“You mean to say you’ve been here in Dubai for almost 10 years & don’t have a car????” asks acquaintance incredulously.
“Yep” I reply, very amused at her reaction.
“But why???? How????” She asks & I can see the her eyes darting around the house wondering “Gosh have I put my foot in it, don’t tell me they can’t afford one”
“Simple, we both don’t have a driving license” I grin.
“Sheeeesh, how do you guys manage?????”
We get this reaction from most people we know. Actually when I really think about it I don’t blame them one bit for reacting the way they do. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night I can’t believe it either.
I take you back to 1999 when I came to Dubai. I enthusiastically signed up for driving classes & infact remember clearing Parking, Garage, Hill & Signal in one single day[they are actually 4 different tests]. It was only when I started training for the Road test did I feel a bit of diffidence.
After 8 years of misusing the clutch & the brake & ignoring all the traffic rules in India, driving according to rules in Dubai came as a rude shock….to top it after driving on the left side of the road for so many years it took quite sometime to get used to driving on the right. The lane system was something I didn’t at all believe in…I never understood why I had to accerelate when I had to change lanes, why couldn’t I just slow down & then change??? To top it, when I saw a vehicle coming at top speed from the side lanes I just couldn’t believe that the car was not going to bang into mine & so I automatically…you could say unconsciously would swerve in the opposite direction & the instructor would grab the steering wheel, apply the brakes & tear his hair all at once in frustration.
I gave just 2 road tests but knew for a fact that even if I gave 20 of them I was never going to pass. After driving at 30-40km per hour for 8 yrs it was just not possible to let go off inhibitions & do 80 and 100kms/hr.
Then I left to India for almost 6 months & when I came back, just didn’t try again…yeah, yeah I know it’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard.
And the better-half, to give him his due, had gone for classes & persevered but his job schedule 10 yrs back was hectic & it was required of him to frequently fly out of the country which inturn often clashed with his test dates & he gradually gave it up.
Actually there was no shortage of cars in the house then. My father-in-law had one & my brother-in-law also did. We never had problems going out anywhere. And the better-half had his company vehicle which picked & dropped him back. So we never felt the lack of a vehicle or a need for our own.
It was only when my father-in-law went back to India 2 years back & my BIL left to the States to study further around the same time that the realization set in.
In the beginning it was almost like being stranded. For people who wonder whats the big deal anyway please note that Dubai for all its infrastructure is a desert which radiates an average temperature of 41 degrees & humidity which saps the life out of even the toughest tribe. Within 2 minutes of being outside sweat is pouring down your body and your best shirt is ruined for ever. Everybody…simply everybody has a car….infact 2 or 3 cars in a middle-class family is not unheard of. Purchasing a car is no big deal either, it is attaining the DL which is so prized.
10 years ago it was not very difficult to get a license in UAE but nowadays its practically impossible to pass a test. Except for the odd guy who passes in his first or 2nd attempt the rest of the 95% can fill a book or two with their horror stories with the Traffic Dept.
We all know paperwork & classes are mandatory everywhere but in UAE it’s a bit over the top. And worse, they fail you for the silliest of reasons. I’ve heard horror stories where people have spent upto 8000dhs[atleast 1 lakh in Indian ruppees] & failed 14-15 times before they got their DL in their hand.
My friend told me how her boss who had held a DL from USA, UK, France, Egypt, was failed numerous times by the RTA & it became a matter of frustration & shame to him.
And worse, the municipality have all these weird rules for certain circumstances… or should I say they have no rules for certain criteria of people. Now even if we want to try for a license we can’t since the better-half now holds an independent visa from the Freezone of another emirate…..its too complicated to explain but the long & short of it is that we are not able to take driving tests in Dubai even if we want to. And that leaves us without a medium to commute.
The irony of it is that both of us got our driving license for both 2 wheeler & 4 wheelers in India before we were 20 years old. Infact I got my DL after 8 hours of classes & donated the remaining two hours to my mom who was learning alongside me. I drove my fathers car in & around Bangalore for more than 8 yrs. Sometimes I think its precisely because of my road experiences in India that I found it so hard to adjust to life in the fast lane here.
So we take taxis. We take a bus. Whichever comes first. And then ofcourse we walk. Luckily unlike before, the taxis’ have become more available now & the buses more frequent than before. And now ofcourse the metro is here making all parts of Dubai more accessible.
Both of us have nothing to say in our defence……in hindsight now I feel if only I had persevered I’m sure I would have made it after a few tries. Oh well…..when we had the chance we didn’t bother & now there is no point thinking about the ‘if onlys’.
The better-half sometimes explains the benefits to the children when they complain “Maybe we don’t have a car like the others but just look at how much we are saving; we don’t have any loans against us for buying a car, we don’t have to spend on petrol, we save on registrations and insurance. We don’t spend hours looking for parking space, we don’t have to pay parking fines….and…and all the other innumerable traffic fines…..and .... salik…we don’t have pay salik[road toll].
And nobody[as in guests] wants to stay with us” He adds wickedly.
While I shake my head at him amusedly in the background I realize I’m not exactly railing at my fate……I in a 'reverse psychology' way am glad my kids get a chance to travel in buses like how I used to and also enjoy the illuminating conversations we have with the kids as we walk hand in hand to the nearest supermarkets or restaurants after the sun goes down.
Ofcourse I realize that if we had a car I may not be talking so wisely but human beings that we are, always make the best of any situation we’re in.
Just yesterday we were walking past this vehicle which had a mukhalifa* pinned on its windshield, we automatically looked at each other and exclaimed “Thank Goodness, we don’t have a car” and burst out laughing.
*mukhalifa: traffic fine
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