I neither had money nor wish to drive a vehicle. The latter I would certainly avoid for life. Yet, as you grow, both with age, ever fragile social place and also, discover few practical benefits of having own vehicle, you feel like both, keep on at your doorstep and driving when in need.
So, I started pondering over buying a vehicle. Which made? What budget? When? I am clueless. I will find answers, probably sooner. And with this need came another need: of getting hold of document called driving licence. Lakhs of people have it in Mumbai and so, getting it should not be an issue. I applied online, well in advance, secured appointment: Friday, 19 September 2014, Andheri RTA office, at 1.30 pm. Really good facility for beginner.
But then, I had to face real action when physically facing the RTA. On the given day and date and time, I was there. Because I am no more a man who’d skip dates. I have improved and I am improving because in the one way called life, that’s the only tool to feel happier after every success, and failure.
1.30, sharp. I was behind some 20 applicants in a serpentine queue. The action was happening few feet away, inside a place that from window looked like a large hall. Few touts were easily recognizable thanks to their walk, talk and eyes. They were constantly coming to some applicants standing in queue, murmuring something to them or collecting documents from them, going to window of the hall, then on backside having more windows. And they were surely ‘helping’ their students (Ah, so they were influential motor training schoolwallas who were making sure quick freedom for their students from the process) to break the line and get trainer’s licence with minimum efforts and at little extra cost.
I am yet to join motor training school because how can I do so without having a valid trainer’s licence? How can put someone’s as well as my life in danger? I was busy ensuring having all required documents in order (I had a terrible experience of wasting whole day and peace at the Malad, Mumbai’s passport office but we’d probably discuss it some other time) so that, after seeing it, an officer at duty approve my application and I finish with my agenda in single visit.
2.00 pm. No sign of the Great Door leading me to my learner licence showing sign of opening.

Getting learner's driving licence is made easier but not pain free in Mumbai

Getting learner’s driving licence is made easier but not pain free in Mumbai

“It’s going to be their lunch time any moment…” some seasoned mouth uttered, “We need to wait more…” More?! Just to have made an entry in the hall from where the real journey towards licence would begin?! No no, they must be having reliever so that show can go on and waiting applicants do not waste time…
2.30 pm. And all three seats were empty inside the hall. They had disappeared. All three! No trace of reliever. No trace of announcement, apology. No provision for drinking water nearby. No adequate sitting arrangements. No adequate fans. It was lunch time.
Being Indians also mean you’d be left clueless anytime, in any administrative office.
Hunger, thirst, tiring feet and frustration (which I luckily control to a great extent thanks to Vipassana) of wasting such important hours of work… all were vultures hovering over my mind.
“But then who forced you to get driving licence? Don’t seek it without pain…”
3.15 pm. Finally, the Great Door opened and I along with around 50 other enthusiasts huddled the hall we were dying to see since so long. It was a reasonably large, well-lit hall with ample sitting arrangement, if undue rush and chaos avoided. The three khaki-clad judges were also not bad, though they sounded stern so that discipline be maintained. And they were quick as well. The only glitch, again made in India, was intruders, with vashila (extra weightage) here getting their things quietly done when powerless souls like me remained spectators.
In some 40 minutes flat, the officials got rid of all of us. Many of us, cleared for the next round little earlier, sent inside in another hall, a cashier section, to swamp it to pay requisite fees to get licence. Rs. 30 for each licence, as you please, from two-wheeler, light motor vehicle, heavy vehicles. I opted for the first two of lot. Official fee, Rs. 30, asking fee, Rs, 31 and receipt of Rs. Rs. 49.86 for two. Logic? Wish I had asked. There was only one lady issuing receipts to one and all. As upcoming Navratri was in my mind, I felt as if Maa Durga has herself landed in RTA to serve all his children, within the hall and seeking ‘blessings’ from outside by offering documents. She also answered my prayer and a good 35-40 minutes later, I finally smiled, why?
The next table had no queue. There were 3 (or 4, think) young women serving swiftly and impressing one and all. There work was to feed data (name, address, date of birth, etc.) in system and it should take time but then, it was done in a blink of an eye. Wow! An officer sitting in the same section was hurriedly writing something on each applicant’s documents as the women directed him or her towards him. That was a seat number for exam, we were to discover later.
Soon, we were sent to another hall, a waiting lounge sort of place. Again, good ambience, enough chairs. A large board displayed various traffic and driving related signs. They were going to be questions of today’s exam, someone had told outside.
And the exams. In another hall. Peaceful. We were given instructions as we listened attentively sitting on respective seat showing our number.
“The screen you see on this wall will flash questions. You have a buzzer in front of you. Each question will have three options to choose from and the buzzer has three buttons coloured green, yellow and orange. Once you read (Marathi and English) and listen to it, you have to press the button of your choice, after countdown begins and within its 10 seconds. The correct answered will be highlighted with pink colour after countdown is over. Those who’d score 60%, means answer at least 12 correct answer out of 20, will be considered passed and get there learner’s licence here itself, in few minutes.”
The exam went on smoothly in pin-drop-silence. I scored 15 and inadvertently pressed wrong button in one. 16 was not a bad score at all. The joy of I did it made me smile. And the announcement, “Please go to the earlier hall and your learner’s licence will be handed over to you there.” We all went there as another batch of aspirants already brought inside and kept staring at us as if finally, their rightful seats were getting vacated.
The last wait proved more than anticipated and was the most frustrating. Firstly, due to hunger, secondly, wish to get back to routine started growing and thirdly, a desire to hold today’s prized earning was growing. The laminated lotteries finally came in a bunch held by a young RTA employee. I got two of them. With my documents (“You will have to come back after a month, with this, for driving test to get pakka or permanent licence”) still in my hand.
5.30 pm. I was out of RTA with freedom to learn driving and then, have vehicle for my convenience and to contribute in polluting air in my capacity. I really don’t know what purpose it solved to have an online, prior appointment for learner’s licence? Why I was shown a carrot of timely execution of the process? Why I had to wait in long queue to pay Rs. 30 when I could have paid it online and saved time. Why I got receipt of Rs. 49.86 instead of Rs. 62?
I freed my mind of all such questions by consoling it saying, “Forget it. The officials and staff were cooperative. You got licence in one attempt. Remember you were sent back empty-handed by Malad passport office after spending more hours standing. And so far as question of that un-recipted amount of Rs. 12.14 is concerned, consider your vehicle would be that much pricey when you buy it! Vroom…”
And before I drive a vehicle in future, I will discuss few interesting stuff here soon.
(Written on 20 September 2014 by Sanjay V Shah)

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