Prasad spotted Naina, his 9'0 clock student, standing near their practice car. He signalled her to wait. A glance on his faded wrist watch showed the time as 8.45. Collecting the Yaris keys from the front desk he proceeded to the tea stall to sip his fourth cup of tea.
Naina was busy counting her attendance on the small green card. Her index finger stopped at seven. Thirty-three more classes left. Desperation was writ all over her face. She had to figure a way out. She hurriedly pressed for the calendar screen on her mobile and started calculating her twentieth class date. The onlookers passing by could hear her counting. Oblivious of her surroundings, she was occupied in thinking of ways and means of fulfilling her dream. She had to convince Sunil by hook or crook, to let her complete mandatory thirteen more classes. The driving school only allowed candidates to appear for the test after completion of twenty classes.
Today’s morning events had toppled her world upside down.
Sunil, bubbling with excitement had hugged her today morning at the clinic. The result was positive. The corners of Naina’s mouth only quirked upward in response. She did not have any strength left to face disappointment a third time. Her hands were also itching to hold her own baby but she concealed her emotions.Both of them had cuddled other’s children many times in the past. They longed for a baby of their own.The gynaecologist seated opposite them was patiently reading the pages of Naina’s pink file.The file contained a detailed report of her two previous miscarriages and her rare blood group. The doctor, closing the file started advising them on precautions to be taken and explained the long list of pills to be consumed. Every movement, any odd pattern had to be reported immediately. Both of them were listening to each word in complete attention. However, the chamber’s stillness and her throbbing heartbeat suddenly felt a jolt hearing the next utterances of the doctor.
“She cannot afford to take any risks. Secondly in addition to all the history, it’s also a late pregnancy. She has to take complete bed rest”. Her face fell listening to these words. Naina shot an icy stare at Sunil, when she caught him nodding in agreement with the doctor. “Bed rest” Her driving dream was again getting shattered. She let out a sigh in despair once she and Sunil walked out of the clinic. She brushed Sunil’s hand away when he tried to put an arm around her shoulder.
Her teen excitement had not waned a bit even today. Naina had always wanted to drive her father's fiat when she was in high school. Her father had strictly instructed their driver never to pass the keys to her. “You will get married one day. I don’t want you to get injured. Why do you want to drive? I will marry you to a guy who can afford a driver for you.”
Naina rebelled at the standard answer he gave every time she requested him. She sulked, pleaded with her father and even tried bribing their driver. But her tricks did not move a single facial muscle of her Dad nor changed the smile of their loyal driver. Mom never had a say in these matters and her driving remained a dream till she married Sunil.
Sunil, after marriage enrolled her for driving lessons. He himself had never driven a car. Hence, when he enrolled for driving lessons, he suggested that Naina should join. Naina was on top of the world. She was thrilled to have a husband who was not a chauvinist like her Dad in these matters. She got a slot a week later than her husband at the driving school in India, but she was ready to wait. She had waited all these years.
Her first lesson at the driving school was still fresh in her memory. She woke up early in the morning, raring to go. Her long lost desire was getting fulfilled. Her one and only objective was to impress her parents with her driving skills, particularly her father. They were visiting her after a fortnight. She even imagined how far her Dad's jaw would drop, if she picked them from the railway station. The very thought gave her a thrill. She joined the driving classes. Over enthusiasm even pushed her to cover three classes on some days. Dining table conversations would invariably end up on discussions on hers and Sunil’s driving progress.
Her confidence improved with each passing day. Two more days left for her parents to come. The only bit now left to learn in the last two classes was reversing. Sunil had already finished his classes and had his licence in hand. He was keen to buy a new car. She decided to give her remaining classes a miss. She wanted to go car shopping with Sunil. His insistence to finish all the lessons fell on her deaf ears. She argued that she had been reversing their scooter perfectly.
Naina confidently drove the new car to the station and parked it. Brimming with joy on seeing her parents, she ran and hugged them. She narrated emphasising particularly that she was the one who drove to the station. Her happiness was plastered on their faces. Sunil, arranging the luggage in the boot fondly looked at Naina. Shutting the boot, he signalled her to sit in the passenger seat. She did not take the cue. She grabbed the car keys and strode confidently towards the driver’s side. She glanced into her father’s eyes in her rear view mirror and started the ignition. With oozing confidence, she reversed, only to dash the car badly against a pole. Sunil ended up coughing thousands of rupees repairing the dent. How foolish she had been in assuming that both car and scooter followed the same pattern of reversing.
She never got an opportunity to drive the car again.
The repaired car had to be sold the next month. Sunil’s company was sending him to States on a new assignment for three years. She joined him in a couple of month’s time, but her mid bump and morning nauseas put her driving dreams on hold in States. Her driving remained a dream and so did her motherhood all these years. within a short span, she had another miscarriage in the States and hence could never drive there too.
This time, in Qatar, she wanted to get everything right, her baby and her driving licence.
A loud burp broke Naina’s chain of thoughts. Prasad, her training instructor longed for a different tea burp. The tea at the corner shop in the driving academy had tasted the same the last three years. He pined for the fragrance of the jasmine flowers and the tinkling of bangles. His thatched hut in Konkan still carried those lovely scents. After marrying Sunita, the smell of jasmine pervaded to every corner of his empty hut. The smell of jasmine adorning her wet hair and sound of her bangles accompanied his morning tea. The couple were happy in their little world.
The first tremors in their blissful married life came in the form of environmentalists. Even today Prasad did not understand the complete implication of the word. One fine day, when he set out for fishing, he and other local fisherman were blocked by a group of people protesting against fishing. They were shouting slogans in English, none of which made any sense. When translated, the entire village was baffled to know that the fishing community was the culprit. The red banners accused them of causing water pollution and ecological imbalance. The agitation continued for days.
The fishing community in particular disliked a person who spearheaded this movement. An Indian and a native of Konkan, a person named Mr.Kelkar, a States returned environmentalist who spoke their mother tongue. The community had to sit through his lectures on global warming and ecological imbalance. Prasad only knew one thing. He had never harmed anyone. He was a God fearing person. “Why was everything going wrong”, he wondered. Mr.Kelkar was the one responsible for shattering Prasad’s domestic bliss and robbing him and his friends of his livelihood. He still wondered even now, how one human being had concern for fish in the sea, but not for co-humans, their aged parents and children.
Mr.Kelkar assured them of all help from the Government for an alternative livelihood. But nothing worked. He tried to find employment, but the numbers of jobs available were few. There were so many jobless fishermen. The competition was stiff. He did not have any other skill. Government’s and Mr Kelkar’s promises to provide compensation never saw the light of the day. Hunger can test a man’s limit. He could never forget Mr.Kelkar’s face.
Some friends suggested that agents in nearby town were sending men to Middle East for jobs. Boarding the bus to the neighbouring town, he also set out to meet the agents. The agent promised him job in Qatar, but he had to pay a hefty fee of 50,000 rupees to the agent for all expenses. The local, moneylender lent him money at a very high rate of interest.
Prasad landed in this Qatar with no skill. The local agent asked him to shadow his current driver. He had never even sat in the passenger seat of a car in his life. He was not as lucky as Naina to enrol for a course to learn driving. The agent by day three told him to start driving, with one clear instruction. If he ever hits or is hit by any vehicle while driving, he was to quickly swap places with the experienced driver. If he doesn’t follow and is caught by police, he will be deported back.
Prasad couldn’t risk losing his job and the he also had the loan looming large on his head. With shaking hands, he clasped the steering in this new country. The speeding cars, the roundabouts at every intersection scared him to death. The experienced driver seated next to him was barking instructions. He wanted to open the trailer’s dusty rattling door and run back to his wife and his town. He also missed the sea, his torn fishing nets, his fish and his friends. The extreme heat, unfriendly terrain and lack of a comforting shoulder added to his woes. He very well knew that he could never escape. His agent had his passport and he was now stuck for two long years.
On the tenth day, his agent took him to appear for the driving test. Prasad to his own surprise passed the test and ended up as a driving instructor in a driving school. His routine included waking up at the crack of dawn and teaching driving from morning six till evening six.
Brushing his eyes with back of his palm, he handed Naina the car keys. Both of them sat in the car and strapped the seat belt lost in their respective worlds. Naina shared with him the news of her pregnancy and the urgency to clear the driving test. Prasad fondly recollected the day, when Sunita had called him one day to share the happy news. He felt so helpless at that moment for he could not even go back to be part of the joy. He had to wait.
Prasad assured Naina, that she would clear the test and he would definitely help her in improving her confidence. He showed Naina, his son’s picture. Last twelve months he had to be content staring at his son’s pictures only. He never had the opportunity to see him in flesh and blood. The company’s contract only permitted him to travel to India at the end of his two years. Six more months wait. Each day seemed never ending. No one could understand his pain. Prasad a father now, decided to provide his son best of education. But he would never let his son become an environmentalist. He still bore the grudge against the environmentalists.
Naina went back home and requested Sunil to let her continue her driving lessons. After hours of discussion, Sunil finally agreed with a condition. “If due to any reason, you are not able to clear in the first attempt, you are not attending anymore classes. I do not mind money wasted, your health is more important.” Naina, thrilled at her small victory nodded her head.
Finally the D-day arrived. The previous day Naina had requested her driver Prasad to come on the test day morning just for moral support. Even Prasad prayed for her. He prayed for all his students, because each student’s first attempt to get licence would fetch him 100 rials. Every rial meant some more savings for his unseen son.
For Naina, he sincerely wished she clear because of the state she was in. Prasad came early in the morning. Naina cleared the signal test, the parking and the L parking test. She next boarded the van along with other students for the road test. She was tensed. Prasad wished her good luck and got back to his teaching. An hour later, Prasad spotted Naina walking with a guy towards him. He could see Naina beaming. The result was written all over her face. He had never seen any of his student so happy on clearing the driving test. As he walked closer to congratulate her and wish her happiness for her future, his eyes fell on the guy walking next to her. The face, the gait all seemed so familiar. He could not go wrong. As they came closer, he felt a lump in his throat. It was the same Mr.Kelkar.