Monday, October 03, 2011

The Road more 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.


  1. This is the scene everywhere even now. When I take my clients out, they actually take pictures of rickshaws, autos, traffic etc when we pass them. It's kind of funny. One of my clients was stumped to find horses, goats and buffaloes at traffic signals on our way to Agra, while another one just could not get enough pictures of cows and even elephants on the road. The one thing they take with them are memories of the traffic and driving skills required here.

    Great post and very well written. Made me chuckle, smile and laugh :)

  2. What a fun, great post for the day! I haven't had a car in several years and don't miss it at all because I never liked to drive anyway -- just a necessity for many years. Amazing how it's all changed -- well, except for the traffic and that's even worse than it was. Enjoy your week!


  3. What a post ! and what a coincidence . My last post is all about traffic scene on the roads of Indore. Things have not changed much.
    Even in Indore we share the road space with cows , goats and occassionally elephants who are more predicatble than young motor cyclists of the city .
    Some interesting pics too .
    pl find time to read it .

  4. :) Enjoyed reading this post. Good old times. *sigh*

    PS: Came here from GBs site.

  5. LOL! How people drive is pretty cultural I think... I've survived the traffic both in China and Italy... but my, I'm sure they gave me some grey hairs.

  6. LOL! I can so imagine J holding on with all his might, praying that he survives the ride :) I am sure he must have called it one of the scariest rides ever :)

    One of the things I find difficult, in the first 2 days on my annual holdiays in India is corssing roads. I hold my breath, and hope that I cross the roads without incident :) But funnily within a couple of days, we get si used to it :) Once husband scared a lady here, by driving here(UK) like he drives in India :)

  7. A wonderful story. I remember bench seats in cars, and standing up in my parents' car when I was small.
    I've been driving for 46 years and have had several speeding tickets, but nothing worse.
    I loved driving, but now, after cataract surgery on both eyes, I'm not very fond of it any more. But last week I drove up into the Canadian Rockies to show a visiting friend (a blogger from The Netherlands) our beautiful Banff and Lake Louise and found I quite enjoyed driving on the mountain roads.
    I won't even drive in Australia, never mind the UK or India. I just can't wrap my head around the idea of staying on the "wrong" side of the road.
    Thanks for sharing your story. I really enjoyed it.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  8. Those were the days, huh? I guess my grandchild would have a car with oxygen masks and all and my child would say, "In those days, we just had a car seat." Such is life.

  9. Enjoyed looking through your bunch of blogs. What a nice diverse array you have.

  10. Years from now, somebody will read this post and wonder about how much our cities and the way we travel has changed! I loved those '1 piece seats' :)

  11. I feel like shaking your hands too. For the award as well as the interesting narration.

    My husband would have got a heart attack and/or yelled at me if his spects had fallen out. Never mind that it was his fault.

  12. Hey Gappa awesome ride, it felt as if i was sitting somewhere between u ,ur son and j...yes i could actually visualise going through all those places :) good read

  13. your blog brings back beautiful memories of mumbai, lovely blog you have here.

  14. neha Thank you ..

    Sylvia Thank you. Not having a car will probably work here in India, but dont know about the US. In calif., it seems you absolutely cannot do without a car.

    Kirti Thank you. And I just read your pots. Totally amazing. I know cities and places where the same words and photos will work. ....

    The Visitor Thank you. And yes. Good old times, indeed. Even the fighting had grace in those days. Today , everyone gets violent too fast.

    Ladyfi So true . I guess we all feel we own the road..:-)

    Gigihawaii lol indeed. Keeps our reflexes quick, I guess.

    Bikramjit :-)

    wordsndreamz I think you need a certain knack for driving here. Its built in and you never forget. I returned from 2 years of grad school in the US in 1972, and the day after drove my folks to Girgaum , one of Mumbais very old and congested areas, with no problems . The terribly disciplined driving "on the wrong side" in the US, didnt appear to cause any difficulty. On the other hand, my brothers who live there , simply refuse to drive here.

    Kay L Davies Ha ha . I guess we think you guys drive on the wrong side , and the cars have the steering wheel on the wrong side too :-)

    GB I shudder to imagine the technological inventions they will have. Maybe automatic ejection from cars , in case of collison, and helmets compulsory in cars ? I hear babies in car seats in the US now face backwards. Whatever happened to enjoying the scenery , instead of a tailgaiting car ?

    Preeti Mudliar Thank you ..

    IHM Those days were fun, weren't they ! Children would sleep on those seats, even sit on pillows so they could see outside, and late ma-in-law often remembered how she and 9 friends were once driven by her son, all packed in an Ambasaador to some Mahila Mandal function, with abs no problem. :-)

    HHG You still havent heard about the time we went through a pothole, causing the battery to fall on the starter, spilling acid, and causing a minor explosion. :-) (And all the kids inside who were clamouring to be taken to the park, this was just too thrilling.)

    Life Unordinary Thank you !

  15. That struck a chord in me.
    I am a Mumbaikar by birth and cherish childhood memories of the black Fiat my Dad drove.
    As an adult my first car was a Fiat, renamed as Premier Padmini, without bucket seats and we often accommodated three in the front seat and four in the rear seat.

    I held on to that car for thirteen years.
    Like you , I too have both pleasant and unpleasant memories associated with that car and will keep that for another occasion.
    Am enjoying reading your old posts

  16. Wonderful narration. Looking for gaps and split second decisions! I felt I'd come along for the exciting ride. As for his lenses changed and returned the same day? Impressive. Only in India...

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