“Stoppppp… Shift up, shift up, shift up. Slowly… Watch it… No slow down. Hit the brakes… No wait… that’s the accelerator…. “
A couple of years, or so ago, I would have been at the receiving end of these instructions, being barked into my ear by a driving instructor, hanging on to dear life; he pretending to teach me driving, me pretending to learn, on a bulky, bare boned, Maruthi Omni, on the pot hole filled roads of Ambattur. Who would have known, a couple of years later, A ‘road worthy‘ and ‘licensed to drive‘ Sudhakar, in his shiny red Maruti Swift, would be barking the same old instructions, to a visually excited soul, loving every minute of his time at the wheel, learning to drive with a unshakeable confidence in his instructor, something which even I never have in myself and my driving abilities. Dad, was loving it.
It was a reversal of roles in a way. A few good years down the memory lane, he was my teacher when I drove my first set of wheels. I’ve never had any vehicle to call my own. Except perhaps, the second hand BSA Champ cycle, that a family friend had ‘gifted’ me, because he was leaving to Calcutta with his family. The small, red, rusting BSA Champ. I still remember the time, when Dad held me as I steadied myself perched on the cushion of that bicycle. Which young boy can forget his first time on his bicycle, back in the time when training wheels did not exist, with his dad behind him, running to keep up with his son, providing support, as he pedalled his first few steps on his wheels, only to be zooming around in Pulsars and Karizmas of the world a few years later. You would have cried, thrown a fit, faked an injury, but Dad would have always been next to you. Supporting you and your bike, every time you lost balance. He taught me to ride a bike, I was teaching him to drive a car. Life had come full circle.
Dad was as excited as me, perhaps even more, when the Swift rode into our driveway. His son had got a car. And with his own money. He beamed with pride when he first sat with me as I took him for a spin. Beamed, yes. Perhaps trying his best to hide his nervousness with a smile, during my initial driving days. I still remember that he tried to be my navigator, GPS, proximity sensor and traffic police, all rolled into one. I remember it clearly, when I almost hit an auto which came speeding out of a curve. That was it. Two good looking ladies on an activa, standing next to my rolled down windows couldn’t help giggle, as dad shouted at me in full view of public. The auto driver didn’t need to say a word. I still think he got terrified of dad, that day. 🙂 Dad taught me his mantra that day. “In Chennai, you ain’t the King of the Road. That title is reserved to Water Tankers, MTC Buses and Autos. You are a mere subject, using the road. All you are expected to do is, drive slow and steady, and pray that nobody takes his frustration on you.” For a guy, who has been driving a two wheeler in Chennai for over a decade now, you usually take his advice with eyes closed. I did, and ever since then, I have had cycles overtake my Swift day after day. 😀
Dad has had his share of vehicles that he has proudly rode. Dad has told me that he had a cycle in his secondary school days, which he treasured till his college days. He still smiles, when he tells me the story of his first time on his cycle, and how he almost broke the behind of an innocent villager in Salem, when he ‘parked’ the vehicle between the legs of a guy having tea. He cracks me up everytime he says the story. In the 80s dad got his first set of motorised wheels, the swanky, new, blue Bajaj Chetak, which was almost like the Pulsar of the 80s. I still remember the time when I would proudly stand in front of ‘Hamara Bajaj’, pretending to ride it with a “vroooooom”, only to be jolted, everytime dad changed those stiff hand gears with a thud. 🙂 Dad prized his Chetak. I would drool at the Vespas and Kinetic Hondas of the Nineties, but I could identify from a distance when dad came home, with his trusty blue Chetak neighing away under his legs. When we moved to Chennai however, we had to leave the Chetak behind. Dad moved on to the trendy TVS Spectra, which still lies with a perfect engine but a broken body, in the corner downstairs. And off late, Dad is the proud owner of a nippy little Honda Activa, which I helped Dad get after I saw him pushing the Spectra home one night.
But all this time, Dad had never had the chance of driving a car. A dream, that his son had fulfilled only recently. You could fathom the deep desire the man had to drive a car, that perhaps only motoheads like Dad and me could understand. I had caught him a couple of times, wiping the car, after I had just washed it, making sure it was spic and span. I have seen him running to the balcony, when a neighbours car starts shrieking its Security Alarm, to check if it isn’t our Swift. I have asked him a lot of times if he wanted to drive the car, but he would always turn me down saying I needed to drive well first. I know for sure, that he was scared if he would do some damage to the car. Then one day, very recently, he signed up for driving classes with the same instructor who taught me. after a few classes of learning the fundamentals, Dad asked me this Saturday. “Dai… Will you teach me driving?” I just smiled, and grabbed my keys immediately.
Dad was nervous as we sat in the car. “Do you want to drive now dad?” I asked him, as I removed the car cover. “No da. Lets go to that T.I Cycle ground. That oughta give us some space.” said Dad, as he wiped that little puff of dust on the windshield. The T.I Cycle Ground was one huge ground, which could accomodate 8 evening cricket teams, playing in parallel. We drove there absolutely sure, that the ground would be empty. Afterall no one plays cricket in the midday Sun in Chennai, do they. Well, not everyone atleast. And as predicted, we had the whole ground to ourselves. Dad nestled into the driver seat as I introduced him to the control panel of the Swift. He knew the A, B, C’s alright, but he was nervous when he got behind the Swift. I told him it was alright, and assured him I was right next to him. Now, lot of people, I know, would have laughed their head off when I assured them that I was right next to them, but it did calm Dad’s nerves. And a few minutes later, Dad was away in the Swift, with his proud son sitting next to him. The clutch-accelerator combo was difficult for him to begin with. But after a while, he got the hang of it. A couple of false gear shifts happened, sometimes, he accelerated too fast, sometimes, the car just stopped abruptly, but slowly and surely, Dad was getting to know the beast. It was fun sitting next to him, laughing, smiling and turning the steering with him, as we negotiated the bumps, the odd rock which would have been stumps in the last match that was held here, and tiny pools of water filled with yesterday night’s rain. I got out, and tried to make a hazard course of sorts, for Dad to drive through, and he did just about fine. There were a couple of times when Dad looked at me apologetically, when we thundered over the bumps when he forgot to slow down. I did not mind it at all, and just smiled back at dad. It was like seeing an eight year old in a candy store. All excited about eating all the sweets, and yet nervous as to what Mommy would say. That day, I was trying to be the man, who held his son’s bike, as he learnt to bike. Nothing he did, would make me angry. We spent a good couple of hours there, me trying to teach everything I knew, and he, an Ex-Principal of a School, listening to me with rapt attention. After that, Dad let me take over the wheel, and drive us home. I asked if he would want to drive to home now, and he said No with an exhausted shake of his head. “Maybe next week son, maybe next week.” Its strange, the places where a Father and Son can bond. During a Cricket match, watching movie, or just debating if iPhone rocks or Blackberry, over the morning paper. Today it just happened to be my Mauti Suzuki Swift.
I love my car. I spend a good part of my salary every month paying EMI for it. I wash it, clean it every week, and spend a good deal of my time on weekends behind its wheels. I blow my lid, when someone even leans on it, and I’m sure I’ll suffocate anyone who even attempts to scratch it. But if Dad wanted, he could take it apart and scratch it till the paint falls off, and I wouldn’t say a word. Because to me, the man who taught me to ride a cycle, and his dreams of driving a car, are way too important than this contraption of polished metal, synced gears, cams, shafts and wheels, that we call a car. When your dad’s old mobile, which you had passed onto him when you ‘upgraded’ to an N-Series, has a photo of his son grinning like crazy at his car, as the only photo in it, you know he is proud of you. Dad was all smiles as we rode back home after having driven the Swift through the perfect learning ground and he had learnt to negotiate sharp curves, and simulated traffic. Dad had done perfectly fine and he knew it. He looked at my driving license, feeling the lamination, smiled at me and said – “I totally enjoyed it da. I am driving kind of fine, no?” I nodded my head, “A few more sessions, and I’ll be fighting with you for the car, Dad” I joked. He smiled, thought for a while, and then turned to me and said with a twinkle in his eyes – “You are a good teacher da. Far better than those Driving school guys. Always be patient, thats the best way to teach. Someday you’ll be a good teacher to your kids as well.” 🙂
Then… At that very instance… A mere ‘Love you, Dad‘ seemed grossly inadequate…