I have always taken pride in being independent- financially, emotionally, spiritually- in every possible way. I hate the idea of being clingy. When someone tells me they can’t eat a meal alone or travel alone, watch a movie or shop alone, I give a polite smile but my mind questions this artificial barrier that they have built around themselves which prevents them from experiencing life at its fullest.
From buying my own house, investing for myself , planning a gals only vacation, taking a solo trip, watching a movie all alone in a theatre and enjoying my meal in solitude- I have done it all. It hasn’t always been just for the heck of ticking off items on the bucket list but sometimes it was just a situation I found myself in and decided to make the most of. The solo trips were business trips where I had a few leisure days and decided to go out and explore the place rather than sit holed up in my hotel room. This meant eating out alone, shopping alone, taking pics alone but I realised I quite liked my own company.
The only thing that my heart knew I hadn’t attempted in my quest to independence was driving. I have always had this fear in my heart that driving is not for me. Its too complicated, you need to keep too many things in mind, look right, left, in the mirror, front, back, keep in mind the gear, brake, accelerator- I felt I wouldn’t be able to manage this. I had learnt to ride a 2 wheeler while in high school but never really rode it on the roads. I used the bus to travel to college and it continued when I started working.
The cab service was provided once I started my full time job which made my life all the more easier. Driving in Bangalore for 25 kms is a nightmare anyway, one which I wasn’t going to attempt under any costs. My hubby drove and so did my mom, going around on weekends was never an issue as there was always someone around. While the auto guys are far from friendly in Bangalore, Ola and Uber came to my rescue. Life was set. Perhaps some things are not meant for me, is what I told myself.
With all the stress at work , who wants to take the additional stress of driving. I am happy sitting behind and dozing off or listening to music.
It all changed when I moved to Pune.I had taken up residence very close to work and the roads were pretty empty as this part of town is occupied by the IT industry and a few big apartments . I had to work in the EMEA shift which meant I started by around 1pm and got home after 10 at night. To add to my woes, no transport facility was being provided as this was a new organisation in India and a few of us in this new role worked out of a vendor location. There were just 2 women other than me and both drove.
I raised a hue and cry as a basic facility like transport needs to be provided to women employees post 8 pm. The organisation was quick to take action and I was sorted. I used an ola/ uber to commute in the afternoon and at night I hd a cab. I still did not feel the urge to drive.
In 2018, I made a resolution to make an earnest attempt to conquer my biggest fears. One was swimming and the other driving. Driving, I could ignore it no longer , had become a necessity. My apartment which has the feel of a holiday home in the mountains is a 1.5 km walk from the stores. Any essential supplies, medical shops, doctors etc are not easily accessible unless one can drive. My mom was terribly sick once and couldn’t drive herself to the doctor, I had to rely on a neighbour to get her to the doctor.
My daughter started schooling in 2018 and while my Mom dropped her and picked her up, the days when she was sick, we had to miss school. All these incidents made me think- perhaps its time to not brush this aside anymore. This is a life skill and absolutely essential for me to master.
I told myself “How can you be scared of something you havent even attempted? How bad can it be? You will never know till you try. Give it a shot. Enroll yourself in a driving school. In the worst case, you will make a call that you are not comfortable and decide against driving. Apart from a few hours and the money paid to the driving school, you are not losing anything more. Its not that you are buying a car, you already have one thats being used by others in the family.
With that, I enrolled myself in a driving class nearby and started taking driving lessons. The first few days were very tough, I couldn’t control the steering , changing gears was a herculean task, I grit my teeth and persevered. It got better after a few days. I no longer had those jittery feelings before sitting in the car.
Then came the real challenge. Driving my own car. Learning to drive in a driving school car where the person teaching you has complete control of the clutch and brakes is not that hard as compared to driving your own car where everything is literally in your own hands. I hired a driver to guide me and the first class was the hardest one where I realised this is really no cake walk.
It got better as he taught me a few techniques and corrected my mistakes. I have never hit the roads with a 2 wheeler either, so this was a completely new experience for me. Road judgement, reverse, parking, manoeuvring the roads- it was scary but I pushed myself.
The moments before I was about to sit in the car were the hardest for me as I had this rumbling in my stomach and my throat dried up. The moment I sat inside, adjusted my seat, fastened my seat belt I knew I was in control. And the feeling when I got out after a drive was that of pure joy. I was all smiles. It felt no less than a feat accomplished.
Now comes the hardest part. Driving all alone. My goal was to drive to work . This also meant night driving as I leave work only after 10. I had planned I will start driving after I complete my classes with the driver but he unexpectedly fell ill and had to take a break. Then one fine day last week I decided now is the time. It was Mahashivratri and schools were closed. This meant still lesser vehicles on roads. My mom encouraged me as well.
Despite all the demons playing havoc in my mind, I took a .deep breath and went ahead. It was a smooth ride and I felt a sense of euphoria. The second day was better, I did not put down the window shades, I played my favourite playlist on the third day and was more confident.
Its been a week now and I do feel some anxiety before I am about to start a new ride but it vanishes once I sit in the car and start the ignition. If I could go back to my past and tell myself “Its not hard at all, your fears are unwarranted. The thing you were most scared of even trying is something you picked up with not as much of effort as you thought it would entail. The sense of freedom, being able to go where you want , whenever you want without depending on anyone is priceless.” I still have a long way to go as I need to venture beyond my office and drive in traffic but I will get there. One step at a time. I have the taken the first one and the others will follow.
Here is what I would tell every woman out there who is scared of getting behind the wheel- You can do it, its not a cake walk, it needs a lot of focus, it requires you to drive away all thoughts from your mind and just pay attention to the task at hand. It is risky as any error can prove fatal. But focus on what you are doing, be in control of your vehicle, follow the rules , stay calm and you will be just fine. Take that first step, it will need every ounce of courage within you but once you make up your mind , you will find this courage which you never knew existed. Your dear ones may encourage you (like my hubby, mom always did) but end of day its all about you. The day you wake up and decide you need to conquer this fear , is the day you have set the stage for a new journey.
I leave you with this awesome video of a sound track created by the reverse sound of cars driven by women drivers. Look around and while you do see women drivers as the scenario changes these days, how many of them hit the roads in comparison to men? I did a count one day in one of the most happening places in Pune (Baner) where we were stuck in traffic and I counted one female driver for every 30 male drivers. Cars do not recognise gender, its time we reclaim the road girls.
Share your story too, I am all ears.