I got my first speeding ticket the day I got my driver’s license in the mail. I had unknowingly “pushed” an unmarked police car. But this didn’t prevent me from falling in love with the soaring freeways which stretched out for hundreds of miles in smooth glorious splendor..
At first, I armed myself with bus schedules & tried to use the hauntingly empty buses which rattled by occasionally. I soon realized that if I wanted to ever get any kind of independence, I needed that drivers license & a car. But everyone warned me about the TEST, gruesome tales of ferocious examiners circulated in the Desi party circles. A would help me practice, but his caution & insistence on “smooth turns” were exasperating.
Impatient with the warnings, I scheduled the test when my still new husband went out of town for a business trip, & scraped through it. I decided to pickup A from the airport, feeling very smug & accomplished. For some reason I also decided to wear a green patola silk sari (I pretty much had only saris to wear).
It was raining that night, & the drive was daunting. Soon, I could see the planes. I was relieved because my first foray into freeway driving had been terrifying.
I missed a turn. The printed Mapquest directions could not be updated, & the vendors & passers by at every corner in India, were missing. There was nowhere I could pause, roll down a window and ask for help. Lost, I kept taking turns that seemed to be heading in the right direction, & managed to circle the airport four times. At this point my anxiety had escalated sharply, & another problem presented itself. The gas indicator was hovering over red. I managed to find a gas station, then realized there was no gas attendant to fill up the tank like we had back home.
I had never put gas in a car, I didn’t know where the tank was. I saw the light was on in the tiny shop at the far end, but I was too embarrassed by my own incompetence to ask for help. In the rain, my beautiful sari got drenched slowly, my hair stringy and the sandals soggy. It was now past the expected arrival time and I was close to tears.
The attendant listened to my story in silence, his face stony and manner distant. With no pride left, I asked for help. He took in the bedraggled heavy silk. My heart sank. I’m not easily defeated but at that point I was truly worried.
Finally he cleared his throat and asked me what the dot was. I didn’t know what he was talking about. He asked again, and then pointed at my face. I had completely forgotten the bindi I was wearing. I launched into the symbolism, the history, & the variations.
He helped me fill up the car, gave me paper towels to mop myself, & clear directions to the airport. I didn’t want to admit my little adventure to A, but I let him drive the car home. To this day, he doesn’t know how close I was to ditching his car by the side of the road, walking to the airport & buying a ticket to India.
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