How Not to do an Annual Day

January 30, 2013

Our girls have been on stage four times so far, for various dance performances. The first was back in May 2010 ( ), three months before they turned four. They were still too young, back then, but – despite all the chaos – they loved it. They loved being on stage. But that first time, I also discovered how incredibly tough it is on young children, if it is not sensitively and sensibly handled.


Six months later, they were back on stage, and this time things were much better organized. One advantage was that, this time, most of the performers were in their teens and there were very few tiny tots. Also, the staff-to-tinty-tots ratio was better and the staff and tiny tots actually knew each other. Still – things would have been even better if the organizers had put the tiny tots on first, especially considering it was an evening performance and the tiny tots had been on an adrenaline high practically the whole day.


In 2012, Tara opted to join the daycare dance class, which culminated in a small show. This was a sweet and cozy affair organized by their daycare at the daycare itself. It was clearly not up to our young artiste’s high standards, not having a proper stage and lights and curtain and whatnot… but it was a simple, light-hearted, low cost affair and apart from Tara, the rest of us enjoyed it.


The best event of theirs that I’ve seen yet was organized by their school. In a way, it’s hardly surprising. The event was part of the Montessori graduation and their Montessori teachers had been with them for three whole years. These teachers are also clearly better suited and/or better trained for their work than any of the other organizers I’d seen. The kind of practice and preparation that went into that event I can only guess at. But the end result was lovely. The school had separated the “convocation” part of the event from the “annual day” part of the event. The convocation happened in the small school auditorium, with a minimum of fuss and fanfare. The annual day was at a nearby venue and was extremely well organized. Things proceeded apace and the costumes, choreography, and general stage management was very smooth. I don’t think any of the kids cried, but it obviously helped that they were completely at ease with the staff and each other, and also that they were all in the 5+ or just under 6 age group.


Well, both kids love being on stage, so when their current daycare (a different one from the one referred to earlier) organized an Annual Day event, how could I refuse?


So the big day came, and we dropped the kids at daycare and found our way to the venue – a good 15 km away from the daycare! – independently. I made sure we arrived late (because these things never start on time) so we reached at 11.20 for a 10.30 invitation. As we entered the auditorium and wondered where to sit, the event started – just as if they had been waiting for us to arrive.


It was horrible.


For two hours, we sat through one number after another, waiting for our kids’ turn and then waiting for the end to come. Two hours, itself, is not so bad. What made it – for me – intolerable was the crying. I can understand one or two kids bawling sporadically in the background – the kids here probably ranged from one-and-a-half to six in age. But when you have such tiny kids, don’t you want to put the smallest ones on stage as soon as you can, get them done, and send them off to be with their parents? I’d think that was simple common sense. Here, the tiniest kids came on at item five or six and then… you are not even going to believe this – they were sent off to change backstage and come back for another item at probably number ten or so… and then another, by which time I have no idea which number they were at but it was two hours since the show had started and four hours since the kids had been dropped off at daycare. And after all that, they were still expected to be all smiles and joy when they came back on stage for their “convocation”.


Now this is just plain stupid. I mean, this really is taking things too far. These kids are in playschool, which means they are not even three years old. You really expect them to perform three different dances in three different costumes and still be smiling? After four hours??? Obviously, all of them, I think without exception, was wailing and looking for their mamma. Or, in some cases, Mrini and Tara reliably inform me, their pappa.


All this tears and heartbreak – for whose edification? My kids were 6+ and they’ve been for various stage shows before, so I was fairly sure they would not be crying and anxious and tired and end-tethered (my shorthand for having reached the end of their tether) back there, but still. It worried me to think they might be, and it broke my heart to see these other tiny tots wailing their lungs out for no fault of theirs. When you have 20-odd tiny tots wailing on stage and yearning for the comfort of mamma (or pappa), even if you are not one of the concerned mammas or pappas, how can you enjoy? I couldn’t help wondering what their poor parents must be going through. I know what I would have done – I would have marched right up to the stage, ignored the well-meaning assistants, barged into the backstage and gone to my child. If she could be comforted, I would have comforted her. If not, I would have taken her home. That’s all.


Anyway, around 1.45 or so, Amit and I had had enough. First he went up to the assistants to tell them to hurry things up. When he was sent off with I don’t even know what kind of reply and the tiny tots continued to cry, I got up. Actually, I’m not the sort of person to get up and make a big fuss. And remember, these were not even my babies. Let the parents of those kids take up the battle, what’s it to me? But when the prinicipal announced that the next item would be a dance by some of the parents, I snapped. I charged up to the stage – from 15 rows back, mind you – and told the principal in no uncertain terms that I was here to see my daughters dance and not the parents, thank you very much, and I’d been waiting for two-and-a-half hours and enough already! Just get going with the kids and do it now, lady!


Much to my surprise, this worked. The principal quickly had our girls brought on, they did their two dances back to back, and off they went. And before they could get out of their costumes, I was there, waiting to whisk them away.


The net result of this, though, was that I was so angry by the time our girls came on stage that my hands were shaking and so the video I recorded of it is practically useless.


Still – our girls were fine. They were lovely They smiled broadly throughout their dance and they were – of course – the stars of the show, or that’s what I think, anyway. And they weren’t tired or cranky or anything. They were fine. But still… what a terrible thing to do to all those tiny tots. What kind of a teacher or principal would do that to their own kids??? You know the tiny ones are going to get exhausted the soonest – why not just get them on the stage, get them done, and send them to their parents. Ok, I get that you want all the parents to stay for all the items, otherwise the kids who come on at the end are performing to an empty audience. But still – if you send the kids back to their parents before they wind up in a flood of tears, there’s even a chance that some parents might stay on to watch the others. Also, what’s the idea of having tiny tots do three dances? They barely managed to do some kind of steps in the first dance – in the subsequent dances they just stood there looking lost and waiting for it to end – those who weren’t already crying, that is.





One more thing that I find sad. These kids are all excited about this big show they are going to be in. But – they never get to see any of it. They are backstage the whole time. That’s so sad. They may (or may not) have seen all the rehearsals, but wouldn’t they also love to see the razzmatazz? You bet they would! Why don’t these organizers let the kids sit in the audience – even in their costumes if they can – until a few minutes before their number and then again right after? That way, the kids have a lot more fun and also, they might not bawl so much. 


Sometimes, people do things that are just plain dumb.


January 27, 2013

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not endowed with a green thumb ( ). I’ve always believed that plants are fairly hardy creatures and if you just give them some water from time to time, they’ll be fine. That probably explains why I’ve not had a lot of success in growing stuff. We even had Poinsettia once when we were in the US, and that’s a plant that blooms just about everywhere including inside every mall you go into around December-time, and it still died under my tender loving negligence.

The other thing is, I’ve never been very fond of plants – that is, not very fond of flowers. I like things that grow in the wild, but I’ve never been fond of manicured lawns. I like grass; or at least, I like the idea of a big expanse of lush green lawn of grass, but beyond that the only thing that really attracts me is huge big, sprawling, gracious trees. Banyans. Poplars. Flowering trees like Jacaranada and Laburnum and of course the king of flowering trees, not gracious but a riot of red when it flowers – Gulmohar. True, the flowers last only a couple of months – but that period more than makes up for the rest of the year with its drab leaves and seed pods. In the summer months, to come home to a vibrant combination of yellow, purple, red, and – if fortune favours me and I can plant and nurture it, a Java Cassia – pink – what could be more wonderful than that?

If you are in Bangalore and if you’ve been somewhere near Minsk Square in about March or April, you couldn’t have failed to notice a large, graceful tree just inside Cubbon Park, where the walking track is, towering over the statue of some long forgotten British king. That, my friends, is Java Cassia. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it and I’m determined to have one of my very own. The question is, where?

The problem is, I grew up in Chandigarh in a huge and fairly gloomy two-storey, four-bedroom (five if you count the study) government house. If you know Chandigarh, and if you know government houses, you know what kind of gardens those places have. The back lawn was – the way I remember it – sprawling, untamed, and thrilling. (I’ve mentioned it before, in one of my earliest blog posts –

When I wasn’t exulting in the untamed wilderness of my back lawn, I was at my grandmother’s house. Their house was vast – and their lawn, while sprawling, was the polar opposite of an untamed wilderness. All manicured lawn, neatly shaped flower beds, orderly columns of trees. Every year, in an almost ceremonial fashion, things would be planted. Sweet peas over there, pansies here, roses there, petunias elsewhere, chrysanthemum, dahlia, phlox – a place for every flower and every flower in its place. Meanwhile, partridges nested in the bottle-brush, large fragrant citrus fruits ripened on the lemon tree, and all kinds of things happened in the tall, ancient poplar. In the front lawn, a beautiful vanilla creeper (or was it an ice cream creeper, I never can remember) grew all the way up the wall to the sunlit terrace where it fell over the parapet in an exuberance of small pink flowers.

In its own placid, peaceful way, my grandmother’s garden was beautiful too. My aunt made a ritual of doing a round of the garden each evening, inspecting the blooms, the fruits, and the wildlife with equal joy and enthusiasm. She often cut a flower from here or there to place on a vase in the dining room. All those years ago, when I was 7 or 8, I learned that flowers must be cut slanting at the end, to better absorb stuff and to live longer in a vase.

I also, much to my surprise, picked up a fair knowledge of flowers. I didn’t know it though, until recently, when in discussions with friends I seemed to know as many or more flowers than average.

Still, I didn’t have too many opportunities to grow things myself, and those opportunities I did have I either wasted or messed up. After marriage and even more so after kids, on innumerable occasions, well meaning friends and family members gifted us plants, all of which, invariably, without exception, died under my tender care. The only notable success I can recall was the bougainvillea that sprang up in another government house, this time in Delhi. It grew vigorously, the way some bougainvillea do, and soon it formed a beautiful cascade over our boundary wall and near the gate. I can’t actually claim that to be my success however; my only contribution to that thorny plant’s lusciousness was to tie it up and trim it from time to time. Apart from that, it seemed to thrive on a mixture of admiration and neglect – which is exactly as it should be.

Three years ago we moved into an independent house which had a small patch of – I can’t say lawn, but at least – open area around it. It was a rented house and we were on the first floor; there were other tenants on the ground floor. I could have made some effort to tidy up the open area, to start something there, but I didn’t. I didn’t own that space – either technically or emotionally, so I let it be, and of course it went to weed.

Meanwhile, Amit started his vegetable garden on the terrace and I – while I did not stridently object or do anything to stop him – certainly made it abundantly clear that the project had nothing to do with me. I consented, on occasion, to cook and/or eat the produce thereof, but that was the limit of my involvement. Why, you might ask. No real reason – I’m just not a vegetable garden kind of person, I’m a flowering tree kind of person. And perhaps grass.

Then we moved into our new house. We were fortunate enough to have about 1500 sq ft of garden space. That’s excluding terraces and other paved areas.

For the first three months, we did nothing. Then, finally, we got grass. Lots of grass. We covered the front and the driveway in grass and even though it is Bermuda (not Mexican) and it is seedlings (or whatever they call it, not a mat), it is still grass. True, it’s patchy, not thick yet, but still, it’s grass. Wow. We have a lawn!

And now we have loads of work to do. Watering. Not to mention weeding.

But now that we have a lawn, why stop? I mean, watering grass is not even work, really, is it? It’s enjoyment, relaxation. And while we’re doing the watering anyway, we might as well have a few plants there, right?

Then Amit went and tore his ligament and everything came to a grinding halt. Until the weekend before New Year. We’d gone out for a lavish lunch for which I’d dressed up in my long black skirt and exactly on such an occasion Amit told me to stop at the next roadside nursery that we passed. And, I was dumb enough to do so, long black (tight) skirt notwithstanding. That was when we got our first proper plants – three bougainvilleas (two pink, one white) for me and one red hibiscus for Tara.

For the first time in my life, I planted something, all on my own. Amit stood there but wasn’t of much help. The kids did their best to help… and naturally had to be reined in. And I dug and planted and sprinkled compost and watered and then looked fondly at my fledgling plants and waited for flowers.

As far as the hibiscus went, it wasn’t a long wait. The plant was heavy with buds and within a day or two, a flower appeared, to be followed every two or three days by another one. A couple of buds fell off, but the plant was still heavy with buds and looked happy. Not so the bougainvilleas. The most leafy of the three began to look droopy in days, and the most colourful of the three lost all its flowers and the bright pink leaves that everyone takes to be its flowers and that make the plant so pretty. Its leaves also fell off and pretty soon all we had was a dry brown stalk and a few dusty-looking leaves clinging on, or perhaps waiting to go.

The thing is, when I planted these first few plants, I had no spade to dig with. But I had the saplings and didn’t want to wait till I got a spade. So, I dug the hard, dry, cracked red-brown dust using the plastic cover of a Coffeemate jar. It was hard work and not very effective. The holes I got weren’t really deep enough when I placed the saplings in the ground. So when the bougs began to look droopy and lifeless, I first tried putting more water, then tried putting less water and then – following Amit’s advice – tried covering up the exposed roots with fresh earth and compost. Something clicked, because all three bougs look happy now. The white one didn’t have any exposed roots and had started growing almost at once and now has gained in height and sprouted new flowers. The two pink ones that hadn’t been faring so well are beginning to look up. Brown stalks have turned green and new reddish leaves have started to appear. Maybe these two babies are going to survive after all. Amit cautions me to be careful, though. He says if I keep looking at them every couple of hours, they’ll die of a surfeit of love and attention.

The fact that a few plants have been under my sole guardianship for a couple of weeks now and have survived is quite a pleasing thing. It might well be time to expand my little family in the garden.




What’s Next?

January 22, 2013

It’s 2013, finally. I haven’t looked at my achievements last year and I haven’t defined my goals for this year. Heck, I haven’t even checked my cheque books yet to see if they are CTS-2010 compliant. All the same, it’s now a good three weeks into 2013, and that should be a good thing.


This is the year that my publisher is supposed to publish at least one of my books. They are sitting on two of them – one on adoption, the other my first work of fiction. I’m hoping the adoption book will come out this year… it’s been a long wait already, far too long.


As for fiction – I’m still surprised to find myself writing science fiction. Whenever I thought of being a writer of novels, I thought they would be romances. I grew up on a diet of whodunits and romances and I couldn’t see myself writing a whodunit, so it would have to be romances, I thought. Sci-fi never entered the equation. Who writes sci-if? Who even reads sci-fi? Not me.


My editor, whom I’ve met just once, thought it was only natural for a technical writer in a fairly abstract field of technology to be writing sci-fi, and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But then, I never even thought I’d be a technical writer, so I’m still surprised to be writing sci-fi.


Undeterred by the eternal delay in my work actually seeing the light of day, I’ve been busy working on yet another book that I hope to persuade the same publisher to publish. It is actually a sequel to my first work of fiction, but it is very different in nature and character, connected only by a thin thread of plot. I started writing it in October, and now – one hundred thousand (or so) words later – the first draft is done. In less than four months! It needs a second look, of course, and then probably even a third, but right now I’m pretty happy with it. I’d sent my editor the proposal for this one even before I started writing – something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before – so I was a little worried in case the book came out differently… or didn’t come out at all. What if I never got around to writing it, or I lost interest half way? Well, at least that hasn’t happened, and the book has stuck to the proposed storyline fairly faithfully. So hopefully my editor is going to like it. Fingers crossed, breath bated and all that.


Looking back, it’s difficult for me to believe that less than a year ago, towards the end of February 2012, I had just got my contract for the adoption book and just completed a first draft of the first fiction book. I sent it to my agent on the first of March, in its raw, first-draft state. It was the end of May by the time I had it in its final shape. By the end of August I had a contract – a mere six months from completion of the first draft. When I wrote my first book, it took me several drafts and a good five years to get a contract. The adoption book also languished for so long that I’d almost given up hope.


From June to September last year, I was busy with another module of Archaeology and then in mid-September, we moved house. On 2nd October, I started writing the sequel. And now, apart from a few holes here and there, I’m done.


In retrospect, it seems amazing – so amazing that I actually went to my mailbox archive to check that some of this didn’t happen in 2011, it seems that long ago.


There’s been another book knocking around in my head wanting to come out, but right now I just don’t have the energy to work on it. I’m tired! I need a couple of months to read and watch TV and spend time with the kids. And sleep. And maybe, if I have a bit of time after all that, to blog.


Meanwhile, I have discovered a new way to keep myself busy – as if the old ways weren’t working anymore; let me assure you, they were working just fine. After we moved into our new house and finished unpacking (mostly) and putting stuff away (or in some cases, just shoving it under the steps), we took a look around and realized we had a lot of open space outside the house and that it was exceedingly muddy and it needed some attention and, even more importantly, some roots. And that’s my latest pet project – taking care of the garden. There’s lots to be done, and, since I know absolutely nothing about gardening or plants, there’s lots for me to learn. Well, I love to learn, so it should be fun – at least for me (if not for the plants)!

Sixty Hours A Week!

January 17, 2013

That’s not the quantum of time I spend at work – that’s the quantum of time needed to keep our household running. Phew!

Not that I do all of it. Not even half. I have help, of course. But with the kind of help I have… many of the things just don’t get done. Like dusting. Cleaning the windows. Cleaning the bathrooms. Other things get done only if I do them – like ironing. Veggie shopping. And lots of other stuff too tedious to name. Amit does usually contribute, but with the enforced holiday he’s been on, his contribution has been a nice round zero in recent weeks. Well… not quite zero – he does help by combing the kids’ hair, overseeing their baths, and now he’s even resumed service as part-time dishwasher. But still, it’s a small, small fraction of the whole.

The biggest problem is when the help doesn’t help.

I have a morning help, who is supposed to clean the house, wash breakfast dishes, water the plants, put out the laundry, pick up and fold up the dried laundry from the previous day, make a few rotis on occasion, put out the garbage, throw organic waste into the compost pot, and fill the water filter with unfiltered water from the tap. She’s also supposed to rake leaves and clean windows once a week or so. I pay her 3k for all this, which is a lot – considering she cleans the house by waving the broom around in the air with her eyes firmly closed, and finishes off all the work in less than 90 minutes. You’d think it would take the better part of the morning to get through all that, and it would… if you did a good job of it.

The evening help is supposed to cook. That’s all, just cook. And wash the dishes. She usually gets to wash all the dishes she used to cook, as well as the zillion lunch boxes that come back at the end of the day. The trouble is, she actually creates almost as much work as she accomplishes. True, she gets the food ready. But she also in the process ensures that she makes such a mess of the kitchen floor that I am compelled to sweep and quite often to mop it as well. Then, while washing dishes, she splashes so much water and food gunk liberally on all surfaces close to hand, that I am compelled to scrub the sink and entire dish-washing area after she is done. Also, while washing is one of her chores, picking up dishes that were washed in the morning and kept to dry is not her chore, so she doesn’t do it. Therefore, the previously washed and dried dishes get a liberal sprinkling of water and cannot be picked up and put away for the next several hours unless one wants to waste good time wiping them dry first.

Additionally, both helps, but particularly the evening one, like to bunk. This, in fact, is their favourite part of their jobs. As long as I had only one help – and at some point each help was the sole help for a while – they bunked with gay abandon. After all, they have a captive market, while they are the sole help. Now that there are two of them – and especially since it is my constant endeavor that, like east and west, never the twain shall meet – there is a noticeable restraint in their approach to their favourite activity. They still bunk, but the gaiety and the abandon are conspicuous by their absence.

However, they can still be counted on to bunk whenever there is a holiday. My cook, for example, infuriated me by bunking on New Year’s day. I had taken a holiday that day – expressly to relax, recoup, and spend some quality time with me and mine. And the cook bunked. So I spent new year’s evening the old fashioned way – cooking and washing dishes and cursing and fuming. Great. Happy new year. The next day I asked her what happened. I went to the temple, she said. So? I got late, she said. Late? Well, I came at 6 o’clock, but nobody was home. That was when I went up in a puff of smoke and a bright blue flame emerged from the spot where formerly I had stood. Lies! Lies and damn lies! I was home slogging away getting dinner ready at 6 o’clock dammit! Ok, maybe it was 6.30 then, she said. I was still fuming, so she amiably changed it to 7.30. Yes, try hard enough and sooner or later you will find a chink in my armour. It was true, around 7, 7.30 we had gone out. But that didn’t mean the rest of it wasn’t a lie and a rotten excuse.

The morning help is no angel either. She’s supposed to come at the dark early hour of 6 a.m. so that a) I know by 6.30 that if she hasn’t come yet, she’s probably not coming; b) if she is coming, she can cook, in case the evening lady has absconded the previous evening; c) she can finish her work and get out of my hair by 7.30 or 8; d) she has enough time to do all the things that she usually doesn’t find time to do, like cleaning the windows and raking the leaves; e) it’s too early for her to bring her baby or her older daughter. She doesn’t, of course, actually come by 6, but as long as she makes it before 6.30 it’s ok.

Then one fine day she came and showed me a couple of scrape marks on her leg. Dog bit her, she said. Stray dog. Didn’t go away even though she threw a stone at it. I tut-tutted, but not too sympathetically. I have a husband with a torn ligament in the house, I have significant scrapes and dramatic scabs from my own fall while cycling, and I still can’t raise my left arm to shoulder height; yet I’m still managing every one of my household chores and going to office as well. I don’t have a lot of sympathy to spare for the kind of scrapes my daughters get on a daily basis, not even if they were caused by a street dog. I told her to ignore it and get on with life. Imagine my surprise, I mean, my chagrin, when the lady does not turn up for work the next two days. It’s still painful and she can’t stand, I believe. Plus, despite my best advice, she has gone and wasted one thousand rupees on all manner of injections from tetanus to anti-rabies. Call me callous or insensitive or whatever, but she’s plain stupid. The dog was clearly not rabid. Our neighbourhood is infested with packs of street dogs (as is every neighbourhood in Bangalore, as far as I’m aware) and apart from being mangy and flea-bitten to some extent, they’re all vigorously healthy. If you go and ask a doctor, they’re obviously going to recommend anti-rabies, but it’s your hard-earned money going down the drain, not theirs. And tetanus? What’s the connection? It’s a dog bite – and seriously, it was a tiny scratch, with not even a drop of blood. I doubt you can even get rabies like that – the saliva does have to get into your blood stream, doesn’t it? It can’t just sit there on the skin and infect you. Sheesh!

So, 60 hours of housework and not a lot of help. I’m waiting for the day when the kids grow up and we either split this huge big place into two separate units and rent out one part of it; or else rent out the whole thing and move into a small, two-bedroom, 800 square-foot apartment with no terrace, no garden, one-and-a-half bathrooms, and round-the-clock maintenance. Yes, I know, it’s going to be a long, long wait.

Tried. And Tested.

January 7, 2013

The past so many months, I’ve been driving around without a valid licence. I’m normally a law-abiding sort of person, so it irritates me to be doing this. I also feel like it’s inviting trouble. Wouldn’t it be absolutely delightful if, just when Amit is laid up with a torn ligament and no prospect of being back on his feet in the immediate future, let alone able to drive or even use public transport, I get throw in the slammer for driving without a valid licence?


Of course, nobody gets thrown in the slammer for not having a valid licence, not in India. And, normally law-abiding sort of person that I am, I’m not often found committing heinous crimes like zipping through red lights and mowing down innocent pedestrians, or even less heinous crimes like going the wrong way on a one-way street, which is more like a leisure activity here in Bangalore. So one would think the chances of me getting thrown anywhere just because I don’t have a licence (a valid licence, that is) are pretty slim.


But, even slim chances have a way of adding up as the months go by. And you don’t really have to cut a red light – even if you just take a free left turn on the assumption that you’re doing the right thing because there’s no sign telling you not to – even for such a non-transgression of a non-rule, you can get hauled up and asked to show your licence. And if you don’t have it… well, I have it in good faith from someone who was so hauled up and happened not to have her licence with her at the time, that in such a case, you get fined for Rs 400, but you get a receipt for only Rs 300, and if you’re willing to let it go at that, then all will be well.


But still, I’d rather not be in that situation and I’d rather not have to face that moral dilemma. And I’d rather have a valid driver’s licence than keep driving with an expired one, especially now that I’m the principal driver in our household.


I got my licence in Chandigarh at the tender age of 18 years and a few months. It was valid for 20 years. Now, 20 years later, I am in Bangalore, no longer at a tender age, and, what’s worse, married to boot. Take it from me, changing your name when you get married is the stupidest thing a woman can do. (I did it not for reasons of tradition and conventionality, but out of some misplaced notions of love, commitment, loyalty, and blah like that. It’s still plain stupid.) I’m not going to enumerate all the ways in which this is stupid or all the manner of difficulties I’ve had to endure because of this act of stupidity, but let me just say, this driving licence issue is not the first, it’s merely the most recent. You’d think, a good 15 years after you got married and changed your name, that everything that could trouble you about it had already come and gone. And you’d be wrong.


In all fairness to me, you can’t say I haven’t tried.


More than two months before my original licence expired, I tried to get it renewed, right here in Bangalore. That, too, was stupid. My address proof was for Koramangala at the time, though that was not where I was actually living then. We were staying in a rented place, and apparently a rental lease agreement does not serve as address proof. Alright – so I took the Koramangala address proof and went to the Koramangala RTO (Regional Transport Office). I explained that mine was an out of state licence. You know what they told me? They said, ok, no problem, go get a medical certificate and come back here.


So I went and got a medical certificate. From a government hospital. And this was one of those times when someone went out of their way to help me. I didn’t have the format for the medical certificate – the Koramangala RTO hadn’t seen any reason to give me one. But when I reached the government hospital at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m., the doctor not only was available and willing, he even just happened to have the form handy, in a locked room that he actually could find the key for.


Great! Back I went to Koramangala RTO several days later, armed with the medical certificate. They took it, took my current licence, grinned, and started in on me.


Them: What – this is an out of state licence.

Me: Yes, exactly. That’s what I told you last time, when you asked me to get a medical certificate and come back.

Them: Ok, fine, but your address proof is for Karnataka. And it’s in a different name.

Me: Yes, I got married. I have a marriage certificate to prove it. Wanna see it?

Them: No. You have to get your name change done in the state where you got the licence.

Me: Dude! You’ve got to be kidding me. That was 20 years ago at the other end of the country. I don’t even have an address proof in that city any more.

Them: Too bad. You get the name change in that state, then come back here and apply for an address change in this state. This should be done while your licence is still valid. We don’t know how long it might take, it depends on that state. When you come to us for an address change, after the name change, we have to write back to the issuing state for an NOC (no objections certificate). Once that comes through, you will have a licence issued in this state and then you can come to us for renewal. But remember – you can’t apply for renewal earlier than 30 days before the expiry date. Because, we like to make it interesting for you. Bye bye now, have a nice rest-of-your-life.

Me: (Now, in which of the many methods in my imagination should I first terminate your beastly existence?)

Them: Oh, by the way, it would be easier if you just apply for a licence afresh.

Me: But, damn you, then I will have to give the stupid driving test again.

Them: Yes, that’s right. All the best.


So, I figured the only way to do it was to apply for a fresh licence. And there was no way I was going to do it in the Koramangala RTO, which is miles from where I actually stay now. So I waited till we moved into our new home (several months after my licence expired) and then waited until I got one of the acceptable formats of address proof, and then went to the nearby RTO, where I was somewhat tempted by the bevy of driving school touts who promised to get me the whole shebang for a mere Rs 7000. But in the end I decided to try on my own first.


Naturally, I was given the usual run-around. Go there, get the form, go elsewhere, make the payment, go somewhere else, get photocopies, stick everything together, nope, staples won’t do, go buy a paper pin, and who told you to use a paper pin on the passport photo, for that you need gum, of course you can’t get gum here, go to that shop way over there to get gum… and so on and so forth.


After an hour or two, I had satisfied almost all their requirements and was allowed to stand in queue to submit the documents. It was only when I was the next person in line to approach the almighty Officer that the line guard (the chap who had made me do most of the running around) pulled out the final weapon in his formidable armoury. “What’s your pin code?”


A moment later, I was dispatched with scant regard for my effort and sheer perseverance. My pin code belonged to another RTO altogether. I suppose he could have told me that right up front and saved me two hours of running around, but then, that wouldn’t have been so much fun.


Fuming, I called Amit for directions and proceeded forthwith to the other RTO.


Now, every RTO has a different process, in fact, a different personality. At the former RTO, they were insistent on seeing originals for all your documents. Here, they barely glanced at the copies, forget about the originals. So much so, that they didn’t even realize that the receipt I handed them was not from their cashier at all – it was from the other one!


Ok, it’s not that I planned to cheat them or even that it was too expensive to pay the fee a second time. It cost a mere Rs 30 per learner’s licence per class of vehicle. I had applied for light motor vehicle (aka car) and motorcycle with gear (and glanced temptingly at Road-roller). When she saw motorcycle with gear, the woman at the cash counter looked at me incredulously and said, “You know how to drive a motorcycle?”


Well, yes, but I’m hardly going to say so, considering I’m here applying for a learner’s licence!


Anyway, I didn’t really intend to bamboozle the new RTO – I just wanted to expedite the matter a wee bit. It was going on for noon and I’d been at this since 9 a.m, and there was bound to be a lunch break soon. Besides, the queue at the cash counter was as intimidating as it was serpentine. I did actually try to explain to a couple of people that I had this receipt from another RTO and could I please use it here, if you don’t mind, pretty please? But nobody wanted to listen.


LL? Over there. Go.


Ok, so I moved from queue to queue and nobody realized that my receipt was not from their branch. I wonder how their books will tally at the end of the day or week or month or year or decade or century – or do they ever even tally their books?


And five days later, I had my LL. One for light motor vehicle, the other one for… motorcycle with out gear. Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!! Can’t they even read? Morons! (But then, if they could read, they might have realized about the receipt, so on second thought… ok. I’ll just try to use the without gear LL for a geared vehicle. Given their past performance, it should work.)


Apparently, nobody is surprised when a woman my age lands up applying for a driving licence, though they were surprised when Amit went to apply for a learner’s licence (his case being similar to mine, albeit without him having changed his name). I had been hoping that we could go for our driving test together, but now it didn’t look possible. Still, that’s no excuse to not go for the driving test. It did feel a bit ridiculous, though, going for a driving test after all these years – and, what’s worse, pretending to be a learner. I couldn’t help wondering if I needed to be a somewhat less accomplished, somewhat more nervous and inexperienced driver for the benefit of the test taker. Well, I needn’t have worried.


I left home at 9 a.m. and returned twice – once to pick up the original LL, which I had neglected to take the first time, and once to arm myself with stapler and glue, which, I had learnt, are essential weapons to have at hand at all times on missions of this sort. I had the other papers – proof of identity and age, proof of residence, car registration, car insurance, car pollution under control certificate. I’m not quite sure why they require the proof of identity and age a second time considering they have already verified my age and identity at the time of issuing the LL, less than six months ago. They don’t really think I could have changed either my identity or my age considerably since then, do they? Though, now I come to think of it, I wonder what they would do if I had changed my name in the interim – due to marriage, divorce, or just on a whim. Well, I must confess, I don’t really want to find out first hand.


By 10 a.m. I was at the RTO, waiting around for the cash counter to open at 10.30. I paid up Rs 210, but got a receipt for only Rs 201. That’s not cool – I could have given the guy Re 1 in change if he’d told me the right amount. This way, I didn’t realize it until I scrutinized the receipts later on. Anyway, that was done soon enough (considering I was first in queue and determined to keep it that way) and I was packed off to have my photo taken. Done, then off for data entry. Done – I verified the data onscreen, it all looked ok. Then off to get the ARTO’s signature. It was only about 10.45 by this time, which is of course much too early for any officer worth his cabin to be in office. I waited a good 40 minutes, by which time there were 20 people angling to get in front of me. There was no queue, of course – we all just hung around in front of his door. The officer, a very pious man I must say, marched through the crowd, which parted magically to allow his honored personage to pass, then prayed briefly at his desk before allowing us, the vile hordes, to invade his sanctum sanctorum. All he had to do was initial something, and all I had to do was sign something. Then we were done with each other.


Nobody really tells you where to go or what to do next – it’s much like being a blind man in a maze. But every so often there are polite helpful people to point you in the right direction, and not all of them are touts. If not, you can follow the touts, who always know where to go. Since I was in the lead in this race, I followed the advice of the polite helpful people and found my way to the Vehicle inspector. He inspected the car’s documents and appropriated my file and told me to wait outside – he pointed through a window in the room as he said this.


Me: Outside?

Him: Yes, outside, over there.

Me: On the road?

Him: Yes, on the road, over there.

Me: What, on the road?

Him: Yes, yes, the driving test will be at 1.00, now go.


Wow, great. It was only 11 a.m. so I had two whole hours to wait on the dusty roadside in the blazing sun. I was hungry, I was thirsty, and I needed to use the bathroom. Luckily, I had carried my lunch – but not water and not a bathroom. Anyway, I managed to get all those crucial requirements satisfied and settled down to roast in the car.


After more than an hour, somebody told me to turn the car around and bring it forward. I did so, then undid my seatbelt and got out because it looked like it would take time and outside was actually cooler than inside. I was actually surprised to find that I was wearing my seatbelt at this point – I had only turned the car around and moved it ten feet forward, but apparently I’d put on the seatbelt by reflex.


Somebody told me to get back into the car, and a moment later the test taker came and got in. The test then took place as reported below (replies in brackets are my unspoken replies).


Him: You failed the test already. I saw you weren’t wearing your seatbelt. Now you are wearing it. Ok, good. Open the window.

Me: (You fat liar. There are times when I don’t wear it, but this wasn’t one of them. And you were over there in that other car with that other guy. Besides, you can’t fail me for something I did before you’ve even started the test. And if you’ve already failed me, why are you still sitting here?)

Him: Ok, go straight.

We went over a nasty little bump which, I’m sure, has been put there by the test takers themselves, just to jolt the poor learners.

Him: I took your learner’s test also, you remember?

Me (lying): Yes

Him: You remember?

Me (still lying): Yes

Him: You really remember?

Me (Boss, I came for the LL like two months ago and looked at you for all of 30 seconds and why exactly do you think I would remember that? I don’t even remember people I have met and spoken to for hours on end after two days.) Yes, I remember.

Him: Good. Now you failed the test.

Me: (What, I should not have remembered you?) Why? (And we’ve only driven 100 metres down a straight road so far, how could I possibly have failed – I haven’t even done anything yet.)

Him: Your driving is good, but you don’t give any hand signals.

Me (incredulously): But I haven’t turned anywhere yet.

Him: No, you have to give hand signal for moving, you have to do that.

Me: (Listen, fatso. I have one hand on the steering wheel and another on the gear stick. You want me to stick both my hands out the window and indicate that I’m – what – going straight?)

Him: Ok, turn left.

Me (startled): Where?

There is only an open green field on our left. It doesn’t look to me like I can or should drive on it.

Him: Reverse and turn left.

Me: Oh, you want me to reverse? (Why didn’t you say so?)

Him: This is not proper parking.

Me: (Of course it’s not, considering I wasn’t trying to park.) You want me to park?

Him: You know, I came at this time only for you. Otherwise the time is 1 p.m.

Me: (Hah! That’s a line. You took all those other tests too, before mine. I bet the whole 1 p.m. thing is a line to make applicants sweat.)

Him: Ok, turn right go front.

A moment later we are back at the starting point and he’s getting out. I’m left the delicate task of reverse parallel parking on the wrong side of a narrow, sloping lane with traffic coming from all directions (not just both). If he had seen me do that, he should have given me a ton of extra marks for it – me, a learner with just two months of experience, after all. On the other hand, he might have failed me (again) for… I don’t know… parking too close to the kerb? There wasn’t a kerb there, really, but that wouldn’t matter too much, would it?


By the time I was done with the parking, he’d disappeared, leaving me clueless (again) about the next step of the process. I went back inside, and found him, and he told me I’d passed. Oh, yippee, that’s a relief – what on earth would I do with myself if I’d actually failed after driving for twenty years (with only a few scrapes to show for it)? There’s this delightful Hindi expression – chullubhar pani mein doob maro – which means, go drown yourself in a palm-full of water, and is used to express the utter ignominy of a particular situation, usually in mockery or jest.


Anyhow, since he scribbled all over my application in what was supposed to be approval, I was spared that glorious fate. Instead, I was directed to go buy a military sticker.


Wha…? Military…? Who? What? Which? Where?


I asked three separate uniforms and what emerged (collectively) was…

Them: Military stickers are for people who have lost an arm or a leg.

Me: But I have all my limbs intact, I said.

Them: But it’s for the military.

Me: So, what does that mean? Does it mean I can drive around without my driver’s licence, which I haven’t got yet, and without my original learner’s licence, which you’ve kept, and I don’t need a valid licnece holder next to me and the cops won’t haul me up?

Them: Nope – it only means the proceeds go directly to the poor military soldiers. Go buy it.

Me: Oh, really? Well, I don’t want to contribute, thanks. (I’m a heartless, mean sod who doesn’t give two figs about anything other than getting my driving licence, which is what I came here for. I didn’t come here to do my good deed of the year.)

Them: No, you don’t have a choice, you have to. Go. Do. It. Now.


Hmmm… ok. Like that. So they wanted Rs 100 from me, in exchange an unspecified number of “military stickers”. There was no receipt, of course – just the sticker. It looked suspiciously like a parking sticker to me, and it said “7 December Armed Forces Flag Day”. Learner’s licence applicants got – I think – one sticker for Rs 20. I pretended I was broke (it was almost true), so I got a whole bunch for Rs 40. So, by my accounting, I was ripped off for a total of Rs 49 today and by any standards, that’s not bad. The thing that really gets my goat, though, is the way they’ve made it an integral part of the system – coolly asking for Rs 210 and giving receipts for Rs 201, coolly instructing you to buy “military stickers” which I’m pretty sure are just bits of paper and even if they really are a donation to army folks, surely it should be voluntary.


I spent three hours there and came away without a shred of evidence that I’d actually given the driving test (let alone passed it). I don’t have so much as an application number. They even kept my learner’s licence – though I do have a copy of that. If I’d been Amit, I’d have taken photographs of everything with my cellphone. Being me, I just went along with the system, trusting that it works. Now, I just have to wait, and cross my fingers, and see.


PS: It still surprises me. I drove there alone, with only an LL, without an L sign on my car, a car that is, by the way, registered to me, and they didn’t ask a single question about it. Thank god! I had it all worked out, of course – exactly what I’d say if they asked. I’d say I was dropped here by my husband, who has a licence. No, then they’d wonder how come my husband dropped me and had the gall to go away. Ok, I was dropped by a friend. But not by a male friend, because they might not approve of married women being driven around by a male friend, so by a decidedly female friend, who subsequently left for work. She took a bus. And this is not the car I used to learn driving. This is actually my husband’s car, that’s why it doesn’t have the L sign. I learnt on another car, which I haven’t brought, because the friend can’t drive that car, but that one does have the L sign. “So you see, officer, I haven’t actually broken the LL law that says you must have a valid licence holder with you and you must have an L sign on the car. I might have to break it if you don’t pass me in the driving test, but then again – if that happens, I will just call my mythical female friend who will come flying by bus from her mythical office to pick me up and drive me home in my husband’s mythical car that doesn’t have an L sign and just happens to be registered in my name.”


Oh dear. Such a wonderful pack of lies and nary a chance to use it. And I was looking forward to it, I really was. I’m terrible at lying, I really could use some practice. 

Update: I finally got the licence – within 25 days as promised. Wow! And that after twice “failing” the test. 🙂

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