The international driving license

Not long ago, most people lived and died within a few kilometers of the spot where they were born. With advances in transport, and globalization, this is becoming less and less true. The old oral family history tradition has been considerably weakened.

From time to time, I get to travel back to India and spend time with family. We regale ourselves with anecdotes from our childhood, telling and retelling the stories that form our oral histories. Here is one that I’d never heard before …

Shiva and his wife Roshni (not their real names) lived in India. In the early days of the IT boom, Shiva’s employer wanted to send him to the US for a stint there. So like numerous others before them, they needed to learn to drive and get themselves an international driving license. Both of them went to the neighborhood driving school – let’s just call it Goyal’s Driving School (100% pass). Mr. Goyal, the portly owner and driving instructor taught people to drive in his beat-up old car. Only hand signals, and driving instruction during the day – the lights didn’t work. In addition to learning how to drive, students sometimes learned how to push the car when it stopped running. When the instruction is done, it is off to the RTO where the final step of the process takes place. The feared “driving test”.

Of course, a little “special consideration” to the policeman makes the driving test easier for Goyal’s students. The student would have to (quite literally) run over a dozen pedestrians, and scrape and dent quite a few parked cars before they’d fail the test.

For Goyal’s students, the test was simplicity itself. The policeman would stand at one end of a road, about 300 feet long. The student would get into the test vehicle at the other end of the street, drive up the street and stop about 10 feet from the policeman. The student would turn the engine off, get out and come to the policeman and hand him some paperwork. It would be stamped, and everyone was happy. Never once had Goyal had a student fail – he proudly announced that to all prospective students. 100% pass …

So on the morning of the test, Roshni arrives at the RTO and waits for Mr. Goyal to show up with the car that would be used for the test. The policeman asked her who the instructor was and was thrilled when he heard that it was Goyal; one of the most generous driving schools.

Fifteen minutes goes by, no Goyal.

A half hour late, Goyal shows up, but there’s no car to be seen! A brief conversation ensues between Roshni and Goyal. Apparently there was some confusion – Goyal figured that Roshni would be bringing a car, and Roshni thought it was the other way around. Roshni had no car, clearly Goyal’s car had broken down and was out of service.

Roshni was concerned that she wouldn’t get her driver’s license – what would she do when she went to the US? The policeman had already figured out how he would spend the money he was about to get – what would he do now? And everyone was yelling at Goyal – how on earth could he have done this. What kind of operation was he running …

Not in the least bit flustered, Goyal tells the policeman to take it easy and that he’d sort it out. Get ready for the test he tells him …As he takes Roshni off to the end of the road, the policeman is yelling after him “Goyal, you’ve gone and done it again. How can you do this” (of course, much more colorful language …).

An amused bystander watched the whole thing. He too was there for a driving test and was wondering what would happen next. After all, Goyal had no car – that was clear. Roshni wanted a car driving license, that too was clear – she had a flight to catch in a few days. And of course, the policeman wanted his money. With Goyal out of earshot though, the shouting stops.

Ten minutes pass, and the policeman erupts into another volley of insults. He invoked Goyal’s parents, grand parents, his whole entire lineage, swearing loudly in language that would make a sailor blush. Our surprised bystander turns to look to see what could have happened.

Coming up the street very slowly was a cycle-rickshaw with Roshni sitting quietly in the back as a passenger. Goyal was walking along and telling the driver what to do. The trio come up the road slowly and approached the swearing policeman. He was now completely red in the face, and beside himself. “Stop now” Goyal said, and the entourage came to a halt about 10 feet from the policeman. Give these papers to the policeman Goyal says to Roshni, and hands her the application form, and some other paperwork. Sheepishly she hands it over to him, not sure what would happen next.

The policeman holds the papers in his hand and his expression changes. No more swearing. He looks over the paperwork which seems heavier than usual. Goyal pays off the rickshaw puller who exits stage left. Five minutes later Roshni has her driving license, and all set to head to the US of A.

And then it was on to the next story, and a great time was had by all.

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