Monday, March 29, 2010

Behind the Wheel


A light, satirical view of the fairer approach to driving...

“My missus wants to drive here in Pakistan! Barmy, my missus… mad as a bag of snakes!” confided my British friend one fine day, shaking his head.

I smiled to myself, and wondered secretly whether he was more concerned about his wife or other road users – for women drivers in my blessed land are truly a breed apart! Why I criticize my own kind? Well…sometimes it is healthy to look within oneself and ponder some less explored mysteries of life!

So let me enlighten you about the impressive road skills of some women drivers out there…er…especially those who defy and baffle all logic and create havoc on the roads! I will speak of but a few who have crossed my path every so often, and perhaps yours too!

You might be surprised to learn about a ‘driver’ who controls everything despite not being in the driver-seat! She’s called the ‘passenger-seat driver’. Most husbands will know what I mean! Ah, yes…I’ve come across her too. She’s my friend Sharmeen who wants to go shopping.

“Drive me to the market, will you?” Miss Charm Personified calls me up at 3:30 p.m.

“Huh?” I rub my eyes and look at the clock. Sigh. I know better than to argue with her.

As we hit the road, Sharmeen remarks, “Is your door closed properly?”

I maintain a dignified silence. Undaunted, she leans over and checks. Then she takes to dictating the way – which I already know, but never mind!

“Stay in the middle…why, you almost hit the curb!”

“I know where I’m going!” I manage through clenched teeth. She leans over and switches on the left indicator.

“What are you doing?” I try not to shout, turning it off.

“Aren’t we going to turn left a little up ahead?” Innocently she asks, “Better to let other drivers know well in advance!”

‘A little up ahead’ is actually a kilometer away yet. Humph.

“Don’t slow down… don’t let that smug dude in his shiny car overtake us!” She grabs my arm.

“Sharmeen, it’s his right of way!” I mumble as try to free my arm from her steely grasp.

The car swerves and almost hits the side of the Mercedes. The driver glares and makes an obscene gesture. I turn red. Sharmeen smiles contently while admiring her neat French-manicured nails. I’ve just about had it!

I pull over and yell: “Get out of my car!"Then I go back home and read a book on anger management. Sharmeen? Oh she has a lovely day shopping and takes a lift home with …guess who? That’s right…how could the Mercedes dude resist Sharmeen’s little-girl-lost charm?

Another type of a woman driver that you must’ve spotted by now – because she’s the commonest type there is – is the ‘sleepy-driver’. No, she’s not actually sleeping at the wheel! She only seems that way because of her persistent refusal to go beyond 40km/hr even on the widest road! She sits there serenely, unruffled even when the cyclists pass her by with wide smiles! She won’t leave the left lane and wouldn’t overtake if her life depended on it! She seems truly impressed with the tortoise’s tenacity, and was quite possibly related to it in a previous life. She really has a problem parking her vehicle as she wants to do it just right. She usually manages to take up the space of two, sometimes three, cars in the end, though!

Then there is the aggressive feminist. Her type is also pretty easy to spot on the road…half leaning on the steering wheel, pursed lips and sharp eyes reduced to narrow slits; she is one to be wary of. My last encounter with her was when my old four-wheeler refused to budge outside my office, and my colleague Maliha offered me a lift. Having no alternative, I reluctantly agreed. As she started the engine I fastened my seat-belt and started praying silently. She drove head-to-tail with any car that happened to be unfortunate enough to drive in front of us, and if the driver slowed down even a little, she honked so hard that she literally hounded the poor thing off the road! All I could do was to shrink further in my seat whenever someone waved a punch in the air menacingly! In response, Maliha would mouth an obscenity that I seriously couldn’t repeat! Once or twice I tried to tell her that driving at breakneck speed might actually break her neck some day (I was more worried about mine though!), but she shrugged it off.

“Rubbish … didn’t you know according to figures compiled by …um…responsible agencies, more men than women die in road accidents?”

”Uh-huh?” I wondered if it was because of women like her…but didn’t have the gall to tell her so!

She continued, “Well, if they wouldn’t turn their heads 180 degrees while driving whenever they spotted a woman, the statistics would be much different!”

Ah…that’s a thought.

I was darned glad to be home that day in one piece! She’s one to watch out for, I tell you! She also knows so much about her rights – women’s lib being the order of the day – why it sometimes even confuses the poor traffic sergeant foolish enough to stop her! And you can guess her favourite past time I’m sure! Yes, you’ve got it…it is to hunt down the Casanovas who stand on bus stops and sing the hottest hits to girls waiting for their ride. I once saw Maliha drive right into the boy just when he seemed to have impressed the object-of-his-attention. Had he not by sheer luck – or premonition – jumped aside quickly, Maliha would have had one less target on her list! And of course, as she proclaimed innocently, all she was doing was parking in a hurry…he just happened to be in the way!

By the way, have you ever noticed how these emancipated women on the roads make extremely charming damsels in distress? You see, they’ve mastered the art of impressing fellow drivers with their shock-and-awe driving skills, but when the machine presents a challenge, well, there you have her…totally lost. She hasn’t an inkling about the workings of the thing she drives around so proudly! But then, why should she bother with the technicalities when she only has to extend that slender arm and flick that delicate thumb, and guys will actually fall over each other to help her out of her ordeal! There’s no dearth of those wanting to change the tyre for her, re-start her refusing-to-budge engine, arrange for a mechanic or simply arrange an alternative ride for her – especially in their own car! Ah, whoever said men are mean and repressive and controlling, in my culture, must’ve been mistaken…why they’re the most helpful creatures God made!

In case you’re wondering if there is a ‘sane’ woman driver category or not…well, of course there is! She abides by rules, never runs a signal, lets others get ahead when it’s their right of way, and is a pleasure to ride with as well as drive behind! She’s the truly emancipated woman who has enough road sense, and enough common sense to be mindful of other road-users’ rights. Unfortunately, she’s an endangered species, and it won’t be long now before she becomes extinct. The reason is simply lack of appreciation for her very appreciable conduct by fellow road users – chiefly, men. She gets generally abused so often by road-bullies that she’s reconsidering her approach. So, watch out all you guys out there on the roads looking for a little fun at her expense! Be nice to her, will you? Otherwise, you’ll just have to deal with more Maleehas and Sharmeens than you care for!

Think about it…while I rush and get myself a new cell number – Sharmeen’s calling!!!

A version of this article was published in You magazine, The News.

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