I am one of those creatures that have always had some kind of aversion toward driving. While sitting behind the wheel brings great joy and pleasure to most folks I know, it induces a state of anxiety (and sometimes even comatose) in me every time I have to drive. A past life thing?
Anyhoo, I think I did OK for my first lesson in driving. For someone who is used to obeying traffic rules, giving way to pedestrians, and taking the law really seriously, driving in Mumbai is like driving in a zoo! The concept of “road discipline” does not exist and I was barraged by cars from all sides of the road and it was non-stop. I had a rude awakening today on two occasions: First, when I was approaching a main junction where there were no traffic lights, I asked the instructor if I should slow down and see if there were other cars that were already at the junction that were ready to cross. To my great surprise, I was told that there was no need to stop and I should just continue going and if there was traffic from the other side, they would stop. This made no sense to me and sounded like an unsafe practice. But hey, I figured when in Rome, do as the Romans do, even if you have to die!
Second, I was making a turn into the left lane and as I was getting into the lane, I saw some pedestrians crossing half way through. I told the instructor that I should wait until the pedestrians cross before I completely turn into the left lane. And I almost jumped out of my seat when I heard, “Why should we stop and let the pedestrians cross? Can’t they see there is a car coming? You just keep going. They will stop.” Granted, the pedestrians did stop crossing half way through the street, even though I swear I was so close to running them over because of my instructor’s insistence to get in their way.
This whole driving lesson situation that I am in will last for another 20 days. My next lesson is on Monday. On a funny note, well, maybe not so funny, in the first 10 minutes of my driving, the instructor asked me if I was living in “America.” When I said yes, he said, “Makes sense. You keep wanting to drive onto the wrong side of the road.” Yes, indeed. I found myself driving on to incoming traffic a couple of times. Lucky me, I wasn’t driving during peak hours!
I guess it would be safe to say that, if you do not hear from me in about 4-5 days, you can be sure I was driving on the wrong side of the road.