It was on July 1st 2007 that I reached Sharjah to join Zulekha hospital as a Laparoscopic surgeon. The hospital was getting prepared for JCI accreditation and I was there during the whole process. The hospital had many specialties. I had 6 specialists in my department and I was the senior most.
The very next day, I realized that life is going to be very difficult there without your own car and a driving license. I started collecting pieces of information regarding private and Government driving schools.
With 24 years of driving experience in India, I reported to the Sharjah Driving Institute as a beginner for registration. With all formalities like residency stamp on my passport, eye examination report and an NOC from my hospital, the formal application was submitted. The registration fee was 3500 AED. You have options for time. I opted for the 2.15 pm slot, 3 days in a week. I used to get hardly any time for lunch, even with this schedule. To hire a regular taxi was not feasible as it was very costly and not reliable as well. So I had to depend on a sharing taxi which picked me up on time. Imran (the driver) was a Pakistani and very cordial to me. But he and his friends in the cab were very reluctant in taking bath and washing clothes. Those 20 minutes travel daily with people with no sense of personal hygiene was too much for me. But I had no other choice.
It goes without saying that all vehicles are left handed. You have one more option for vehicles- automatic or manual. I went for an automatic vehicle with no gear changing haze.
The driving classes have been arranged in the most scientific and systematic way in UAE following American standards. You will be allotted an instructor who can communicate to you in English, Hindi, Malayalam or Arabic. Before you are allowed to drive the cab, you have to pass a signal test. There are 6 classes arranged with audiovisuals and real automobile components. This Pakistani instructor was a very good teacher and I passed the test in the first chance.
From the next day onwards, I was allowed to drive the cab inside the institute. The driving area of the institute was well equipped with sign boards, round abouts, U turns, parking lots, and so on. During that month, I was familiarized with reverse driving, parking, ascending and descending hills.
When you take the driving seat for the first time, you will be given a clear idea about adjusting the seat according to your comfortable position. Then, you are supposed to wear the seat belt. Next step is to adjust the central mirror and side mirrors. Then, you check the gear position. It must be in the parking mode. With your right foot on break, slowly put the lever in to driving mode. Scan the road through the mirrors thoroughly and withdraw foot from the break gradually and accelerate slowly. The cab moves and your heart throbs. This was the second phase. My Pakistani instructor regularly reminded me that this is not Pakistan, India or Bangladesh where no strict rules to control drivers were there. The most touching words he phonated was, “Your life and lives of many more are dependant on you and therefore you must be extremely careful during driving.” I was careful and my instructor gradually developed faith in me.
The third phase was really stormy. I was allowed to drive outside the institute, on the real busy roads. Getting out from the institute was also a little tough. The road had 4 lanes. You should stop and watch the road till it becomes good enough to enter with no vehicles in the proximity and proceed. On reaching the round about, again, you will have to wait before the 3 round lanes and enter in to the innermost lane swiftly when the chance arises. To go straight, put the right indicator, as you reach the middle of the circle and enter the left innermost lane. Soon you change the lane to the right and proceed.
To take a U turn, plan it in advance, enter the left innermost lane and wait near the U turn and see there are no vehicles in the proximity from right side of the facing road, and enter the right extreme lane and then change the lane to left and proceed. This road training again went for another month. Clear instructions have been given to keep the speed limit. You have to complete 50 classes to consider you for the test.
The results of all the tests will be exhibited in the notice board. When you qualify for the pre test, your number, date and time of the test will also be published sufficiently early. On the previous day, you will be contacted telephonically as a reminder.
Before the actual commencement of road driving classes, a good orientation is given regarding the following points:
1. You should identify your car.
2. Open the door; take your driving seat on the left side.
3. Adjust the seat according to your height and convenience.
4. Adjust the central mirror and the 2 side mirrors so that your road vision is perfect.
5. Fit the seat belt on the body.
6. Check whether the vehicle is in the parking mode of the gear.
7. Check hand break.
8. Start the vehicle.
9. Release the hand brake.
10. Check the steering wheel to be in normal position.
11. Scan the road through all the 3 mirrors and gradually accelerate.
12. Use the break diligently.
13. Always respect pedestrians.
14. Always check signal lights.
15. Always check road markings.
Fourth phase - Pretest (Kucchah test)
The pretest date and time was announced. I reached the institute one hour early. No instructor was found in the vicinity. Instead, the supervisor called my number and directed me to the vehicle meant for the test. The policeman came and occupied the right front seat. I was invited to take the driver’s seat. Following all the instructions of my instructor, I occupied the seat. The policeman was closely watching my steps. Then he uttered, ”Yellah” (Go). I started the vehicle smoothly and proceeded to the gate. Before I could watch the vehicles on facing road, policeman said, “Yellah” and I released the brake. Then he said, “stop”. The first Yellah was intended to mislead me and I failed in that pretest.
I was desperate; but the mistake was mine. I got my date for the second test next week itself. I was very much mentally prepared this time. I totally ignored the policeman and concentrated on the road and I passed the pretest with ease this time.
I had a very good company of 5 driver-trainees. One was an insurance officer, one Muslim priest (Mullakka), one bank employee and 2 Pakistani aspirants to become taxi drivers. No body went ahead of me in the pretest.
After the pretest, 2 more weeks’ orientation was given. My instructor gave me finer lessons on parking and lane changing.
Final test (Pukkah test)
If you fail in the final test 5 times, you will have to start again from signal test. I was a little upset when my friend Mullakkah failed 5 times and he had to go through the ordeal again.
The date and time for my final test was announced - Monday 8am. On the previous day, I had to do a major emergency surgery. It was midnight when I finished the surgery. I was instrumental in saving the life of that young lady. Although my energy resources were totally depleted after the surgery, I had an illusion that I will perform well for the final test. I got up at 5am and was ready after bath and breakfast at 7am. I hired a taxi and reached the institute at 7.30am. I had a divine confidence to go through the perplexing driving test (may be, the confidence came from the prayers of the relatives of the lady I had operated). I was invited to the cab for the test. Two police men had already taken their seats, one in front and the other in the back. The one in the front was very busy with his mobile phone. He gestured me to start. Meticulously, I entered the cab, following all the steps in order, and in confidence. He was still busy with his cell phone. The policeman seated in the back seat observed me doing seat adjustments and mirror adjustments and he nodded to proceed. I remembered my instructor’s advice to go in straight directions unless instructed otherwise. So I went to the gate first and waited for a chance to enter the road and did enter right on time. I changed the lane and waited at the round about and went straight in the road observing the traffic rules. After reaching the big road, I accelerated confidently to even 120km per hour. I saw a U turn, slowed down and stopped to confirm no vehicles were rushing in from the right side and then took the turn. Then, he asked me to park the vehicle. I slowed down, put the indicator, identified the parking lot and parked the vehicle before applying the hand brake. The police man had a smile on his fair face. He said, “you please come to SDI at 10.30 am with a passport size photograph. Your license will be issued at 12 noon.” I could not believe my ears. Usually after the test, they will leave you on the spot, from where you can fetch a taxi.
I availed a half day casual leave from the hospital and reached SDI at 10am. An application form was filled in and submitted with the photograph. Exactly at 12.15 pm, my license was issued. I read it 5 times, which stands
valid for 10 years. I consider it to be more valuable than my ATM card. Don’t you think so too?