‘Being a woman did not give me the licence to break traffic rules’

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A series on true experiences

DRIVING

By Mahima Dayal

Illustrations: Samia Singh

THE SONG on the tuner was Time by Pink Floyd, as I drove on the moonlit road, along the endless string of yellow lamps on a beautiful summer night. It curved into a majestic arc at the Barapullah road in Delhi. I drove fearlessly at midnight.

I was initiated into the art of acceleration after I began college. My parents were intrepid enough to let their daughter stay out for long hours — only on the premise that I was safe in the car and was not using public transport at night. Daddy’s girl got a car to take on the world with the route she deemed best. The route may have shifted since, but the engine runs the same. I gradually became a veteran driver on Delhi’s roads and had little to fear, as long as I had my car.

That night, I drove detached, crossing the silhouette of the Red Fort and staring at the endless road ahead, as my car roared with pleasure. A while later, I took a left turn from Rajpath, when a cop signalled me to pull over.

Whenever a traffic policeman stops me, despite the number of laws that I may have broken, I subconsciously switch on my defensive mode. Aware of the benefits of being a female driver, I inevitably try to put my debating skills to test.

A left turn is something I generally assume to be free. There was little traffic at twelve in the night as the capital was engulfed in a dream like haze. I rolled down the window when the cop said, “Madam, I won’t talk to you. Let me have a word with the gentleman sitting next to you.”

I shouted out, “Why? Since I am a woman, you think I won’t understand your law? Talk to me.”

My anger kept me from seeing reason. I chose to ignore that it was late at night. The cop asked me to get out of the car. He ordered me to walk to the signboard. It read, ‘No free left turn’.

He lectured me on why one could not take a free left at Rajpath and also explained the strict manner in which traffic has to be managed in high security areas. His patience calmed me down. Then, he said with a glint of humour in his eyes, “I never stop lady drivers. I know that they assume they can never be wrong. After that madam, there is no point arguing.” With that, he handed me the chalaan and asked me to drive safely.

There must be something about women drivers that triggered the response that I had received. Once my anger dissipated I could see that the long lecture was a justifiable response to my own premature defensiveness. The ‘I can never be wrong’ attitude that I wear casually, got me into trouble that night.

The question that arose after the incident in my subconscious has stuck around. I recalled the times when I had driven around mindlessly at night, confident that a male cop would not stop me. I had taken advantage of the few privileges of being a woman. The exhilaration of holding the wheel to your life, the freedom to drive on the open roads of Delhi at night is intoxicating. But it made me realise a few things. Unrestrained freedom, even when minutely curbed, can have lasting implications. And more importantly, rules were meant for all sexes. Being a woman could not double up as my licence to drive, unmindful of rules.

There are moments in life when perspectives and routes change. But to change the road altogether, I’d have to wait for the right turn. Later, as I drove, with my eyes trained on the road, my mind drifted to the time when I was given the keys to my life and had come alive along the endless string of yellow lamps. Since then, I remember to watch out for the green signboards amidst the yellow.

Mahima Dayal is 22. She is a journalism student based out of Delhi

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