If I can drive in Pakistan, I sure as hell can drive anywhere in the world.
That notion sparked my quest to learn driving in Karachi. But what was supposed to be a journey to unlock more roads of adventure, turned out to be a series of unfortunate events.
I must first give some premise on what kind of a person I am. A foreigner is one, a Chinese (or ching-chong, as some Pakistanis call us). To add to that, and most of all, a really unlucky being. So if there is anyone who had to wait half an hour for her driving instructor out in the cold, it would be me. And it was only the first lesson.
But fine, it was 6:30 pm; I could totally understand that “heavy traffic” explanation. As soon as I saw my instructor, I literally heaved a sigh of relief and thought “now I can finally breathe”, which turned out to be yet another overstatement.
You see, the car had no windows, which made breathing in an unpolluted space impossible (don’t get me started on the street pollution). But the thing that struck me most - there were no seatbelts. I have never driven a car or taken up any driving theory lesson before, but I always thought that wearing a seatbelt is a ‘needless to say’ kind of traffic rule in any country, not excluding Pakistan. Apparently not.
If I am to ram into a tree or other vehicles, am I perhaps supposed to thrust myself backwards at that precise moment so that I would not fly through the windshield? Yes I do have an instructor who might want to make sure that doesn’t happen, but… we will get to that.
So let’s go back to 6:30pm. The car finally arrived after half an hour of cold waiting and I got into the passenger seat and five minutes later, my star-crossed aura struck once more – the tire bust. After a few tough minutes of hand signing, I finally understood what my instructor meant by “wheel”. Well a punctured tire might sound very much like an inauspicious start, but my spirits were still up, surprisingly, because I got to have a free lesson on changing tires, though it simply meant I got to watch from the side.
My instructor swiftly replaced the “wheel” while I invited ogles beside the car with a big red-lettered “L” for Loser plastered on the rear window. Okay maybe it’s “L” for Learning, but you can’t possibly blame me for thinking otherwise. After what seemed like 15 minutes, the man turned to me and said, “You, drive.” If there was any instance I felt like hitting anyone in Pakistan, it was then. But of course, back then I did not know this is what everyone does during their first driving lesson – they just cut straight to the chase and into the driver’s seat. But in my defense, they are not in an old and tatty car with an engine that sounds like metals of all kinds breaking into a gazillion pieces.
Now to the metaphysical part of my story; I always feel like the spirit of a world-class car racer lives within me, or perhaps I carry some of him or her (yes my car racer ghost can be a woman) from my past life. Anyway, my past experience with a Daytona in a climate-controlled arcade usually attracted envious looks from aggressive little boys with goofy larger-than-life grins, who at my every turns and drifts, frowned like they never had even when their teachers were lashing at them. That’s my achievement on the four-by-three arcade screen. In real life, it wasn’t that pretty.
See in the world of Daytona, the only living organism are those invisible spectators who exist for the sole purpose of clapping for me, and even that is contestable since they don’t subsist beyond the screen. But behind the steering wheel in Karachi, it is as if people want to run into a car just so that they could be seen. Until now, I had not managed to grasp that concept, which is why I know I might not be explaining it well. They come from all places, left right back and front, and they want you to be more afraid of them than you should be, like a cat which thinks it is a lion. But seriously, who are they kidding?
The onlooker who sat next to me seemed to understand these messed up dynamics. So he kept saying to me, “be careful of cars, and be more careful of humans”. Well it could also be interpreted as he does not want me to kill someone, but no I would not think of him that way because I know he definitely does not value life as much as I do – especially after what he shared about his hunting trips, the glorious and not-so-glorious facts. Thus I prefer to regard it as “he does not want me to kill someone with him sitting next to me,” which runs well by me, because I would not have the kind of money to get myself out of prison like CERTAIN people from CERTAIN walks of life do.
They (public service advertisements that are definitely not shown in Karachi) always advise people to not get distracted while driving, so there are in fact a lot of traffic rules dedicated especially to that. The most common of all being the “no texting or calling while driving” rule. There is a reason why that law exists. It is hard to understand how a person could brake in split seconds, and daringly place his or her life on the mechanics of a tattered car. But it happens, and quite frequently so, because I do not think headsets exist in Karachi, at least not for these drivers.
That still treads the dangerous but acceptable line, like single rope cliff climbing, it is inconsiderate and the innocent ones usually die first, but we are human, and subconsciously we have the tendency to conclude our lost meaningless lives in a big whoosh, usually with the company of others, without even intending to.
But driving in the opposite direction of incoming traffic? That is the last straw. It is akin to suicide bombing, it is premeditated and there isn’t a single excuse on planet Earth that suffices to explain why it could be done. It is intolerable and should not be condoned. No amount of blinkers would make me safe, driving amongst this suicidal bunch.
With that angry thought, I expected nothing less than another punctured tire, because angry karma comes in one full round, and this rings true even on an inanimate object. Once again, I had to get down, but lucky for me (my first peek of luck, fancy that), my house was not far, so my instructor walked me home.
The first time I drove, I had to walk home, that is life with a big capital “L” in Karachi.