Monday, April 25, 2011

I have a license to push - Jourdain 2

This was my second entry into the Jourdain series and one of the few of my own writing pieces that I enjoy reading. This entry was a culmination of being shoved, pushed and sweated on in the RTO office in Sheikh Sarai, New Delhi. Dante's seventh circle on the first floor of a sarkari building. Enjoy. 

Monday was driving test day. (Which I aced btw, ten on ten.) Well, it was an MCQ test and didn’t involve actually driving. All you needed was to mug up a few road signs of the “Warning”, “Statutory” and “Informative” kind.
Well after taking CE-321, Traffic Engineering-1, it was simple.

 Kids will run away with your stuff, keep window rolled up
Landslide in progress, tell sweetum that trip to mountain is cancelled
Stop car, remove rubble from road, proceed.
You’re lost, aren’t you?

Even after the formidable syllabus, I mustered the will to apply for my learner’s license. Slips there are between the cup of chai and you sipping it. What I didn't expect was the cup itself to burn my lip. Each of the four counters I negotiated in a room 20 ft by 30 ft, crammed with hundred and fifty people taught me something about myself and the innate competitiveness that defines my world, middle class India. Read on.

Counter 1: It's the finale that counts
I take short, shallow breaths. It’s the air itself that’s choking me. I talk to myself. This is no time for poise and grace, Piyush. You can do it. You can push.
I smile at the small, dark man. He doesn’t smile back. In fact, he isn’t looking at me, staring at the next man in line. I nudge him with my elbow, he moves a few inches. That’s all I need as I squeeze in. But wait. This line doesn’t end at the counter. This happens to be the “auxiliary” queue, the ubiquitous second line that pops up so often at queues everywhere, branches off at some point behind the counter and then competes with the main, parent queue for space and legitimacy. These are the chaps that have taken Big B in Kaalia to heart. "Hum jaha pe khade ho jaate hein , line wahin se shuru hoti hai" is their motto. So now, at the counter two people jostle to deposit the form.
“I was here first,” yells the contender from the main line.
“I’ve been standing in line for an hour and half,” says the man from the branch line.
Supplications fail to impress the clerk. The lady-in-command takes the form from the hand closest to her.
Lesson: Put in your maximum at the end. Your performance at the finale counts more than the effort that gets you there.

Counter 2: They'll try to get rid of you. Don't let them.
The number one cause of death during a stampede is compressive asphyxiation. That is, you get squeezed between people so tightly that your chest does not get space to expand and you get choked to death. Painful way to die, isn’t it? Actually, painful way to live the moments before you die.
There’s a difference.
Counter 2 is where you have your picture taken for the license. This counter is tricky. There is a single file here. But you cannot let the apparent order lull you into carelessness. I stand in line and the moments pass by uneventfully. But as I slowly move towards the counter, a conspiracy is hatched among the four behind me. Their excited whispers fail to conceal their plot. I can make out a few words.
“Sab mil kar dhakka do.”
My pulse starts racing. Why would they want to do that? Aha, it’s the “Joker” conspiracy (from the opening sequence of The Dark Knight.) Serial elimination of people by pitting four against one, then three and then two against one. After which the main man gets rid of the last man standing to reap the reward. In this case an unobstructed counter window.
I decide to act with a preemptive strike. I grab hold of the grill seconds before they push in unison.
“Bhaisaab aapki kohni mujhe lag rehi hai,” says the person (and one of the co-conspirators) innocently.
“Chhod, behenchod” says the person behind him.
“Main nahi hilunga.” I refuse to be outflanked. I make it to the counter.
“Baitho. Camera ko dekho. Smile,” says the clerk operating the webcam.
I don’t. The room is getting to me.
Lesson: Constant vigiliance. And no hard feelings. Taste dirt and move on.

Counter 3: For a ticket to the express lane, foster and nurture relations

I’ve deposited my form. I’ve had a fuzzy photograph of a tousled haired, frowning version of me taken. Now endgame, Counter 3- Data Entry (whatever that means). It’s the usual queue. There is a branched line here too. Now battle hardened, I refuse to let them in, arguing hotly with the shorter men and invoking questions of morality, righteousness and “kya hum paagal hai jo line me khade hai?” with the taller individuals.
I have my eyes on the clerk, cheerfully shaking hands with a stream of men. They don’t seem to be on “internal” official business. I whisper to the man behind me “Waha kya ho reha hai?”
“Jee woh clerk ke jaan pehchaan ke log hai.”
“Aaaah.” Realization dawns. I’ll have to wait for my turn. I hope one day I won’t have too.
Corruption has sown ambition.
Lesson: Pansies and losers wait in line. Success means having lateral entry, straight to the top of any queue.

The data entry man assigns me a roll no. and asks me to wait in line (another one) for the test. I am assigned a computer. I finish my test detachedly. I am told I am to collect my learner’s license two hours later from another counter.
At half past three, I am the first one to reach there.
“Bhaisaab, learner’s license lene aaya hu,” I say.
“Aap please line me khade ho jaaiye,” says the clerk


  1. hehe..good one..hard realities of life... :)... "Taste dirt and move on."...hehe... ;)

  2. Painful process. Need to make this process also online.

  3. Don't get me wrong ,piyush :) I wholeheartedly empathise with you for all the grilling you underwent before receiving your "learner's" driving license , I couldn't stop myself from laughing while I read your article. Cheers !!for a nice article and wish you a happy and safe driving:)

  4. An interesting way to describe the torture u bore.. I am wondering what the scene would be when you go again for the permanent one.. hehe .. Well a lesson learned :- try the " Lateral Entry " next time .. hope it saves you from the agony .. hehe ..

    Anyways, nice blog dude .. could very well relate the picture with the usual "Sarkaari Daftars" .. :D :D

    P.S : loved the "Joker" analogy .. nice ..


  5. Bahuuuuuuuuuuuut achha hai........ten on ten yahan bhi..!!
    :D :D

  6. saare road signs ki description is awesomme..!!! :D

  7. God !! Piyush.. I was thinking of renewing my license.. guess its the 'THE END' now.. :P

  8. jitni baar padho,, utna hi mazaa aata hai.. :) :)