Beauty and the wheel
Eves have ended the male monopoly at the wheel.BHAWANI CHEERATHmeets the Lady Schumachers of the city
The distance between the workplace and the home is ever growing. The public transport system is unable to cater to the requirements of the daily commuter. And the number of vehicles on the road is multiplying at a dizzying pace. Add to this the entry of the upwardly mobile woman who is in a hurry to reach places in her two-wheeler or the two-plus-two-wheeler.
Confusion more confounded?
Ask any eve at the wheel and you will be treated to tales about the peculiar behaviour of people when they discover that it is a member of the fair sex who is on the driver's seat. "The moment he discovers the `pallu' of the saree or identifies the silhouette of the wind-swept tresses or sees the bangled hand being put out to give a signal, a transformation takes place in his attitude towards her and her car," testifies Nirmala, a housewife with newly endowed mobility. "He acquires an unusual risk-taking ability. The otherwise defensive pedestrian decides to dart across, the vehicle behind goes full throttle, and the oncoming car hurtles down towards you menacingly."
Prame Anne Varkey, an officer with a public sector bank who goes around in a sporty new generation car, could not agree more: "The less said the better about the mean-looking trucks, KSRTC and private buses and the speed machines called ISRO vehicles." Joyce, who has driven a car for over three decades, says the only time she was involved in what can be described even as a minor fracas was when a VSSC bus took a wrong turn with no signal.
"If my car got away undamaged, it was because I was slow and cautious," says an ever-vigilant Joyce who is always on the lookout for these `marauders on the prowl'.
"Yama comes riding on those transport buses, beware you must," is the advice of septuagenarian Kunjukrishna Pillai who gives driving lessons to young aspirants. What about our State cars, and those flaunting red boards signalling that it is a `sarkaari gaadi', and the police, all with the air of the Bourbon monarch who said, I am the State.'?"
Model and TV personality Devi Ajit says she has no problems with other drivers. "But the pedestrians are up to their tricks."
And they swear at you, "They have no work at home; so they decide to stir out of the house to exhibit their newly-acquired car or driving ability," says college-goer Suma, the proud owner of a Honda Activa. Avid fans of `Dennis the Menace' would remember his innocent query to his mother at the wheel, `When Dad's driving, the road is full of bastards and idiots. Where do they go away when you are driving?'
Die-hard feminists might accuse one of gender bias if the cliché, `the hands that rock the cradle', is used.
But Vijayan, working as a mechanic in a well-known automobile service station in the city, is of the firm opinion that cars driven by women are much less roughly handled than those driven by their their husbands. The reason, perhaps, is not far to seek: the nimble hands that do intricate embroidery and deft darning handle the automobile as a delicate piece of equipment. Someone who does not seem to be keeping up with the times attributes this to a simple reason: the ladies have much less running around to do - dropping the kids in the school or bus stop, a little bit of shopping, that's about it.
A lady doctor recalls the `good old days' when the roads were much less populated by vehicles than now and driving on the tree-lined avenues was a pleasure. Unni, an auto-driver, has had minor skirmishes with the women who come to pick up their children from schools.
He believes that ignorance of the consequences prompts women drivers to take risks without even sparing a thought for the other users of the road. The main problem lies in the manner in which the lady manages other traffic on the road. Often a woman justifies, `I was in the right. He entered without a signal, or jammed the brakes even though the road ahead was clear.' They do not realise that it is not a tense look at the road ahead that is necessary. Their eyes must necessarily have the 180-degree vision, in addition to an innate assessment of the space taken up by other vehicles on the road. "You'll see that they handle the steering as if they're clinging on to dear life," is a common comment.
You learn it the hard way.
Says P. J. Iyer, "Women acquiring the ability to manage a vehicle, be it a two-wheeler or car, is okay. Often women on two-wheelers accelerate more than they should at certain points purely because they have not learnt to maintain their balance at low speeds. Balance, you will agree, is a requirement for city driving."
Managing the vehicle is not the only thing. Signals at the right moment, respect for the co-vehicle, are all part of this.
The devil-may-care (dare!) attitude of the young men on speeding bikes is a threat to all drivers.
"The lady at the wheel gets shaken faster than an inexperienced male driver," explains Anil. S. Nair.
Somewhere along the way we also realise that there is an insecurity created by the arrival of a new vehicle.
Ask Saraswathy, the first woman auto-driver in the city. "Sometime ago, I could not park my vehicle in the auto stand.
The others just would not let me park in the vicinity. Now I take schoolchildren regularly and an occasional passenger."
Automobile engineer Jayanth, who has driven cars in many countries across the globe since the early Sixties, feels that late starters and the elderly are cautious to a fault. "Even on broad avenues clear of traffic, they go very, very slow, do not maintain the distance from the vehicle in front and God bless the people behind them, particularly if she is trailing a cyclist. She will not overtake, nor let you overtake," he says.
Managing the vehicle is only part of the exercise of surviving on the busy roads. Says Parameswaran Nair, a driver in a public sector bank: "All they (lady drivers) know is how to take the vehicle forward. They do not have an idea of the size of the other vehicles on the road and the speed at which they are going."
Road sense plus civic sense go hand-in-hand to make driving an easy exercise. Getting used to heavy traffic on the road, coping with bumper-to-bumper traffic and peak hour snarls toughen a novice at the wheel, be it a man or a woman.
Driving is a skill that comes with experience and concentration. No place for distraction here.
The problems are universal and are not genderdependent.
It's the attitude that matters.
Photo: C. Chandramohan
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