Thursday, July 12, 2012

Driving me up the Wall

If you drive, it is mandatory to carry your original driving license with you, even if it is to the post office across the road. My driving license was due to expire and I had to  renew it. It meant going to the RTO’s office. I needed to be examined by  a practising doctor so he/she could attest that I am medically fit to drive. My heart sank. Suppose…suppose? I took  Step One. Passed!

Next. You stand in a long queue, the sun beats down on your head, and you shuffle forward on uneven ground which houses a dilapidated building where licenses are issued. “There is no other go,” my husband says with that twinkle in his eye. “after all we need not come again for probably 5 or even 10 years.” Not trusting me to wander off on my own for such important matters, he drives me to the RTO’s Office. Parking is a nuisance as  usual, so I get off and walk ahead,  round the building, and encounter several gates with intimidating padlocks and chains. Finally I discover a small wicket gate, which is open,  and tread gingerly on carelessly strewn  bits of concrete and stone till I reach a queue. The man at the tail end assures me that this indeed is the queue for getting the papers for renewal of driving licenses. The queue moves slowly. I can tell my husband that I have made sufficient progress.  The moment he appears, he enquires around and tells me I am in the wrong queue. Another very informative man tells us that we need to reposition ourselves at a different counter to receive the forms. We join the tail end of the new queue. Step two, we fill in the forms diligently.  Step three, we join another queue.

My husband  retrieves the old license from his pocket and keeps it handy. I sigh with relief, when he waves me on to a bench which is thoughtfully positioned  for people like me. The big bag I carry is crafty and attracts a great deal of attention,  more so when  I extricate my knitting which is most  handy for such situations.  “My God!” exclaims a young man in a brightly coloured lungi. “Look at those long. thin dangerous looking implements! In these days of terrorism and bombs such things should not be allowed.” My ball of wool rolls off and reaches his foot. He stifles a scream, softly muttering “bomb” and his friend convulses with laughter.
“Enna da madaya (you silly idiot)! All this lady is doing is ‘weaving’ a sweater.”
“In this hot Chennai weather? No chance”, is the glib reply. By now curiosity gets the better of them. I sense them peering over my shoulder, watching as I put needle into stitch, draw out a new one, and go clickety click. 
“Look how fast she is weaving…look look she is gazing somewhere else and weaving.” By now I am getting exasperated and drop stitches. It will take me quite some time to retrieve them. I give them both a withering glare. “ I am not a weaver, I am a knitter.” I mumble, but only to myself. Squinting, I pick up the dropped stitches, and get on to a new row.

“Madam, your man calling!”  I hastily stuff the wool, and knitting paraphernalia and reach my “man”. Not before I trip over someone’s foot and wind an arm round the lungi man’s neck to prevent my falling. He lets off another scream, convinced more than ever that I am a terrorist. His friend assures him that I am harmless, at my age and moreover I’m a mere woman.  I mumble an apology and move red faced to the window.  It takes about ten minutes to reach an irate official with an exasperated expression. He compares my old driving license with the form I have filled in very carefully, peering at me over his glasses at intervals. He is interrupted by another official who moans that one of the applicants are giving him endless trouble. The trouble maker sticks his head before mine in an unceremonious fashion and demands that he should be attended to.  The official stops examining my papers and tells him patiently that his form is not complete and he needs certain other certifications. This goes on for five minutes, and I wish I had sat on the bench for a longer spell and knitted…

“OK Madam I see you got your license in Bamynoor…You tell me if this is correct.”  I didn’t want to sound ignorant. “What state is this city in?  As far as I know I’ve only driven in Madras.”
“You might have driven in Madras, madam, but it is important for me to know where you got your first license from. I have to hear from you.”
I could not help my amnesia. What did it matter? The city was named in the original license so why couldn’t he just copy it? How cussed can these officials be!
“Sorry Madam, we can’t proceed till you clarify this point…”
“Which state is this wretched city in?”
“Wretched, Madam? Did you say wretched?  Not good to say things about any city, Madam. You got your license there.  Well it is in Karnataka.”
Light dawns. Of course Bangalore. We went there on holiday, and I passed my driving test there. I clarify. Both the man and I sigh in unison.

Armed with the stamped form I proceed to the next queue which is hopefully the last one. This is for the photographs. I look around…no one has come in their Sunday best to be photographed. I must have looked so pathetic that the big man in front of me offers to let me go in first. The kind hearted people behind him, give their permission as they are convinced I am sick and will get sicker if I wait in the photo queue. I am helped over a mound of slippers and reach the sanctum sanctorum.

“OK  Madam, sit straight.”    I oblige and clench my teeth, and get ready with a smile.
“Madam look at the little red light. Yah, OK over”, he says before I even smile. My signature is checked on the computer,
Should we join another queue to collect the license? Mercy falls on me like gentle manna from heaven.
“You can send someone to collect it madam, but with an authorization letter.”.
The next day, husband waves the driving license triumphantly. Darling, you ARE photogenic. I grab it, and choke as I gaze at it. There is this  jaundiced version of a frog in place of my photo.  “Who’s this?” “You, my dear”, says my husband stifling a broad smile.. God, is that how I look? Wait a minute, where have I seen the face before? Of course,  the old time villains, Edward G. Robinson, or is it James Cagney? 

The license nestles in my wallet  ready to deflate my ego whenever necessary for the next five years. Five years is a long time. Modern technology will make sufficient strides to knock out queues and horrendous photographs……I hope!

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