No one is exactly sure why Amy Aunty decided all of a sudden to learn to drive but the whole of Asan Colony got to know about it when an ancient jeep fitted with an equally ancient air horn rattled to a screeching stop in front of Amy Aunty’s house early one morning and the moustachioed driver an urban version of Veerappan sounded the horn twice.
Amy Aunty, in a tomato red salwar kameez, matching glass bangles and red pearl jhumkas locked her house and climbed into the jeep. She knew they were all spying on her from their verandas and balconies and that half of them would be late for work that day because of all the hurried and prolonged over the wall conferences. Eyeah! She indulged in a mental fist pump.
Meanwhile the jeep was speeding away (you could call it speeding if you had a fertile imagination) as she waited happily for her turn behind the wheel.
Earlier that week Amy Aunty had registered at The All India Allied Driving School (special ladies only classes for ladies by Senior Experienced Instructor) run by our Veerappan look alike an ex-serviceman named Velayudhan Pillai who was the Chairman and Managing Director as well as sole employee of the aforesaid alma mater.
When the man with the impressive moustache had asked her what had prompted her to learn the great art of driving Amy Aunty had launched into one of her stories.
“You know, I was riding with Puppi, this friend of mine last month. She had invited me to go for a film with her at the new multiplex that has opened just out of town,” began Amy Aunty and Moustache did not quite know how to stem the flow.
“Actually, the multiplex is just an old movie theatre but now they have renovated it by adding two more screens and charging extra money and having overpriced eats and prim security guards who don’t allow you to carry good old home-made snacks. So, where were we? Yes, you know, Puppi learnt driving when she was a teenager and I have ridden in her car many many times, but that day, you know, it was like I just looked at her with new eyes. Look at Puppi, I said to myself, you know, just look at her piloting the car through bumper to bumper traffic blocks and rolling down her window and shouting at some altu faltu driver for coming up the wrong lane (Puppi knows all the rules) and getting down from the car after some small scrape and arguing with others and making valid law points, you know, (Puppi knows a whole lot about law). So, I thought I too should learn to drive and then I won’t have to depend on city buses that follow Freshton’s Third Law of Buses that is when you are waiting to go in a particular direction all the buses go in the opposite direction and then Amy, I said, you don’t have to argue about the fare with rude overcharging auto drivers.”
When Amy Aunty paused to draw breath Moustache seized at the chance and told her to fill out a form and while she did so, he vowed never to ask her another personal question.
During the first class Amy Aunty was a trifle disappointed when she discovered that they would only be pretend driving, sitting on a high seat inside a wheel less contraption and learn ‘driving procedure’ and to shift gears.
Amy Aunty was a great one for following rules. She sat on the seat behind the wheel at her ramrod straight best and strapped on her seat belt like an army general strapping on his ammo belt and then checked if the gear was in the neutral position pretend switched the engine on and released the hand brake; all in perfect order.
“Press the clutch with the left leg and shift the gear stick in this manner,” Veerappan demonstrated.
“What are the other two levers for?” asked Amy Aunty. Dedicated students always asked pointed questions.
“Brake and accelerator,” replied Veerappan as he explained how to operate those two.
Amy Aunty wondered how she was to operate three levers when all she had was just two legs. Besides, which one was actually the brake, the middle one or the one at the right end? She decided she wouldn’t ask. They would all think she was a damn fool. And then there were all those people who believed that women couldn’t drive. Humph!
So when they set off this morning Amy Aunty was all chirpy confidence. The other women students gripped the steering wheel as thought their life depended on it. Not Amy Aunty. She was off to a flying start though she still had that nagging doubt about the brake and the accelerator. She thought that if worse came to worst, Velusaar, the students all called him so, would step on the brake under his foot at his end of the vehicle. And then the jeep was an open one and the possibilities were endless. She even managed to throw a glare at an auto driver who overtook them as they puttered along.
Just then they turned a corner and there was this gigantic container lorry almost on them.
“Brake, brake!” screamed Velusaar, his moustache quivering violently.
“But Velusaar,” said Amy Aunty calmly. She had been impressed by Velusaar’s speech about remaining calm on the road. “I have a small doubt. I actually wanted to ask during stationary classes but then I thought –”
Wham! Velusaar applied the brakes. When he turned in towering anger he found the driver’s seat empty.
“Velusaar! Velusaar!” Someone was calling him and the voice sounded very familiar.
“I jumped out,” said the redoubtable lady. “I’ve read about pilots bailing out of aircraft during emergencies,” she informed the stunned students brightly.
Velusaar gestured to the seat behind him in silence, his moustache quivered so much that the ladies in the rear seat feared it would just fall off his leathery face. In fact, throughout Amy Aunty’s studentship the well-nursed appendage was in mortal danger.
The sun had still not risen on this Wednesday morning when Velusaar and his straggly group of disciples reached The Ground. It was their first H class. Amy Aunty viewed all the little red flags planted along the perimeter of the H with interest. Velusaar explained how to negotiate the H. As usual Amy Aunty asked a lot of questions. When she asked him questions, Velusaar’s expectations for his enthusiastic pupil soared. But of late he had begun to appreciate the value of prudence.
“Can I have a go?” Amy Aunty was ready to take on the H while the others remained silent in reluctance.
She followed rules exactly. She went the entire length of the left stem and braked with confidence. Then she reversed, traversed the crossbar and came down the right stem and stopped. Then she zoomed forward and reached the end of the right stem, halted, reversed, drove over the crossbar again and came back to where she had started. She bounced out of the driver’s seat expecting Velusaar to hold her out as an example of outstanding driving skills.
The moustache vibrated with such ferocity that Amy Aunty’s enthusiasm was dampened a shade as she followed Velusaar’s pointing finger: not a single flag remained standing. Many had been run over and mutilated. In every H class that followed Velusaar made sure that Amy Aunty was the last to take the wheel. And that was certainly not due to lack of enthusiasm on her part.
Finally it was test day. All of Amy Aunty’s batch mates were a bundle of nerves but Amy Aunty dressed in lemon yellow with matching new pumps (something she couldn’t resist that morning) munched coolly on the snacks she had brought along chatted to all and sundry and admired with vocal wows along with the assembled crowd of teachers and taught as a lad of eighteen manoeuvred the H successfully textbook style looking only at the rear view mirrors.
At last, it was Amy Aunty’s turn. She slid in behind the wheel looking as if she’d belonged there the whole of her life switched on the engine and proceeded smoothly along the left stem of the H and stopped. Not a single red flag was down. Amy Aunty took a sly glance at the inspectors and shifted to reverse, a picture of confidence. Then the heel of her shoe got caught beneath the clutch pedal and the engine went dead. Amy Aunty pulled at her shoe with her foot but nothing happened. She tried to dislodge it with her big toe but it stayed put. She then bent down to retrieve it. Velusaar looked from his position and found the driver’s seat empty. How did she manage it, haan? He sprinted towards his vehicle. An inspector was walking towards the jeep when the door sprang open and Amy Aunty hopped out with a pump in one hand. The inspector took two hasty steps backward.
“You must let me try again,” insisted Amy Aunty, jabbing one well-heeled sole in the air while hopping along on the other behind the imperious inspector who was suddenly stricken with a strange affliction that made him incapable of seeing humans or hearing their voices.
Several months later, alerted by the deliberate clanging of gates the residents of Asan Colony saw a shining new sports car swish into Amy Aunty’s compound. From behind the wheel Amy Aunty checked the usual places for faces – behind the cascade of bougainvillea, on the other side of a front door opened just a crack, a slight rustle of a bamboo curtain – all present. She gunned the motor twice and surfaced from the ochre beauty dressed for effect in contrasting royal blue. This time she did a double mental fist pump. Yeah!
Have more fun with Amy Aunty here.