7. Driving (Part III) and Getting Screwed in Bangalore (17 October 2004)

Driving in Bangalore (Part III)

When last I wrote about driving in Bangalore, we had taken a short, partial drive to the local shopping mall, abandoning the car at the first intersection at which we had to turn into traffic.  We were, nevertheless, very proud of ourselves because (1) we drove in a city known for crazy driving (2) we shed some of our feelings of dependence on having a driver and (3) we didn’t run over any people or cows on the way.

Our pride lasted only until the next day when our faithful friends at the NCA office discretely pointed out that (1) it was very brave of us to drive in Bangalore and (2) wouldn’t it be good if we had a driver’s licence so that we do it legally?  We agreed with both (1) and (2), so we set out to get our Indian driver’s licences.

Now I have had experience with changing driving licences in foreign countries.  In Paris, the OECD did it for me.  In Norway, I spent 30 minutes at the driver’s licence place (most of it trying to figure out how the photo machine worked), handed over my French licence and was issued a Norwegian one in its place (with a horrible photo that I will just have to live with).  Armed with this worldly experience, we went down to the local driving licence place, smug in the belief that we would walk out with our Indian driver’s licences.  At this point, I would like to pull out my common phrase for my Indian experiences….OOPS.

The first thing we found out was that, because we were foreigners, we had to go and see the “head guy”.  We knew that he was the “head guy” because, in the 10 minutes we sat in his office waiting for him to give us our driver’s licences, he had tea served to him, important papers brought in by assistants for him to sign, shooed out a young man who showed up 5 minutes too late to get his licence and, in general, acted like a “head guy”.  He then turned his attention to us.  Our NCA angel (remember her, from the Assistant Police Commissioner’s Office?) had filled out all the appropriate forms in triplicate with our official photos at the ready.  We were prepared…

After a quick glance through our dossiers, he noticed that our driving licences were from Norway and that they were in a foreign language that he did not understand.  A quick review by the three assistants who were standing around his desk confirmed that no one understood Norwegian (although they made a valiant effort).  Norwegian licences have the words “driver’s licence” printed on them in about 10 languages, including English.  What puzzled him were the dates: there were two of them, one of which was in the past and one of which was in the future.  Despite our explanation that the date in the past was the date of issue and that the date in the future was the expiration date, the problem remained: no one at the driver’s licence place understood Norwegian.  He patiently explained that he could not issue us an Indian driver’s licence if our Norwegian driver’s licences had expired (e.g., the date in the past).   He also went on to explain that he had met Miss Norway when she came to visit some friends of his family’s and that she was a lovely young woman.  Unfortunately for us, Miss Norway had long ago returned home and was not available to provide translation.

Then, the “head guy” noticed that I am an American and asked if I had an American licence.  I do, so I pulled it out.  Confirmation was immediate: he and his assistants understood English.  The “head guy” even had a list of American driver’s licence codes and could confirm that I was not licenced to drive heavy trucks (which is unfortunate in Bangalore since, by their sheer size, they are probably safer than driving a car).

The conclusion of the day was that (1) Hans Einar’s driver’s licence would need to be translated by an official Indian government translator and (2) I should proceed to have my photo taken and come back the next day for a driving test.

It has been one month now and I can confirm the following:

  • there is NO ONE in the Indian government who can translate from Norwegian to any language; and
  • I have an Indian driver’s licence, Hans Einar does not.

I have driven several times now, getting braver each time and going just a little bit further each time.  I cannot begin to describe the look on driver’s faces when they see me, a foreign woman driving, with Hans Einar, a foreign man sitting in the passenger seat.  I can only guess what they are thinking: probably something like “oops”!

The Screw Shop

I have a book produced by the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore.  It is entitled In and Out of Bangalore and is a guide for newly arrived expats.  It is a bible for me because it contains listings of places to go for things.  However, after only two months, I have found a shortcoming already: the book does not list screw shops.

The walls in our house are solid (and I mean solid) concrete.  This is nice in the event of an earthquake, a nuclear bomb or a cow stampede.  It is not nice in the event that one needs to hang a picture.  If our house had come with an Owner’s manual, it would have said something like “to hang a picture, use drill, plugs and screws.  Hammer and nail will not work”.  After procuring a hammer and a nail, I can confirm that they do not work.

After consulting In and Out of Bangalore, I proceeded to the hardware store that was listed as “having everything”.  I found this to be almost true: it had a drill.  For screws and plugs, however, I was told I would have to go to the screw shop.  And, in true Indian hospitality, the hardware shop sent a guy to accompany me to the screw shop.

I have thought long and hard about having a screw shop and have come to the conclusion that, if I were to have a screw shop, I would try and locate it on a main road, if not within a hardware shop, then next door.  But this is my own personal logic.  The screw shop in Bangalore is located several blocks from the hardware store, down an alleyway off the main road.  There is no sign indicating that a screw shop is located down this alleyway, but who needs a sign when one is accompanied by the screw-shop-guide?

The screw shop measures about 100 square feet (about 9 square metres) and is filled with ceiling to floor shelves containing hundreds of neatly lined jars of screws and plastic plugs, a sort of “screw library”.  Despite the small space, there were three salesmen sitting behind the counter.   For most of my visit, I was the only customer in the shop.  I guess I was shopping during low-peak screw demand time.

I got pretty much what I needed but, as with most experiences in India, I have learned a thing or two:

  • it is helpful to know what type and size of screw you need before going to the shop
  • a description like “not too big and with that cross thing at the top” does not really work to close the screw communication gap in India
  • it is possible to purchase screws in different colours, as long as they are black,  white or rusty
  • just because a shop sells screws, it doesn’t mean that the shop sells the size of plugs you need for the screws you buy

Finding a Travel Agent

Before moving to Bangalore, I fully expected that we would do some travelling during our stay here.  After trying to find a travel agent, I am not so sure.  I was trying to set up a trip for Hans Einar’s birthday.  I had two places in mind: a trip to Darjeeling or a trip to Ooty (a hill station south of Bangalore).  I rang the travel agent used by the NCA office, asking him for prices, train/plane schedules and hotel recommendations for these tours.  I even supplied the name of the hotel I wanted in Ooty.  He was very nice on the phone and promised to get back to me by e-mail with the information I wanted.  Our e-mail communication follows:

—–Original Message—–
From: yesudass patrick [mailto:yesudass_patrick@yahoo.co.in]
Sent: 28. september 2004 16:39
To: rbensky@writeme.com
Subject: reg ooty hotels

hello madam,

i am working on the hotel rates  in ooty,regency villa, and also on the pickup and drop from coimbatore.  the dates are between 11nov to 14nov…or any amendments.

brgds yesudass

—-Original Message—–
From: Roberta Bensky [mailto:rbensky@writeme.com]
Sent: 28. september 2004 17:01
To: ‘yesudass patrick’
Subject: RE: reg ooty hotels

Hello Yesudass,

The dates are from 12-15 November please.  Also looking forward to options for Darjeeling.  Best regards, Roberta

After hearing nothing for a few days, I sent a reminder:

—–Original Message—–

From: Roberta Bensky [mailto:rbensky@writeme.com]
Sent: 30. september 2004 12:04
To: ‘yesudass patrick’
Subject: RE: reg ooty hotels

Dear Yesudass,

I am wondering if you have any additional information on possible trips to Ooty and Darjeeling.  I am specifically looking for prices, train/plane schedules and hotel recommendations.  Also wondering if you have information for the Regency Villa hotel.  I await your response.

Sincerely,  Roberta

—–Original Message—–

From: yesudass patrick [mailto:yesudass_patrick@yahoo.co.in]
Sent: 30. september 2004 16:36
To: Roberta Bensky
Subject: RE: reg ooty hotels

hello madam,

possible trips to ooty, travel will be through train stop and mettupalyam, and transfers to hotel.

another way is flight to coimbatore and transfers to hotel.

2) to darjeeling the flights are via kolkata to bagdogra..and same return back also.

rgds,  yesudass

—–Original Message—–
From: Roberta Bensky [mailto:rbensky@writeme.com]
Sent: 30. september 2004 16:55
To: ‘yesudass patrick’
Subject: RE: reg ooty hotels

Thank you for this, but I need to know about costs, places to stay and train/plane schedules.  This is necessary for me to make a decision.  Regards, Roberta

I have not heard from yesudass since.

After similar experiences with a few other travel agencies, I have decided that it might just be nice to cut out photos of places in India, frame them, hang them on the wall and pretend we went there.  One thing I am sure of: we have the screws to do it.

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