In Part 1, I write about how I decided never to drive in India after moving back from the US. Only to have a series of coincidences happen that make me decide I will drive. In Part 2 of this story, I describe how I learned to drive in India, but stuck to an automatic transmission car.

I drove successfully for 3 years in Chennai, with an automatic transmission car. For those who do not know what an automatic transmission car is: You don’t have to shift gears. The car does it for you. Magic.

I didn’t have the necessity to learn how to drive a manual transmission car. That was about to change soon.

Buying a New Car

My Dad decided to buy a new car. He doesn’t drive. The people who could potentially drive the car were my brother and me. And both of us did not know how to drive a manual transmission car.

The automatic car we purchased in 2012 was a Hyundai i10. My Dad figured, why not go for an upgrade this time, and decided to buy an i20. He was under the impression that this was an automatic transmission car. Nuh-uh. At the time (in 2016), the Hyundai i20 did not have an automatic transmission option. 

After the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed: My Dad bought a manual transmission car that neither of his sons knew to drive.

“Family Driving Instructor”

You’ve heard of family doctors. Family lawyers. We have a “family driving instructor”.

This gentleman who owned a driving school (and others from his school) taught my Mom driving 20 years ago. I unsuccessfully tried learning driving from them before I went to the US for my studies. He helped me get my drivers license back in 2012. He has helped me get my international driving license whenever I visited the US.

It was but natural that I go to him to learn how to drive a manual transmission car.

“I have the best guys; they will teach you how to drive a car”, he told me. I was adamant. He was the best, and I wanted him to teach me. After unsuccessfully trying to convince me, he finally relented.  

The Driving Instructor Gives me Life Lessons

Learning driving from him turned out to be a secondary benefit. He taught me life lessons.

“You must cruise through the road confidently without any fear whatsoever”, he told me. Replace the word “road” with “life”, and this is a powerful life lesson!

“You have a lot of fear. You must relinquish them. There is no need for any fear at all”, he told me. 

“You keep going down your path. Straight. Don’t look to the left and the right. Let others worry about navigating around you”. Seriously, is this a driving lesson or a life lesson? How many people squander their lives looking to the left and the right, only to forget to travel in their own path?

Fear has been my constant companion throughout life. Little did I know that these driving sessions would double down as therapy sessions!

Technology to the Rescue

When should you switch the gear from first to second? From second to third? 

“You’ll figure it out” was the answer I received.

Except that I couldn’t. 

Enter technology. The car came with a feature that indicated I should shift gears. I followed it religiously until I got the hang of it. Children are asked to write the cliched essay “Is technology a boon or a bane?”. In this situation, it was a boon. A Godsend. 

Scratches. Bumps.

The i20 is a bigger car. The roads of Chennai are narrow. I am a novice driver (at least with manual transmission cars). Put 2 and 2 together, and you get a car with scratches and bumps.

I didn’t get these fixed or re-painted.

The Last Lecture tells the following anecdote.Randy Pausch’s wife Jai crashed their minivan on their Volkswagen convertible. She waited with apprehension for Randy to come home. When he came home, she confessed her “crime”. To her surprise, Randy wasn’t upset in the slightest. She told him that she would get an estimate for the repairs. Randy shocked her by telling that they could drive the cars with the dents. In Randy’s words:

‘Well, you can’t have just some of me, Jai,’ I told her. ‘You appreciate the part of me that didn’t get angry because two ‘things’ we own got hurt. But the flip side of that is my belief that you don’t repair things if they still do what they’re supposed to do. The cars still work. Let’s just drive ‘em.’

I couldn’t have said them any better. The car still worked. That was that.

Slippery Slopes

One of the biggest challenges was driving in slopes. This required precisely balancing the clutch and gear. I could scrape by in bridges, but the steep slopes in the mall parking lots stymied me.

I came up with a few hacks. I would wait for the car in front of me to go up the ramp completely. I would then go unimpeded. On occasion, I have asked the driver behind me to navigate the slope for me, and he obliged.

Over time, I got better at navigating slopes.

Parting Words

In 2011, the odds of my driving a car in India were less than 0.5%. The odds of my driving a manual transmission car in India were less than 0.01%. Or lower.

I had defied the odds. I learned how to drive a manual car. My friends who visited from the US were surprised – “Prahalad, you are changing gears in the car, just like a local resident”, they exclaimed, to my amusement. I am now a local resident, I told them.

I offer the following takeaways from my journey of learning to drive:

  • Anybody can do anything. You may not want to, for whatever reason, and it may required massive effort, but you can.
  • Achieving impossible looking tasks may require a shift in mindset.
  • Keep going down your path. Straight. Without looking to the left and right. Others will figure out how to “drive” around you. 
  • Practice and persistence usually do the trick.

Image Credit: Engin Akyurt from Unsplash

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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