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When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Drive Safely? Drive Me Friggin' Crazy!

Driving in Sri Lanka is an experience. If you can drive here, you can drive anywhere.

I remember the day I started to learn how to drive. I had just turned 18, and I was home for one of my semester vacations. Dad was working, I went over to him with my face full of innocence and anticipation (this was much before I founded the darkside movement) and said, "Dadda, teach me to drive!"

He looked at me for a full three tenths of a second and said - "No."

Wait, this doesn't sound right.

Correction, this was NOT the day I started learning to drive. Obviously. That day came a few weeks later. My dad had driven me to the Kandy lake, where almost 75% of all driving instructors take their classes. We were waiting for Mr. Saheed - an aquaintance of Dad's who had been teaching for quite a while, and who also laid claim to the dubious honour of teaching my mother. I say 'dubious' because though he did ensure she got a license, my mom has stepped behind the wheel a total of one time since. I believe I was 10 or 11 years old, and most of the (short) journey involved my mom and dad screaming at each other and the phrases "You're making me more nervous!" and "That's not the brake pedal!" being repeated often.

Finally my instructor arrived. Now, I knew that most learner drivers start off on very low powered small cars, so that they can learn the basics well and not end up pulling unintentional 'donuts' on their first day. Yet even I was unprepared for the white Daihatsu micro-van that pulled up at the curb. It made a golf-cart look like a luxury sedan.

Dad and Mr. Saheed exchanged pleasantries, the latter staying inside the vehicle for some reason and chatting from the passenger window. I was told to get into the back seat while another student went for a round first.

Saheed seemed to be a decent instructor; he was pleasant and spoke well, and had an air of colonial time Englishman about him which most Kandyan's above the age of 50 seemed to possess. And he had a wooden leg. And he was blind in one eye (seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up!). Soon it was my turn, and I was asked to take the wheel.

As I sat down, I suddenly realised that I couldn't breathe and that there was a stabbing pain in my gut. I was momentarily in a state of panic (appendicitis? kidney stone? I'm too young to die!) until I realised it was the steering wheel. Saheed smiled and advised me to push the seat back, which I did, only to find that my knees now touched either side of the steering wheel and made me look like I was going to shoot a baby out from between my legs. Just when the rather tempting idea of attempting to drive with me knees passed through my head, Saheed told me to remove my shoes. I looked at him with a confused look on my face; did he think I was going to put grime on the pedals? Then he explained that it's easier to get a 'feel' for the clutch and the gas that way, than when I wear shoes. Sounded fair to me, but there was just one problem. I have size 11 shoes. Despite this being an apparent advantage among the ladies, it was extremely bothersome in my current situation as there was now next to no room for my feet with my shoes squeezed into the little space between the seat and the pedals. No way was I sending my Nike's into the backseat either; not only did I not trust the weird dude sitting behind me, but I didn't want them being thrown all over the place while I drove.

And so it was for about three weeks; me squeezing my average sized frame into a clown car and driving around the lake at a tame 40kmph, with Mr. Saheed rambling on about life and politics and his stint as a taxi driver in Germany during the 60's ("Good money puttha! And these dirty foreigners, when they get drunk no? They don't know how much money they're giving you! Stupid buggers.. hahaha slow down puttha, this is not a race."). I did nothing of any difficulty whatsoever; the hardest thing I had to do was reverse into a lane that was so wide the Titanic could have backed into it without problem. The closest I got to an accident was when this new girl was driving. She had a terribly annoying habit of stomping on the brake pedal like her life depended on it, even when we were travelling at a breakneck 7kmph on an empty road. The first time she did this we were going at a considerable pace (maybe 20kmph) and suddenly I found myself being hurtled into the back of the passenger seat. This happened a few hundred times, until finally the entire backseat got dislodged as well. Getting down from the van was a relief; solid ground never felt so good.

I didn't have to worry about my driver's test though; it was a complete joke. I drove in a straight line for about ten minutes and the tester stopped me and congratulated me on passing. Sri Lanka must have the lowest standards for driving, as is evident whenever you drive on our streets. People trying to overtake on the left, short shifting, braking too early, sticking to 2nd gear and revving the engine to pieces - nothing is surprising anymore.

But if you can survive driving on our roads for a few years - there is no brighter accolade than that! The razor sharp insticts required, the foresight to know when someone is going to cut you off, the mental toughness to control road rage, the ruthlessness required to merge onto the main road (here the 'Give Way' idealogy is replaced with the 'Get Out of My Way' principle) means that any driver that has survived on our roads for a certain number of years should be nominated for the Medal of Honor.

So to all you Lankan driver's out there - I salute you! Now get outta my way, you #$#*$#...!!?!?!


Dhanu said...

lol... I can't imagine how a foreigner would feel when driving in SL. I've been driving in SL my whole life (well 18 onwards). After I spent 2 years in US ( and driving) I came to SL for a vacation this summer. Man.... first two days of driving felt like a ride in a roller coaster. But after that I guess my basic instinct from past kicked in and I was navigating my way through all those crazy 3-wheelers and private buses. :-D

alicia said...

redeemed :D
so phunny putha! i mees you

Sabby said...


I am 'almost' embarrassed to say this but I failed my driving test. NO fault of my own, mind you. The dude I got was really crappy coz he made me reverse over a speed bump and my van stopped. *sigh* and then my instructor made me cry. Horrible experience. Blah! You are so lucky!

Gehan said...

@ dhanu: i can only imagine how hard it is to adjust to the chaos after driving abroad!

@al: tank u, tank u.. :D

@ sabby: aww.. thats so sad.. im so sorry.. and im so faking this reaction cos that is HILARIOUS!! :D HAHAHAHA...!! >:D hehe sorry, couldnt resist..

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