Friday, May 30, 2008

Wondering in Wadala : वडाळयाची गोष्ट

Way back in 1969 when Bombay roads could still be enjoyed by sticking your head out of the window as you drove in the left lane at Marine Drive,and most cars did NOT have airconditioning, I once went to the RTO office near the Race course , in Tardeo, for my driving test.

The feeling was identical to what one experienced before an important university exam, similar to one I had just given. There were two types of tests. One was slightly acrobatic, and the other tested your desperation.

The first one involved entering with your car, in reverse, through an area marginally broader than your car, into a larger rectangular area. You then proceeded to face the various corners going backwards and forwards, till you were again equipped to come out, in reverse again , through the aforementioned narrow entry channel. For further excitement and instant disqualification, the corners of the rectangle were identified with removable colorful markers, which fell down with the slightest touch, or a strong whiff of a dangerously close auto exhaust, created by a nervous and tense future driver.

The second part was slightly sadistic. You waved goodbye to your motor school trainer, (like a kid waving to his mother on the first day at KG) , and with a massively structured driving test examiner sitting next to you , you drove towards the side roads leading off Pedder Rd. (Pedder road cuts through, what must have been a hilly area in ancient days). Electronic turning signals were always supplemented with turning hand signals, and heavily hyperthyroid eyes observed all your signalling as you drove. They then asked you to stop on a deadly incline between two cars. The crowning part of the test was when they asked you to start the car again, and get into the traffic, without the car rolling backwards. If you rolled, you were finished. So were the cars parked behind you. You said your prayers, did your stuff with a foot acrobatically placed on the accelerator and brake simultaneously, and hoped your letting go of the clutch would be exemplary, and not thudding, if you know what I mean.

(I got my license).

I recently had occasion to accompany my daughter for her learners license , as well as get my relic-of-a-license renewed.

The graceful, old world , race course RTO in the city, now caters to denizens of south Mumbai. Ordinary mortals like us go to the Wadala truck terminal.

This is a massive acreage of land, somewhere between Dadar and the eastern seaboard, of Mumbai. The authorities, rubbing their hands in glee over so much potentially developable land (and the ensuing flood of the non-biological green), in a sudden attack of righteousness, agreed to situating a Truck Terminal there. One envisaged a set up where trucks bringing in all kinds of stuff from across the country would enter , and their goods unloaded after some quick checking ,tax payment and registering, allowing the drivers and cleaners a decent rest before dedicating their days to diesel once again.

What you actually see is different. You enter through a massive arch that suddenly appears on the side of the main road. Half the main road in permanently dug up, and if you try to strain your neck to read what it says on the arch, (Regional Transport Office), you run the risk of banging into something resembling a ruin.

You then drive, somewhat with a lot of doubt, through a landscape of arbitrarily parked trucks and tankers, in various states of non-readiness . There are trees growing through apertures in some chassis, some aged vehicles, helplessly appear to squat on their flat tyres, and sometimes NO tyres. Cylindrical tankers with lids open, challenging the summer sun to dry their innards, trucks which have seen better days, displaying what another vehicle did to them on one side, despite declaring "Buri nazar wale, tera mooh kala".....Its a landscape that would warm the cockles of the heart of a movie producer, as he thinks of the variety of crimes, chases, and chorus dances that can be done with all that infrastructure , maybe even for free.

Just when you feel like turning back, you come to a slightly leafy tree lined road, with a fire engine parked prominently. Behind it you notice firemen undergoing training as part of the Mumbai Fire Brigade training program. On the opposite side are a bunch of government-issue , depressing, rectangular buildings, some of them with ramps of alarming gradients. Between ditches designed to subject trash to sunshine , and suspicious looking people wandering about aimlessly, you notice a bunch of ruins that appear to function as tables. Two tables that have legs on only one side are joined together on the non-leg side, and supported by bricks unloaded by the municipality for some other purpose.

The new learners line up, and the RTO officer, no longer massively structured , but with a huge file, takes his seat on one side of this roadside table. One by one, the learners applications are perused, entries made, and everyone is then asked to go to the nth floor of another nondescript building, after dodging through a large amount of container carriers, trucks, and police vehicles, not to speak of young chaps carried sixpacks of cutting chai , to the officers, functioning picnic style on the nonexistent lawns.

We blindly follow the driving school guy. He points us to the lift. He will follow in manual mode. Wonder of wonders, there is a queue system to get in. We miss out on the panstained walls, and noticeboards designed to give you a cervical pain, as we meet our guide on the 3rd floor and are taken to a hall studded on one side with payment counters, and the other side with PCs. web cams, fingerprint machines, and young people.

The place is throbbing with driving school instructors and their students. In the midst of all the government yellow walls, with pan stains, ink stains, unreadable notice boards at unbendable angles, there is this room with six electronic number displays with a ringing tone, which announce who must come to get their picture taken. While you do your stuff, trying to pat your hair in place, others trying not to display their braces, while still others strike a pose designed to impress a cop if they ever get pulled up while driving, the computer operator wants to know if the captured photo is OK with you.

This is certainly a new thing. Everything has a style.

You may drive atrociously, but you need to get caught in style.

I don't even bother looking at my photo. My daughter demands another shot , which, at first glance , will NOT send her friends into a paroxysm of laughter. The computer operator obliges. "Its your license. Your photo. If you need to show it all your life, it needs to look good.....". True.

We get a receipt that will suffice till we get our final driving license, duly renewed etc. We trudge back to our vehicle. The RTO officers with their open air tables have gone. The shadows of some buildings now hover near our vehicle , in the midday sun. Nearby we see a charpoy, on which several truck drivers wearing comfortable lungis, are enjoying various relaxed poses, giving moral support to their assistants who have come for a test. We see a bunch of driving school cars whizzing past us with the instructor and student in the front seat. The student is doing his stuff, the instructor is confident, and the rto examiner person, sits in a bored fashion in the seat behind.

No wonder, every week we hear of people losing control of cars at high speeds. People who should not have driven at all. People who should have flunked the test.

Maybe its time to get some movie producer types to design hilly sets in Wadala. Then everyone can take the acrobatically desperate test that has stood me in such good stead all these years. Makes you mentally capable of handling pressure and desperation.

And never mind the massively structured RTO types. With the ruin-style work tables in Wadala, stability would be a difficult proposition...

No comments:

Post a Comment