CRASH. I rammed the car onto the parked truck on the left. My companion and I were unhurt, and the truck was not damaged. But the left fender and headlight of my i10 were damaged badly.

Did I mention that this brand new car was purchased just a day ago and shone gloriously in exquisite silver color? And did I also mention that this was the car I was to take to the driving exam the following day to get my drivers license?

In part 1 of the story of how I learned to drive in India, I wrote about my decision to never drive in India, before deciding to never say never. Having decided that I would learn to drive, I had to figure out how to go about it. I made one key decision: I would drive a car with an automatic transmission. For those of you who haven’t heard of what an automatic transmission car is: You don’t have to manually adjust the gear. That is right – the car automatically does the gear shifting for you, almost like magic!

Why this decision to drive an automatic transmission car, you ask? There were two skills that I did not possess – I did not know how to navigate the Indian traffic patterns where the concept of “right of way” does not exist. And I did not know how to drive a manual transmission car. I decided to learn one skill at a time – I decided to figure out how to navigate the Indian traffic conditions first. Which meant that I would need to get my hands on an automatic car.

No companies which rented out cars (along with a driver) possessed any automatic transmission cars. At least, so it seemed when I contacted them. Manual transmission cars are cheaper and give out better mileage, so it made no sense for them to purchase an automatic transmission car. Some of the cab drivers who I was friendly with agreed to search for an automatic transition vehicle for me, only to report that they couldn’t succeed in finding one.

One random lead, called Nithya, told me that he had an automatic Hyundai Santro. However, he had rented it out to a lady and he would get it back in a week. I called him back in a week. “Madam will return it in another week”. I dutifully called back the following week. “That madam returned the car, but I rented it to another person”. Argh.  

After playing this game for a month, I gave up. Our family decided to purchase an automatic car of our own. The car dealer, Arun Kumar, was very friendly and helpful, and we purchased a gorgeous silver i10. 

The next step was to get my drivers license. When I was in high school, there was a driving school where I took some lessons, they helped me get a learners permit and helped my Mom learn driving and get a drivers license. Back in the days, if I paid some money, he would get a learners permit for me, I didn’t need to show up, let alone take the test. There is good news for India, as I was informed this was no longer the case. I needed to pass the driving test the old fashioned way.

“I have to drive an automatic car in the driving test”, I told the driving school instructor. “The RTO’s procedure includes asking you to change gears. Can’t you drive a manual transmission vehicle for the driving test?”, he asked me. “I am particular that I will drive an automatic car. Can you please try and convince the instructor? I’m sure you have a good relationship with him”, I pleaded. He acquiesced. And thus, I scheduled the driving test a day after the new car was to be delivered to our home.

And I crashed the car one day before the driving test. I played the following scenario in my head several times. 
Driving Instructor: “How did this dent take place?”
Me: “Sir, I crashed the car yesterday”.
Driving Instructor: “Failed. Next Candidate!”

As it turned out, the driving instructor couldn’t care less about the damaged fender, and he was also okay with me driving an automatic transmission vehicle, and he gave me my drivers license. Victory! On another note, the fender cost Rs. 13,000 to fix. Oh well. As you can imagine, I felt bad. Only to be cheered up immediately by my Dad. He didn’t flinch at all and quickly reminded me that this not worth getting upset about. My Dad is the best – He has never worried about material loss, and has never made me feel bad about losing or breaking something. In turn, I hope I can replicate this as a parent. 

We got a new fender, and voila, the car was as good as new. Now, I had to actually learn how to drive. Nature crafted the perfect situation for me. My parents decided to take a trip to the US to visit my brother. I was alone for a week, and decided to drive 10 kms each day to visit my friend Madhukar and go for a walk with him. This proved to be good momentum for me to drive 10 km + 10 km each day early in the morning, and get a hang of the traffic conditions when there was not much traffic. I was very comfortable driving at 5:30 AM to his house – there was no traffic. I drove back home with some trepidation, as there was a little traffic, but benign enough to get me home safe. This week of driving practice gave me sufficient confident and I started driving regularly, albeit with hiccups. Over time, I got better.

Long story short, I could now drive in Chennai traffic!

I had done the impossible. I learned how to drive in India. If I could learn to drive in India, I could accomplish anything. Scratch that. If I could learn to drive in India, anybody can accomplish anything that they set their mind to.

Image Credit: Aditya Rathod on Unsplash

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