The lady walking towards us on the street is blocking my intended parking spot, but she is looking to her right, bowing her head in reverence to the small neighborhood temple she's passing. "Move it Aunty" I mutter under my breath, "a little less praying and a little more attention to traffic". Mira and I are heading to the RTO, Road Traffic Organization, for her driving test.
Thirty to forty people stand around in clusters of four or five on this 'bustling' Saturday morning at 10.45, waiting for the head of examinations to arrive. Someone calls him and asks him ingratiatingly when he is expected to arrive, saying that people are waiting to take their tests. Shortly after the officer in charge arrives and two chairs are brought out of an ante room for him and the gentleman who called him to take a seat. They are seated on a ramp, below the ramp is a muddy track on which until a few minutes ago a gold colored Maruti Suzuki was driving up and down with what I presume must have been a trainee at the wheel.
A queue of women and men (the women head the queue) is formed alongside a bus and they all wait expectantly.
The gold colored Maruti Suzuki, battered and dented, pulls up. A man running the logistics of today's examination round asks a group of four women to get in the car. The lady behind the wheel, today's first contestant, gets the car into first gear and tentatively drives forward at 15 km / hour. Before hitting a tree she brakes and brings the car to a stop. The car stays in position, apparently thinking what to do next. The lady driver nudges it back into action and tries to cover the distance of thirty meters in reverse, and in doing so almost runs the car into the ramp on which the officer and his associate are seated. The fixer runs up and tells her to stop before she can do any damage, asking her to get out of the car. The lady takes her examination papers to the officer, receives his squiggle of approval and marches off confidently, shoulders back and head held high, having received validation of what she knew all along: 'I can drive baby!'.
The next driver gets behind the wheel, turns the car around and drives into the opposite direction, covering what must have been at least fifteen meters. She then tries to turn the car back towards us, the expectant crowd, first gets stuck, then lurches to the left, a bit to the right, towards where I am standing but posing no threat to my life, not at 10 km an hour, and then veers away from me again, back towards the ramp. Now too the fixers draws the excitement to a close and asks the lady to get out of the car. This lady too receives a signature on her papers and walks off, though with a little less bravado than her predecessor.
When it is finally Mira's turn she careens off at 25 or 30 km an hour, covering a hitherto unheard of distance of fifty meters, circling a tree, reversing to get a better turn, going forward again in a smoothish manner and driving back towards the ramp. "You need to practice your gear shifting a bit", the driving instructor seated next to her had apparently told her.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.