Sunday, August 14, 2005

What driving around shouldn’t be…

This time around I start with the end, my verdict. For us to get there let us know what I mean by driving around. It actually is the verb form of “drive around”, which in English means “To drive someone around in a vehicle” or crudely put it is “showing a stranger around a place”. Okay enough of the English class now…

I befriended this person from Chennai at the place where I dine here at Dubai. This gentleman had given 9 driving tests in a span of about an year and a half before he finally got his four wheeler license. He was proud to boast that it was worth a wait, as his was for a manual transmission vehicle. While we knew that he only had one and a half feet to support him on the ground, while the other half had gone for a toss due to some damaged tendons (the operation is due sometime now) he was insistent that getting a manual license needs be made a mandatory mark of a man in the Middle East region. While we could understand his reason for being so aggressively gung-ho about the whole thing, a nine time failure. We were trying figure out how on earth a man with one and a half feet drive around in a manual transmission vehicle, changing gear, using a clutch, the break and an accelerator. But he stood his ground (on his one and a half) saying driving was his passion and if at all he pursued his passion that would be on a manual transmission vehicle. We were as usual skeptical.

A day after attaining manhood (getting a manual license) he realized that even for driving an automatic transmission car people need two full legs. So he temporarily (that’s what he says!) bid good bye to the manual cars and took to driving the automatic. Well, he didn’t want to buy a car now as he said he would get one from his office. His name was in the car pool queue in his office and a car would be allotted soon. Till then where would he practice his driving in Dubai (Oops!! That must have been pursue his passion). Enter another friend of mine whose benevolence is a folklore here in Dubai. This man would offer help to anyone be it cash, kind. Be it day or night. He was someone who was already used to giving his car away for these kinds of novice practice drives thro the city of Dubai and around the other emirates. I too would be in the recieving end of this benevolance once I get my license done, his would be my practice car too (hope he doesn't change his mind by then)... So our man drove around the city in Mr. Benevolent’s car for a day or two before he was temporarily allotted a car by his office. But the allotment was only for three days.

Now came the most important phase in his life, his license was about 10 days old and he had to prove to India that he had got his license and he could drive. Opportunity knocked his door when his friends sisters family in Abu Dhabi wanted to go out around the place. Alas our man didn’t have a car as the office had snatched the one given, in Dubai there exists a rule that your license needs to be at least 6 months old before you hire a “rent-a-car”, so he couldn’t. In comes Mr. Benevolent, he offers to rent a car out for the protagonist. This is in spite of the fact that if the guy causes an accident then the car rental company could sue Mr. Benevolent for improper usage of the car, it could probably be a bigger nuisance. But still Mr. Benevolent’s heart is as big as a Big Mac (while for most of us it is just our fist size).

The rules of the game the car rental guy laid when they rented it out on a Thursday evening… the car should be returned on Saturday morning, 10a sharp. The car shouldn’t traverse more than 500 Kms during the two days. An extra kilometer would cost 20 fills (1/5th of a Dirham). Any traffic violations and accidents are the drivers responsibility and when he brings the car back it had to be in as were is condition.

Our man had to take the vehicle from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, pick his friends (a gent and two ladies, among which a lady was as young as Elisabeth Taylor is now). Then the plan was to drive them down to Fujairah and then come back to Dubai after dropping them back in Abu Dhabi. The ride was slated to be somewhere around 850 kms starting from Dubai and back. It was too much an ask for a human being with one and a half legs. But still our man is no ordinary hero, he was confident of conquering the challenges and the distance. He was also confident that me and Mr. Benevolent would join him (which is he and the family in the rented car and me & Mr. Benevolent in his car). Luckily we were tired and hence couldn’t wake up in the morning and we picked the phone up and waved our great guy good bye. But we did promise that we would catch up some time later in the day somewhere.

It was about 3.30p when we decided to embark on our drive for the day, we decided we go to Fujairah from Dubai (which is shorter) and go with him to Abu Dhabi and back. This itself was quite a challenge, covering more than 400 kms. But given the fact that the roads in Dubai are good, we thought it would not be such a big problem. When we were half way down our endeavor we heard our man is still on his way to Fujairah, he was 18 kms short. We wondered how as we ourselves, starting at 3.30 were at that point 60 kms short of the destination. Our mans answer was simple, he missed his way went to another emirate called Ra’s al Khaima which is about 128 kms from Dubai and about 120 kms from Fujairah if one traversed the correct road. This made his trip meter tick more, it was much more than imagined when he again decided to do some research on the roads in the emirates and he reached Fujairah when his meter showed an extra 300 kms.

We left Fujairah together after a tea, they had their lunch. When asked on what they saw, his friends family remarked that the roads in emirates are good. I realized that considering the distance they traversed the roads are the only thing they would have seen thro this eventful trip of theirs. We then left for Khor Fakkan which is around 25 kms from Fujairah. 10 minutes in the beach, a tea more and it was time to leave. We left for Abu Dhabi from there to drop the guests. I could by then because of the stress due to sitting on the seat continuously, feel blisters and sores forming on my skinny back. I was laughing inside thinking how that old woman is going to survive these many hurdles in a single day – the heat, the humidity and the stress due to travel. I was praying god that she reaches home as one piece.

By the time we reached Abu Dhabi it was 11p in the night and we felt like corpses but our man was still putting up a brave face. And now we started our last leg of our adventure, Abu Dhabi – Dubai. This leg is a fast paced one and is about 200 kms. We thought that would take a minimum of 2 hrs if we drove like maniacs. We did drive like maniacs effectively when Mr Benevolent recollected that the last time we took a leak was at Dubai at about 2p in the afternoon. It was about 10 hrs of continuous driving without even a stop for the pot. So we decided that we stop the vehicle for a leak. It was now that our man felt the pinch, he looked like a well stripped chicken dangling in an abattoir. He was worn out, for the first time he agreed, spoke what was, acknowledged that he was tired and he couldn’t drive. But he had no option but to drive and Dubai was still about 40 kms from there. We embarked again, it would have been when Mr. Benevolent realized there was no fuel in the tank, the vehicle was about to choke. This was our hero’s car which Mr. Benevolent was driving and he was supposed to have filled his tank.

For the first time ever in the last 3 months I could see Mr Benevolent visibly disappointed and upset. Now we had to check for a gas station before the vehicle stalled. I called the hero from my phone to appraise him about the status, he first blamed us for not looking at the gauge as we drove and then started giving us ideas as to how to delay the inevitable and by then the usually quiet and patient Mr Benevolent was pissed off, in case the vehicle stalled on the road it attracted a fine of about Dh. 200. And imagine a guy in the gulf region getting his car stalled because of no fuel in the tank. This would make you look like a barber in Tirupati back in India who doesn’t know how to tonsure heads. Fortunately for us we both didn’t loose our cool, we hadn’t still started cursing the hero but for the occasional crib. We finally managed to find a pump in Dubai, about 7 kms from our house. We hit the house in the next fifteen minutes, by then the hero had completed a 1205 km long ride within a span of 15 hours. Believe me it was 15 continuous hours of driving, without a break. Just the pure will to prove to people that he has a license and he could drive, drove our hero to accomplish the impossible. The fact that he even can’t walk for the next 2 –3 days notwithstanding.

Me a mere passenger in Mr Benevolent’s car felt more tired than anyone else (don’t know much about the old lady and the others in her family). Mr Benevolent too was tired, obviously he has to be, for he was my driver and he drove a continuous 10 hrs for about
600 and odd kilometers. I wouldn’t want to repeat this, my having embarked on this kind of a mad driving around would added in my books as one of the gravest errors I have ever made in my life.

This definitely is what driving around shouldn’t be. God don’t make me do that ever. Even ones worst enemy shouldn’t undergo this kind of a self imposed ordeal.

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