How some of us take driving for granted! An article in Reader’s Digest about a Saudi woman who couldn’t drive (like all women in Saudi) got me thinking of the time I couldn’t drive. No, I didn’t ever set foot in Saudi Arabia. I lived most of my life in India, where my grandma’s driver drove me to school and back or I carpooled with my best friend G. When I got older my Dad took over. He used to drop me off at my office and then head to work. In the evening I simply walked, took a bus or an auto ( a 3-wheeled vehicle with a hood and a meter – cheaper option than a taxi). Driving was never a necessity. My mom never learnt to drive and my grandma had a driver. But my grandma wanted me to learn to drive. I scoffed at her saying I didn’t own a car.(Vanity! What else can I say?) She insisted that I should but I never heeded her advice. Oh how I regretted it! Not when I was in India, but when I got married and moved to the U.S. of A.
In the U.S. unless you live in a big city, you can’t really rely on public transportation. One is pretty much homebound without a driver’s license. Add kids and biting cold winters to the equation and the picture gets pretty bleak! Most brides from India get busy getting their licenses or applying for jobs. I couldn’t apply for a license without an SSN and my visa did not permit me to work in the U.S. It was a dependent visa and that pretty much described my situation. Three months after I got to the U.S. I was pregnant with my first child. Severe nausea kept me in bed most of the day. I couldn’t step out of the house. I was afraid to go grocery shopping (what if I threw up all over the meat section?). I was afraid to go to my neighbor’s apartment (what if I threw up all over her carpet?). Driving was the last thing on my mind. My husband did the grocery shopping and took me to my doctor’s appointments.
This continued after my daughter was born. My husband had to take off when our baby girl got sick or had a doctor’s appointment. We shopped for groceries over the weekend. If it was too cold he went alone. I pretty much gave up on the idea that I would ever get a license. The only time I regretted not having a license was when my husband had a kidney stone. He was in excruciating pain and had to drive himself to the emergency room.
After we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, I found out I was pregnant. The nausea wasn’t as bad as the first time around but I barely had any energy to take care of A and myself. After my son was born we had so much going on with him that another couple of years went by. When I was finally ready to get my permit, the DMV insisted that I didn’t have enough documents to be granted one. A few frustrating years later, which saw my husband skip around his work schedule trying to accommodate doctor’s appointments (times 2!), trips to the preschool and everything else in between, I finally got my employment authorization. Now I had enough documents to get my learner’s permit.
In India depending on age and marital status, either dads or husbands teach their daughters or wives driving. Typically early in the morning when the roads are deserted or in the outskirts of the city where traffic is negligible. My husband’s Dad taught him driving when he was old enough to apply for a license. So my husband took me to a parking lot for my first lesson. By then my kids were older and we had wonderful friends who volunteered to baby sit. After driving around in a few parking lots at 5 m.p.h. I realized this was not a good idea. My husband was afraid I’d dent the car (hence the 5 m.p.h. speed limit). Every lesson saw us getting more and more stressed out. Finally we both agreed that I should just go to a driving school.
In 2009, after my grandma passed away I was determined to get my license. It was my tribute to her. But just after I finished my first lesson we got news from my husband’s company that we had to move to Florida. After a break of several months (as we settled down in Florida) I had to get my license and get it fast. Work pressure was high, my husband’s office was far away from home and working from home was not an option. I signed up for weekend lessons. My instructor (whom I will never forget) was a grandma with a great sense of humor. She teased and poked fun at me to get me relaxed. A few lessons later I was ready to take the test. After two attempts I finally got my license. It sits in my purse along with a picture of my grandma. I’m sure she’s saying – finally that girl got some sense in her and got her license!
I’m not one of those people who enjoy driving. I’d rather be driven around so I can take in all the sights around me. But I realize what a blessing it is to have a license (and a car) as I pass the bus stop on rainy days. It’s a blessing to be able to drive and it’s a blessing to have people to drive you around when you can’t. So thank you Papa, Dadima (and all her drivers) and my husband who still loves to drive me around sometimes!