Monday, April 23, 2012

The road much travelled .....


I've just been reading this post by GB. And recalling some things from approximately 30 years ago. Was going to comment there, but it actually bloomed into a post in the mind.  And I realized that when she spoke about her childhood/babyhood, she was talking about the time when my kids were very small. 

This was when my son was about 15-16 months old.  We had our old faithful Fiat, with proper 1 piece seats in the front and back, that lent themselves to optimum use of space. Bucket seats were not in fashion.  This facility was mostly abused by assorted people piling in, sitting on laps, squeezed into corners and so on. Seat belts and stuff had not appeared on the scene as yet.  Airconditioning was what industrialists, ministers and film stars had,  nothing could beat breezing along on the erstwhile highway with the windows down , messing up  your hair,  and  the smells changed from rural to posh as you forged south.

  And there was no concept of suddenly inflating airbags. When anyone mentioned airbags, I naturally thought of bags they provided in airplanes, in case you wanted to throw up;  though I have yet to see anyone in a plane, domestic or international, throwing up like that. Never mind.

My son loved to travel in the car, and since he was so little, naturally, he had to stand on the front seat to be able to see out of the windscreen.  His father was away on assignment, and consequent to me being the unavoidable driver of choice, I developed the habit of flinging out my left arm (we have right hand drive cars in India) in a Bharat Natyam style pose, whenever I braked, to stop my son from kind of toppling over in front of the seat, into the gap between the seat and glove compartment.  At all other times, my son stood on the seat, both hands resting on the sides, on top of the seat, leaning back, and generally observing the world as it drove, cycled, walked, and screeched all around him, sometimes dodging cows, which he thought was wildly entertaining..

We once had  to take some English friend of my husband into the city, as he had some work at a bank there as well as wished to shop for handicrafts and so on.  From where we stay, on a good day (for driving, that is) this is a one hour drive.  The friend, J, sat in the front, with me driving, and my son , in his usual position, but now with one hand on J's shoulder, and J sort of holding him,without making him feel so, and two local friends accompanied us.

  Once we passed the causeway at Mahim , the highway driving , relatively fast and smooth, was over, and it was city driving all the way. Never, at the best of times, a science, Mumbai driving, is actually an art. You kind of surge ahead, overtake folks, then some guy gets offended, and itches to overtake you. Some taxi drivers, take random turns from random lanes, and you need to anticipate them. All drivers are guilty until proven innocent.  Those cars with chauffeurs (with folks in the rear seat reading papers, and/or in chiffons), got extra  special  dirty looks.

Our friend J, grew noticeably quiet as he observed me overtaking, gesticulating and glaring at taxi drivers, overtaking buses (because I knew where they would stop for passengers), and honking (sometimes in anger, sometimes to tell someone their door was not properly closed).  The quick darting around in lanes at signals, to be the first to take off when the lights changed;  being helpful to folks who rolled down the glass to ask directions from another car on the road, and trying to avoid, pedestrians trying to cross the road on a priority basis;  I don't think J heard any of the running commentary he was getting regarding the various landmarks we were passing. Two friends, sitting in the back seat, thought this was all terribly normal and boring.   

Flora Fountain, in the heart of the downtown city was still a huge elliptic roundabout, in the centre of which was a great sculpture named as the Martyrs Memorial.  Just saying.

We were in the thick on things, with taxis, double decker lumbering buses, vans and stuff, all impatiently trying to forge ahead around the circle, so they they could get on with life, when something in front of us, suddenly stopped. I braked hard. My son, fell on J's lap, knocking his specs out, which promptly fell out of the open window on to the oncoming traffic. Before anyone could react, a revving doubledecker bus, came charging up, and drove over it.

That wasn't all.  Traffic was a bit slow in the next lane after that impatient bus, and one of our friends from the back seat, quickly darted out, dashed to pick up the specs, and dashed back inside. This whole thing, that happened in a split second, was watched admiringly and avidly by various folks in buses that were stationary, and folks in other cars.

I expected the glasses to be  crushed to smithereens. They were not. The bus tyres had not made contact with the glasses. The lenses showed a crack somewhere. You could still wear them in a useful manner,  if you didn't mind looking through cracks.

J was still stunned. The whole thing was like a slapstick movie. The son simply thought it was one of those days, and struggled to stand up again, so he could see what all the fuss was about.

"Do you have a written copy of the prescription ?" I asked J.

" I do. In my wallet. But I also have a spare set of glasses in the suitcase back at the house. "  J, still shaken up.  

There is a famous optician right there in the circle at Flora Fountain. We parked. J got out of the car, in the manner of a seafarer trying to find his land legs. The son clambered out with him, as I got off from the other side. Our friends too joined us. J came around the car, stood in front of me, and shook my hand, for a decently prolonged time.  (I've seen our PM and that of Pakistan do that for the benefit of the press, each one trying to extract his hand but not willing to be the first.)

J's gesture was more heartfelt and real. He was congratulating me for driving through all this and still appearing in one piece.  We went over to the optician, who as a special request, agreed to do his lenses by the evening, so we could pick them up on the way home.

The trip home was rather uneventful, to say the least. Those were not days of traffic jams, where you could not manoeuvre the vehicle anyway, and unlike today four lanes were still four lanes, and didn't miraculously become seven.

We drove back , the son still in his usual pose, held on to by J.  The son had become fond of J,   and some time just before we reached home, kind of leaned across him and fell asleep in his lap.

Everyone was tired, with the days excitement and the traipsing around for the shopping. Just for variety, we took a longish diversion and drove J by the Juhu beach area, to show him a different Mumbai.

He saw, he enjoyed,  and we all had some great chats; but with the window on his side firmly up.  

Today, children have car seats, cars have AC, seat belts are mandatory, most cars have bucket seats, that discourage the sort of piling on into the car that we did in our younger days, and people sit sedately behind closed windows. I hear , in the US, the kids in car seats sit facing backwards.  

The cars now have hazard lights (which , for some reason, people put on while going through tunnels).

I was just thinking, that if J had his way, he would have asked me to put the hazard lights on all the time while driving in Mumbai ..... 

P. S. Just to preempt mean commenters who might be itching to comment about lady drivers, I have been driving for the last 42 years, in places as diverse as Pune, Mumbai, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, SFO, and no cop has had any reason to seriously tangle   with me. So.

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with


  1. So,,

    you better mind your words. hahahahhahah

    Mumbai might not be same, but definitely still eventful. :)

  2. so what ? :P why do you think anyone would even think of going there ! :P