Appa was one of the most judgemental passengers I have ever met. No matter who was driving, Appa would spare no words or gestures to point out every deficiency in the driver. Whether it was speeding, or failure to avoid a pothole, or breezing over a speed breaker when clearly one was supposed to slow down… the list was endless.
His observations were so sharp and spot on that I think he missed his calling as some sort of quality control inspector!
While I stayed in India, public transport was my chosen mode of travel and I never really felt the need to own a vehicle or learn to drive one. Thus although I witnessed his cross-examination of every driver in every car he ever travelled in, I myself was never the recipient of his critique.
Eventually I moved abroad and in a few years, learning to drive became a necessity. I started to learn towards the end of 2006 and got my driving license in January 2007.
In March, Appa travelled for a business meeting and decided to extend his visit to spend some time with us as well. Amma also came along and both me and my husband enjoyed their company for a few days.
But I digress. Just as I digressed back then. After witnessing the character assassination of every driver who Appa ever travelled with, I was very wary of taking the car and driving them anywhere. I was extremely nervous the first time I ventured out with them. Appa sat in the front seat while Amma was in the back. While she busied herself with enjoying the view and the drive in general, I was on tenterhooks.
I was so nervous that when going off the main road to park outside a store I wanted them to see, I hit the kerb quite hard and the car responded with a predictable jolt. Instantly my heart lurched and threatened to jump out of my body. It’s coming any minute now… brace yourself… I could hear my heart beat in my ears.
Appa, although he reacted to the impact as any normal human being would, otherwise kept silent. We got down from the car and spent some time in the store which had some very unique and creative household items, and I knew both Appa and Amma would love the store and pick a few things.
We finished shopping and headed home. My confidence had picked up a little after the first drive and the drive back home was uneventful. I parked the car and we got out. Again I was surprised that Appa didn’t have a single comment or criticism to make even on the way back.
As I locked the car and began to walk towards my apartment building with Amma, I noticed Appa was still standing near the car. I stopped walking right then and headed back to where he stood, looking very intently at the car.
I mentally prepared myself for a very public blow-by-blow session of what I did wrong, how that hit on the kerb could have damaged the car tyre, or worse, how I missed an indicator here and a shoulder check there, how I had parked out of the lines…. I listed all my offences in my head, preparing for the worst possible feedback on my driving skills, which at the time were barely two months old. There was enough ammunition to go!
Then the most unexpected thing happened. Appa looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’ve parked perfectly within the lines.”
For the entire duration of their stay, this was the one and only comment he made about my car handling skills. I waited for the inevitable outburst that I was sure would come my way, but it never came.
When it was time for them to leave, I finally came to the realisation that he not saying anything about my driving meant that I was driving well. I knew my Appa well enough to know that if I was not following all the rules the way I should, he would not care about sparing my feelings or using words of encouragement when he really wanted to chastise. As soon as I figured this out, I felt immense pride at my achievement.
It was an achievement to certainly be super proud of. After all, I had passed Appa’s driving test!